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A Tenured Professor Responds to Texas A&M



Many of you have now heard about the controversy surrounding Texas A&M-San Antonio. The administration has withdrawn its fall semester teaching offer to an adjunct based on her decision to speak up about a religious injustice on campus. If you haven’t yet, you can read about the story at Inside Higher Ed.
Seth Kahn, a tenured professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, has taken it upon himself to respond to the A&M administration. It’s great to see our tenured colleagues standing up for what is right. Kahn sent the following letter today.

May 29, 2012

Dear President Maria Ferrier; Dr. Brent Snow, Provost; and William S. Bush, interim head of the School of Arts and Sciences:

In this morning’s Inside Higher Education, I read with great distress about Sissy Bradford, an adjunct professor of Criminology, from whom you’ve taken a teaching assignment already in place for next fall.

I currently serve as the Grievance Officer for

my faculty union local at West Chester University of PA, and I understand the official position that Texas A&M-San Antonio is taking: you don’t have to explain why you’re not renewing somebody, and there’s no expectation of continued employment.

While that position may (and I stress may because I don’t know Texas labor law) be legally correct, it’s reprehensible that your institution would remove a faculty member whose job performance has been outstanding, and for whom there’s a demonstrable need (you’re still hiring new people for that position), because of her legal activities outside the classroom. Even worse, based on the IHE story, it doesn’t seem like her stance against religious displays on campus was even the heart of the problem so much as your institution’s failure to respond publicly to threats made against her, and her willingness to tell that story in the local press. That is, rather than being embarrassed about her politics, you seem embarrassed that she went public with a story that doesn’t make the university look very good, and decided that the best way to solve that problem was simply to disappear her from your community.

I am also an advocate for contingent academic workers, and this story represents a side of adjunct faculty exploitation and abuse that we don’t often talk about. The primary discourse is about pay, benefits, and job security, which is what it should be about. But a story like this one reminds us, in no uncertain terms, that adjunct faculty are simply disposable–if you’re the kind of people and the kind of institution that chooses to treat them as such. As higher education leaders, you have a clear opportunity to do the right thing: stand up on behalf of a faculty member on your campus who’s been done wrong, and fix it. Or you can endorse a system that enables abuse and dehumanization of your colleagues.

I’m calling on you as administrators and on your university to restore Professor Bradford’s teaching schedule; to issue a public statement explaining the decisions both to fire her and to rehire her; and to make a public statement that you will stand behind your faculty’s right to invoke their free speech and academic freedom without fearing for their lives and jobs when they do.

Please confirm that you’ve received this message; I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Seth Kahn, PhD
Associate Professor of English, West Chester University of PA


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27 thoughts on “A Tenured Professor Responds to Texas A&M

  1. I just want to echo the introductory comment that “It’s great to see our tenured colleagues standing up for what is right.”

    It is.

    Alan Trevithick, New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity.

  2. Texas is an “at will” state, and adjuncts who are contract employees don’t fall into any state regulations requiring the “boss” to show cause for termination. FYI.

    • Yes, I know. That’s why the letter acknowledges their legal position, which is unfortunately correct, and contends they should still do the right thing even though the law doesn’t demand it. My call for an explanation in the final paragraph is really more about calling on them to tell the truth about it than anything else, but that’s a secondary goal.

    • Even “at will” states can’t terminate for illegal reasons. I rather doubt Texas has laws that state that employees’ political speech off the job is an illegitimate cause for termination, because frankly I don’t have that much faith in Texas, but some states do. And then there’s the matter of what the A&M faculty handbook might or might not say – contracts may be semester to semester for adjuncts, but if an offer was made and then withdrawn for a reason deemed illegitimate by the faculty handbook, the adjunct might also have recourse.

      This, of course, is why universities don’t want to publish faculty handbooks, or any other documents that might give employees rights. My own employer’s handbook has been “in revision” since I was hired over 18 months ago (I’m faculty but our contracts are quarter by quarter, just like adjuncts.) I can’t figure out we keep getting re-accredited without a functioning faculty handbook, but there you go.

      • Actually, I live in Texas, and I have been in several situations where I heard the supervisor confess to firing someone because of personal dislike. You don’t have to give a reason, and most of the time, the state doesn’t ask for one unless they ex-employee asks for unemployment. That said, most companies do have some sort of policy explaining their individual termination grounds, and usually an employer will wait until they are met, even if it’s just by a stretch in the worst cases, just so that, in case they do file for benefits, they have a reason not to pay them.

  3. I had Ms Bradford a couple years ago for sociology and I have to say you are a professor I will never forget. Not for controversial reasons such as this rather for standing in a circle with your students, embracing hand in hand, sharing a few tears, and for praying with us after the sad loss of a very dear friend and classmate. You were there for all of us that day as well as the rest of the semester regardless of your religious views. I had much respect for you then and continue to everytime I think about that day and all YOU did for ME!!!

    I have also met Dr Maria Ferrier when I sat next to her waiting to give a speech and listened to her inspirational stories and challenges she overcame. I would never imagine someone who had so much to overcome to get where she is today letting go of a great instructor who stands up for what she believes in as well as for the constitution that is supposed to protect us in situations such as these.

    It’s sad to know that other students may be denied to right to cross the path of such and inspirational great instructor.

  4. Here’s my e-mail to Texas A&M:

    ========================

    Dear President Ferrier, Provost Snow and Prof. Bush:

    Many in and out of academia have appealed to your moral compasses in connection with the matter of Professor Sissy Bradford. While I certainly agree with the arguments which have been asserted in Prof. Bradford’s defense, there are even more cogent reasons for you to reconsider your ill-advised decision to terminate her.

    Specifically, the academic integrity of Texas A&M University has been compromised by your action. Make no mistake about it — you have sent a very powerful, and very negative, metamessage to your student body.

    Donald Cressey’s studies on the motivation of embezzlers concluded that the presence of three factors — Opportunity, Pressure and Rationalization — facilitate embezzlement. Subsequent studies have found similar dynamics behind other types of fraud, including plagiarism and other academic dishonesty.

    The students at Texas A&M are quite aware of what you did to Prof. Bradford. You have shown them that you consider even your highest-evaluated Adjuncts to be disposable throwaway labor, Untermenschen, a class of inferiors. This goes a long way, in the minds of the students, towards rationalizing academic dishonesty if that academic dishonesty is committed in a course instructed by an Adjunct.

    On the other hand, reversing the decision can send a powerful and positive message that (1) the Texas A&M administration has the moral gumption to admit its errors; and (2) Texas A&M holds its Adjunct faculty in high regard as competent and esteemed professionals.

    Not that it really matters, but my view of the First Amendment to the Constitution is diametrically at odds with that of Prof. Bradford. I am a practicing religious Jew with deeply-held religious beliefs, who holds an advanced degree from a Catholic institution, and who is not offended by religious symbols such as crosses on campuses (provided, of course, that there is no coercion to worship them). Academic integrity is an issue that transcends religious secularism. Prof. Bradford, and indeed, ALL Adjunct faculty, must be given the same support, protections and academic freedoms as your full-time faculty.

    – KHR
    Adjunct Assistant Professor
    Department of Accounting & Information Systems
    Queens College CUNY

    [For more info on the topic: http://writingatqueens.org/files/2011/11/KHR-PTSoldier-Art-1.pdf
    =======================

    Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq.
    P.O. Box 926
    East Northport, NY 11731

    631/266-5854 (vox)
    631/266-3198 (fax)

    E-mail: khresq@sprintmail.com

  5. Thank you, Dr. Kahn, for supporting Ms. Bradford’s right to support the United States Constitution without fear of losing her job. And thank you for supporting adjunct faculty.

  6. Dear Dr. Kahn,

    Thank you so much for standing up for this Adjunct Professor! If others among the tenured class would speak up on our behalf more often, or if the tenureds in general would recognize adjuncts as part of the faculty–with common goals and interests–then so many of our problems as adjuncts would not even exist.

  7. This is the horrible thing I said/wrote that started all of this. It was sent to the Interim Dept. Head Dr. Bush and Provost Brent Snow.

    31OCT “This is a public institution. This is a state institution. Christianity is not everyone’s tower or beacon of hope, nor is the promotion of Christianity the mission of TAMU-SA. I hope the crosses will be reconsidered and removed, that the message of our most prominent structure is one of hope universally; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, …”

  8. Makes me glad I don’t live in Texas: the biggest, bigoted state in the U.S., where we still have freedom of speech, press and assembly, though clearly not at Texas A and M. Pity.

    • This is definitely a terrible situation, but be careful not to make generalizations. We don’t want to be guilty of the very behavior we are critiquing.

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