Another New School Demo (CLARIFIED)

Another New School Demo (CLARIFIED)


This dispatch just in from Gabriel Gil Arana, a current Nation intern:

In March, the New School let go of 12 part-time/adjunct faculty at Parsons’ fine arts department. Today, over a hundred members of the school’s adjunct union and their supporters protested the firings in front of the school’s main administration building on 12th Street, accusing administrators of union busting and flouting the protections offered to part-time faculty in their contract.

The protest is the most recent spat in an extended history of tensions between the New School administration and its faculty and students. On two separate occasions in April and December, students occupied buildings to call for the resignation of New School president Bob Kerrey, who received a vote of "no confidence" from an overwhelming majority of the faculty in December.

Adjuncts at the New School unionized in 2004 and have negotiated a contract that offers substantial job security after a five-year "probationary" period. Barbara Siegel, a part-time faculty member who has taught at the New School for 25 years, said that some of those fired were on the cusp of reaching that threshold. The purported reasons for the firings were financial hardship and "curricular changes." Siegel disputes the former, citing a recent email from Kerrey saying that the school’s finances were sound.

Part-time faculty, which at the New School make up 89 percent of the teaching staff, are often an expedient solution to budget shortfalls; they are either hired to replace more expensive full-time positions or in this case, fired in a budget crunch.

CLARIFICATION: The Nation was contacted by Deborah Kirshner, associate director of arts communications at the New School, who disputes some of the union’s claims. She said that of the 12 part-time faculty, 3 were assigned courses to teach outside of the fine arts department; 3 knew they would not be teaching in the fall, including one who said he was unable to teach; and the other 6 had finished their spring teaching obligations. Those six were informed in a letter sent by email that they would not be courses for them to teach in the fall; they were not "fired," because their contracts only ran semester to semester or academic year to academic year. According to a New School fact-sheet, "the university is making every effort to identify teaching assignments for these faculty members, which is beyond its union obligation."

(A statement released by New School provost Tim Marshall apologizes for the manner in which adjuncts were informed they would not be assigned a course for the fall.)

Kirshner added that funding for the fine arts department has actually increased for the 2009-2010 school year; the decision not to assign part-timers courses was because of structural changes in the arts department, not lack of funds.

Siegel, however, took exception to the claim that these "non-rehirings" were not "firings." She said administrators do not want to use the term "firing" because it’s "inflammatory." While adjuncts are hired on a term-by-term or year-by-year basis, Siegel said that there is the expectation that adjuncts’ contracts will be renewed, especially for those who have taught continuously for decades at the school.

"It’s not a question of receiving [an official] job offer," she said. "For many of these people continuing [to teach] is a given."

"They’re always arguing over terminology, which seems like a way of obscuring the real issue," she said.

Siegel added that some of the alternative placements in other departments were "basically a kind of demotion" given that some of these appointments were in "continuing education," a non-degree program. She said that even though the budget may have been increased, how the money is allocated matters. Siegel said the school may hire nonunionized full-time professors in order to "get more control." The New School is hiring one full-time faculty member for the arts department for the fall, but representatives for the school said this was part of the larger plan to improve the fine arts program and not intended as a power move.

written by Gabriel Gil Arana

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