Activist groups on-campus are standing up for faculty rights
By Reyna Wang, Megan Townsend, and Justin Westbrook-Lowery
Earwax Editor, Staff Activists
Tensions rose to a boiling point as the Fordham University faculty overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in President Joseph McShane, S.J.,’s leadership. Out of a vote of 460 faculty members, 433 voted “no confidence” in Father McShane’s leadership of Fordham University on Friday, April 14th.
This staggering vote stems from the university’s handling of adjustments to faculty healthcare plans. These changes are believed to drastically increase the out of pocket costs for professors in need of medical care.
Moments later, the Board of Trustees released a brief statement expressing their dismay with the vote and directed the Fordham Community to their resolution in support of Father McShane’s leadership.
After the vote, a group of assembled students and faculty on the Plaza of the Fordham-Lincoln Center campus broke out into cheers. Sapphira Lurie (FCLC ’17), said “[the vote] is a sign that is due to McShane’s terrible leadership and complete dismissal of faculty needs and concerns…” Lurie is a leader within Fordham Students United, the organizers of the protest and a student group focused on aiding faculty in their pursuit of better benefits and fighting for racial justice on campus.
Father McShane released a statement expressing his displeasure on the matter, saying he was “disappointed with the results…” He continued that “[t]he outcome of the vote, however, in no way diminishes the high regard that I have for them, or the pride I have in all that they achieved in their research.”
The faculty’s distrust of Father McShane and the administration’s budgeting process is not a new development. Fordham’s contingent faculty have been fighting for fair wages, benefits, union representation, and job security for over a year now by establishing Fordham Faculty United (FFU). FFU has held teach ins, created petitions, and organized actions alongside student activists.
On March 9th, students and members of FFU assembled to deliver a petition, which asked for student, faculty, and administrative support of a contingent faculty union, to Father McShane’s office. Due to possible legal implications, Father McShane at the time declined to meet with FFU to discuss plans for unionization since he did not wish to intervene with the process.
Despite the president’s original stance of neutrality and the widespread support of the Fordham community, the administration released plans on March 31st to prevent the contingent faculty’s unionization filings by hiring union busting lawyers. In their statement, Fordham said that the union is a threat to religious freedom as a Jesuit institution. Then, on April 13th, the administration suddenly reversed its position, sending out an email which stated that all employees have the right to unionize and that it would not stop the contingent faculty from forming a union.
Tensions over unionization were compounded by the release of university plans to downgrade tenured faculty health plans. The new “standard healthcare plan” would increase copays and out-of-pocket expenses for professors and their families, in order to save the university $4 million. Simple procedures that would have cost as little as $10 on the university’s current plan will rise to hundreds of dollars. For faculty with disabilities, chronic healthcare problems, or children, this is especially troubling. On April 19th at Fordham Lincoln Center, FFU organized a “sick-in” demonstration, with a wooden coffin placed on the Plaza, and crutches, bandages, and medical equipment around them.
This protest was followed by an action the following day outside of the Board of Trustees meeting at Rose Hill. Faculty, students, and supporters gathered outside of the Walsh Library to listen to faculty speak about how these cuts to benefits would affect their lives, their health, and their families.
After receiving a confusing set of seemingly contradictory messages, students and members of FFU once again gathered outside Cunniffe House, this time to seek clarification of Father McShane and the administration’s stance on a free and fair process for the contingent faculty union. However, John Carroll, associate vice president of the Department of Public Safety, barred students and faculty from entering the president’s office and insisted on acting as a messenger by recording the group’s questions and delivering them to the administration. Carroll suggested that the administration was working on a response, which they would release by the end of the day. Though students and FFU members remained on the steps of Cunniffe for four hours awaiting a response, the administration eventually declared that they would not respond at the moment since they were dealing with more pressing issues.
Overall, both contingent and tenured faculty have been organizing for rights on campus and a fair voice in administrative matters, and will continue to. It is a good time for unity with student organizers, who are growing increasingly frustrated with administrative denial of free speech and student voices. With each action that violates the university’s oppressive policies on denying freedom of speech and assembly, we as a community are seizing the rights the administration has been refusing to grant us. They cannot ignore these issues, or the people behind them – the people who are their colleagues, their community members – for much longer.