We Sustain UVM:    UA Member Profiles

Jamie Abaied
Assistant Professor, Psychological Science

Jamie Abaied directs UVM’s Family Development Lab. She researches and publishes extensively on parenting, emerging adulthood, and developmental psychophysiology. Among her courses is the first-year seminar Debunking Myths of Adolescence.


How does your work sustain UVM?

In addition to my research contributions, I sustain UVM in my roles as teacher and research mentor. At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, I mentor students through the research process from start to finish—helping students take one of their own ideas and put it into practice as an independent research project. As a result, students learn to make their own research contributions through graduate theses, undergraduate honors theses, McNair scholar projects, and posters for UVM’s undergraduate research conference.

How has United Academics sustained you?

I appreciate the role United Academics has played in making the lives of faculty more predictable and stable—from negotiating a contract that gives contingent (pre-tenure and non-tenure track) faculty clear rights and benefits to helping to promote a culture in which the work faculty put into mentoring and advising students through independent studies, theses, and research projects is more recognized, valued, and rewarded by the institution.

I also commend UA’s commitment to protecting the authority and expertise of faculty who are in the best position to understand the nature of their disciplines and to make decisions collectively within departments and programs about issues that range from how to credit independent studies and thesis supervision to what criteria to use to measure and reward productivity or the impact of faculty research. The strength of our faculty union will be crucial to protecting all dimensions of faculty governance at UVM.

What makes it difficult for you to sustain your research and mentoring?
One difficulty is the lack of professional development resources. Professional development funds barely cover expenses for a single professional conference per year. The data collection, coding, and analysis software I need to sustain my research is expensive, yet must be purchased out of pocket. I am further concerned with lack of resources to hire new faculty members to replace those who have left my home department of Psychological Science, and also across the College of Arts and Sciences. It is essential for the long-term sustainability of academic excellence at UVM that a critical mass of faculty be maintained.

 

JB Barna, Senior Lecturer, Social Work

JB Barna has held the position of Field Coordinator for the Masters and Bachelors of Social Work programs for the last 17 years. In addition to teaching, she is responsible for overseeing the Field Education Program, which includes placing, supporting, and supervising the practicums of over 100 aspiring social workers. She is also the Chair of United Academics Delegates Assembly.

How does your work sustain UVM?

My work as a Field Coordinator sustains UVM because it fulfills the land grant mission –it’s where I am connecting UVM to our community. My work also sustains UVM because our students (who are in the field for full academic years) bring their experiences back into the classroom. They’re not only learning in the classroom.  They’re having real relationships with real people (those who are vulnerable and who have been marginalized) – this impacts the learning and teaching that happens here on campus. I think the university needs that and benefits greatly from it.

How has UA sustained you?

Well, UA saved my life, basically. I experienced one major event (workload) that impacted me greatly. Additionally, I watched friends and colleagues go through worse things. UA was right there. The folks I interacted with were warm and smart and curious and practical. They said things like, “This is what we're going to do, and this is how we’re going to do it.” I was so impressed with how UA interacted with the administrators involved – balanced, clear, and focused.  They supported me, not only in my work life, but emotionally as well. Who knew workloads could be so emotional.  It is important as a faculty member to know somebody knows the rules and is going to fight for the rules on your behalf. 

What makes it difficult to sustain you and your work?

It’s the shadow work. It’s all the stuff that gets asked of us day in and day out. The workload plans can look okay – even good – but then it's the next thing were asked to do, and the one after that. I understand that we can say no, but there is a consequence to saying no. It’s our reputation as a Department that urges me to say “yes” to things I simply do not have time to do. Faculty are put in the position of either doing what extra thing is asked of us, or risking the reputation of not being a team player or not pulling our weight or even being apathetic.

What is your hope for UVM?

I know that we want to put students first, but part of putting students first is giving faculty the support and resources we need in order to do so.  We can’t have our workloads take over our lives. We need to be there for the students and be there for ourselves. I know we shouldn’t adopt a scarcity mentality, but it feels scarce to run all these programs with the skimpy resources we are told we have. My hope is that we are given the time we need to do the work. So my hope is that resources go into the faculty and departments in such a way that we can do what we love with our students and our scholarship and our colleagues – and that we can do it well.

Pamela Fraser, Assistant Professor, Studio Art

Fraser.jpg

Pamela Fraser is author of the forthcoming book How Color Works: Color Theory in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press) and an artist whose work has been exhibited in Cologne, London, New York, Venice, and elsewhere. She works in a range of media, especially painting, to explore the relationship of abstraction to place and also organizes exhibitions of other artists’ work. In addition to teaching in the Studio Art program, this semester she is teaching  an Art History seminar “Examining the Exhibition.”

How does your work sustain UVM?

A lot of students come to our classes thinking about expression in a very loose way, so I work really hard to help students see how much a vehicle for meaning-making painting really is. Making a painting is a form of making an argument as much as writing a persuasive paper is because art embodies people’s values. When students are studying the work of other artists or curators or how museums shows are put together, they have to understand the subtext behind who is included, who is excluded—all kinds of social justice issues come into play. But art also engages a less critical or different side of human nature too. When people are touched by art, they feel on the most basic level that something has a sense of wonder to it. So teaching art and art history also demands considerations of sympathy and empathy in terms of both the subject matter students choose and the audience they assume or cultivate.

How has UA sustained you?

New legislation to make right-to-work a nationwide law highlights how important unions are. I think unions are really necessary because it’s not about our own enrichment; it’s about fairness, it’s about social justice, it’s about not being exploited. My department used to hold faculty meetings on Tuesday evenings, which was difficult for me with a toddler and a husband who worked away from home. I was able to look through the collective bargaining agreement and understand this meeting time wasn’t fair—so we changed it. The supportive climate—in my department at least—is because we have a union. We have an awareness and appreciation that we should be fair.

What makes it difficult to sustain you and your work?

The greatest obstacle is time. UVM is a rare Research 1 institution with a 3-2 teaching load. In fact, I have taught at several other Research 1 schools and always taught 2-2. The additional class at UVM makes a huge difference in my ability to develop my own research. Tenure-track faculty are supposed to have 40 percent of our time to devote to research, 40 percent to teaching, and 20 percent to service. But when it is my three-course semester, I do not have 40 percent of my time available to devote to my research. All of my time is needed for class preparation and for grading. We’re here because of our research. Our value is in what we develop that we can offer the world and our students. If we don’t have time for research, we become a different kind of school. The UVM where I want to be is one that would let me give equal time to teaching and to research.

 

Anthony Grudin
Associate Professor, Art History

Anthony Grudin is author of Warhol’s Working Class: Pop Art and Egalitarianism, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, along with articles and reviews in October, Oxford Art Journal, and more. His latest book project takes up Warhol’s interest in animal life, and in such courses as The Problem of the Animal and The Pictures Generation, he invites students into understanding art as a means to grapple with issues of social class and power.

How does your work sustain UVM?

Encouraging students to think critically about their surroundings is one of the most important things we can do as educators. Art History provides opportunities for this thinking, and it makes investigations of class, hierarchy, and power more tangible, more accessible for students than if they were approaching these questions purely through texts. In this respect and others, Art History can be very conducive to critical thinking, and it is absolutely my highest priority as a teacher within Art History to provide contexts for students to practice it. I do my best to find ways to impassion students, to show them that the issues that have preoccupied artists and art historians over the centuries—concerning sexuality, gender, ethnicity, politics, hierarchy, anthropocentrism—are not distant and still matter in their lives.

How has United Academics sustained you?

For me the union has been absolutely crucial to making UVM a place where people want to work and teach. The way that sabbaticals are structured, the improvement of our salaries over time, faculty governance: All of these factors were instrumental in my decision to choose UVM, and none of them would have happened without the union. But when I look back on UVM at retirement age, I don’t think there will be anything I appreciate more than having the extra semester to spend with my daughter during her first six months. Thanks to parental leave, I was able to split childcare with my wife, and I really got to know our daughter. The experience was breathtaking on a daily basis. Very few working Americans get to spend six straight months with a newborn child, and I’m tremendously grateful to the union for fighting for this policy.

What challenges threaten to make your work unsustainable?

In my opinion, the biggest concern for Art & Art History right now is the loss of tenure-track lines: 29% over the last four years. It is unclear when or if these lost positions will come back. The loss of tenure-track faculty affects morale. We have so many fewer people to do the work the department needs done. It also affects the curriculum and course offerings, and therefore our students. We no longer have a professor with research specialization in Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Monet, or Manet, nor do we have a tenure-track faculty member for ceramics—an extremely popular offering in our department for decades. When faculty aren’t replaced, we also lose out on intellectual community and conversation. Unfortunately, these changes make me worry about the future of the department. We need to find a way to re-prioritize the teacher-scholar model.

 

Alan Steinweis, Professor of History and Leonard and Carolyn Miller Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies

Professor Steinweis’s recent books include Kristallnacht 1938 and Studying the Jew: Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany, both from Harvard University Press. The recipient of numerous fellowships, he has held visiting positions at the Universities of Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and elsewhere.

As a professor of history, my most important contributions to UVM are as a teacher and scholar. I’m also the Director of the Miller Center for Holocaust Studies, one of the first and one of the preeminent academic centers of its kind. A substantial portion of my time goes to the mundane but necessary administrative duties required to run such a program. But more and more unnecessary rules and procedures have been put in place over the years, increasing the time I have to spend on administration at the expense of teaching and scholarship.
 
One example: Guest lectures are central to the Center’s outreach mission. Counting symposia, we bring an average of about a dozen speakers to campus every year. Suddenly, in late 2015, I was informed that we are now required to execute a written contract for every speaker. We managed fine without this procedure in the past. In my career at UVM and other institutions, I’ve hosted about 200 guest speakers (counting conferences), and have never faced a situation where there was a disagreement with a speaker over the arrangements. This written contract comes at a substantial cost in time for me and for our quarter-time program administrative coordinator, but it’s a safeguard against a contingency that hardly ever happens.


The contract templates were clearly never vetted by people who understand how the academic side of the university functions. For example, according to the original version of the document, if a reporter from the Cynic or VPR were to contact the speaker with an interview request, the speaker would have been compelled to refer the journalist to the UVM Communications Office. Such a practice might be common in the corporate world, but we are academics, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna tell a professional colleague whom he’s allowed to talk to. Fortunately we were able to get this stipulation changed, but the fact that it was there in the first place speaks to the lack of faculty consultation in the creation of these ever more numerous rules and procedures. While I recognize the need to be careful about handling funds, procedures need to be formulated so as to facilitate the academic mission of the university rather than to place obstacles in its way.

It has been a pleasure and an honor to lead the Center for Holocaust Studies at UVM for almost a decade, but the increasingly suffocating bureaucracy at UVM—the example cited above is but one among many—has become a significant impediment to my ability to carry out my duties.

 

Luis Vivanco
Professor, Anthropology

Luis Vivanco’s books include Tarzan Was an Ecotourist …And Other Tales in the Anthropology of Adventure and Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing. Co-director of the UVM Humanities Center, founding director of the Global Studies Program, and recipient of a Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award, he teaches such courses as Environmental Anthropology and Bicycles, Globalization, and Sustainability.


I began as an Assistant Professor not long before the formation of United Academics. When I was offered the job, I was literally told “Sorry for the low salary, but enjoy the view, it’s beautiful.” I was simply grateful to have a tenure track job, and at a highly-respected institution, so who was I to complain? But I quickly found that the morale of my senior colleagues was low, and the sense of alienation around work conditions high. It turns out I wasn’t the only one with a low salary, no start-up resources, and hardly any professional development funds. In my first years at UVM, I saw a number of job candidates turn us down because of these conditions. I pulled deeply out of my own meager pocket to attend academic conferences, I put off further fieldwork that I thought was necessary to advance my research, and I signed up to teach summer school to try to make a better salary. When I finally gained financial support for my research in Latin America—a prestigious Fulbright award—I had to take an unpaid leave for a semester and my benefits were cut.
 
Collective bargaining changed that. Our salaries moved closer to averages, we received guaranteed professional development funds, and our competitiveness bringing in top candidates improved. Morale went up, and has stayed high. It wasn’t just due to better resources. It was parental leave for those of us who are parents, a fair grievance process, and most important, it was rooted in knowledge that collective bargaining has made us partners with the administration, not its subjects.

But I believe the progress we gained making up for years of lost opportunity to invest in the faculty have slowed. The professional development funds still don’t cover the full expenses associated with just one academic conference a year; I’m still pulling from my pocket. Our average salaries have slipped compared to our peer and aspirant institutions. And now as a Full Professor whose initial salary was very low, I’ve experienced great compression as the—highly deserved—salaries of junior colleagues have gone up much higher. I’m still teaching summer courses to make a better salary. I know I’m not alone.
 
I have now spent nearly twenty years sustaining UVM. But I have strived to do more. Many of us strive not just to sustain UVM but to bring it excellence, recognition, and prestige. My contribution includes eight books, two Fulbright awards, two campus teaching awards including its most prestigious—the Kidder award—the creation of a popular undergraduate program (Global Studies), and, most recently, stewardship of the Humanities Center. There are so many more faculty more accomplished than me, whose records of publication, teaching, and national and international service bear the evidence that we have a world-class faculty. Our collective goal as an institution must be to sustain that level of excellence.

United Academics Member Spotlight