Posted: Fri 7:45 AM, Feb 02, 2018 |
Updated: Fri 11:38 AM, Feb 02, 2018
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The University of Vermont and the faculty union are at an impasse in their contract negotiations. Some faculty members and students feel the university should focus on education, rather than new amenities to attract more students.
"Many faculty members believe that university priorities have gotten a little bit warped," said Tom Streeter, a professor of sociology and the president of the faculty union at the University of Vermont.
An informational session on where and how UVM spends its money was held Thursday night.
"Building new buildings, doing things to attract new students is a great idea if it’s not the case everyone else is doing the same thing," Streeter said.
Streeter says new complexes like the STEM facility and the future Multi-Purpose Center shouldn't be the top priority of the university. He argues focusing on the physical development of the campus is not unique. Other schools are doing similar things to attract students. Streeter thinks the money could be better spent.
"It doesn't have to be a giant change, but a modest change could right the ship," he said.
UVM leadership declined to speak with WCAX News on camera but sent a statement that read in part, the "Multi-Purpose Center will be funded through private philanthropy and debt service paid through student fees." And that it is "not competing with faculty compensation." They also say the university has "a very significant backlog and continues to renovate and replace buildings" to "compete nationally for students faculty and staff."
"I mean things change, it’s progression, it’s natural," said Esther Rosen, a junior in UVM's College of Arts and Sciences.
Rosen also believes the university is prioritizing bringing in new students rather than focusing on the ones already in Vermont.
"Everybody here is getting an amazing education but there's definitely an imbalance in the way the administration looks at the university as a product and the university as an institution," said Rosen.
It was announced late last year that 12 spring courses were cut at the college due to UVM's $4 million budget shortfall. Potential faculty layoffs were also mentioned.
"Which will inherently impact me as a student and my peers because we have less lecturers, we have less classes," Rosen said.
Streeter falls short of advocating for money to go to specific colleges or departments but says the union wants everyone that contributes to UVM to be treated equally.
"We need the business school, we need the classics department, we need the nursing school, we need the STEM researchers-- that’s what makes the university what it is," Streeter said.
Members of UVM’s faculty union, United Academics, which is in contract negotiations with administration. File photo by Kelsey Neubauer/VTDigger
BURLINGTON — University of Vermont’s faculty union is concerned about cuts in the number of non-tenured lecturers ahead, the cancellation of classes this semester and stalled contract negotiations.
At an event last week, the union said a national trend in higher education that puts an emphasis on marketing and high end infrastructure at the expense of academics has come to UVM.
At an “Open the Books” forum Thursday, United Academics, the union representing UVM faculty said the decision last fall to cut several courses from the College of Arts and Sciences, and recently revealed plans for reductions in the ranks of full-time and part-time lecturers, are symptoms of a larger national trend called “marketization.” Universities everywhere, including UVM, are allocating more money to infrastructure, marketing and student incentives such as merit scholarships in an effort to broaden the university’s appeal.
Beth Mintz, a professor of sociology and a panel member, said the shifts in funding are geared toward attracting more students and improving UVM’s standing in university rankings.
The Open the Books panel examined of the role of UVM’s budgeting formula, known as “incentive based budgeting.” Incentive-based budgeting, or IBB, allots money to colleges based on a number of factors such as enrollment and the cost of offering the class. It is UVM’s version of the responsibility-centered management model in use at public universities across the country.
Implementation of IBB has contributed to a longtime trend away from hiring tenure-track faculty toward the use of non-tenure track lecturers. Lecturers carry larger course loads — as much as double the number of courses as their tenure-track counterparts — and earn a fraction of the salary of a typical tenure-track faculty member, said Nancy Welch, a panel member and a professor of English.
Welch said the university employs 64 fewer assistant professors and 37 more lecturers than it did 12 years ago. This has translated into larger class sizes, she said. Over the course of the past 20 years, many classes have grown by nearly three times their original size.
The university is also investing in infrastructure, such as new dorms, an athletic center and a new library bridge, to draw more students.
“Our argument is not that we think UVM can unbuild the library bridge and give the money to faculty and students,” Welch said. “But we think the simultaneous spending on bridges while cutting courses and faculty is a symptom of larger trends, and these trends can be turned around bit by bit.”
While the College of Arts and Sciences has borne the brunt this year, every college will feel the effects eventually, said Thomas Streeter, a professor of sociology and president of the faculty union.
Panelist Esther Rosen, a UVM junior and editor of the alternative campus newspaper The Water Tower News, said class sizes have grown. The course, Healthy Brains Healthy Bodies, for example, had been open to 15 students the first few years. Now it is a lecture attended by more than 200 students.
Rosen said despite the increase in class size, the course itself is unchanged: Fifty percent of the class grade is attendance. But the large number of students has led to an inevitable slip in educational quality, she said.
Rosen said that while students personally have witnessed the changing face of UVM — as a result of daily navigating construction sites — they question what the payoff is.
“The obsession with image hasn’t been lost on the students,” Rosen said. “The change doesn’t necessarily translate into the student experience.”
The faculty union and the university have been in contract negotiations for the past year. An impasse was declared in September, and in November it was announced that mediation had failed. The issues separating the two parties involve salaries and aspects of faculty intellectual property rights. The next phase of negotiations — fact-finding — is to begin Feb. 12.
“The University is committed to presenting accurate, comprehensive, factual data and information in the fact-finding process,” Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president of human resources, said in a letter emailed Thursday to students.
In an email response Streeter, the uniong president, said “the administration’s thinking is based on a narrow, blinkered, short term set of concerns.”
If the fact-finding phase fails, the university administration and the faculty union each will submit contract proposals to the Vermont Labor Relations Board.
Brent Hallenbeck, Free Press Staff WriterPublished 12:27 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2017 | Updated 2:10 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2017
D. Thomas Toner, professor of music at the University of Vermont, explains why music matters to students not majoring in the subject
The University of Vermont has cut a dozen classes in its College of Arts and Sciences – half of those coming from the Department of Music and Dance – leading a music professor to resign his position as department chairman.
D. Thomas Toner stepped aside from his Department of Music and Dance chairmanship last Friday after being asked to recommend cuts to help reduce a budget shortfall in the College of Arts and Sciences that’s estimated between $3.7 million to $4 million. The college’s total annual budget is $110 million.
The cuts came as students were about to begin choosing classes for the spring semester. Registration began Monday and ends Friday.
“No one wants to cut any classes anytime because it is disruptive to everybody,” Toner said Thursday morning from his office in the Southwick Building on UVM’s Redstone Campus. “It just seemed like it was happening so late.”
According to William Falls, dean of the College of Arts and Science, 12 of the 63 spring courses offered by part-time faculty in the college were canceled. Six were cut in music and dance, Falls noted, while others were trimmed in art, anthropology, theater and psychological services. The cuts represent less than 1 percent of the total class offerings in the college, according to the university.
“I’ve been fielding some questions (from) students that suggest to me that there is a perception that this (is) targeting the arts, or at least music and dance directly,” Falls wrote Wednesday evening in an email to the Burlington Free Press. “Nothing can be further from the truth.”
Toner said he has “tremendous respect” for Falls, who said cuts were deep in Music and Dance because the department relies on numerous part-time faculty. Still, Toner said, “it is difficult not to feel singled out.” Classes cut in the music department include group lessons in conga and djembe, brass techniques and music history and literature.
D. Thomas Toner, professor of music at the University of Vermont, resigned his chairmanship of the Department of Music and Dance after being asked to cut classes on the eve of registration for the spring semester. (Photo: BRENT HALLENBECK/FREE PRESS)
Though he quit his chairmanship, Toner remains at UVM, where he has been a full professor since 2010 and taught since 1995. The Swanton native said his tenure of more than 10 years as chairman of the Department of Music and Dance was due to end Jan. 15, but his early resignation means he will forfeit a portion of his approximately $18,000 annual chairman’s salary.
“I can say I was not OK with (the cuts), and they (administration) would have to believe me,” Toner said, explaining why he decided to quit his chairmanship. “I just didn’t want to be a part of this any longer.”
Toner said the cuts on the eve of class selection for the spring semester is hard on students, though he made the effort to recommend cuts in classes that would not affect students’ abilities to graduate. “It does create a problem for the students running around at the last minute” to find new classes, according to Toner.
A former part-time faculty member himself, Toner said he feels especially bad for the adjunct music faculty who arranged their schedules to accommodate spring classes. As musicians trying to make a living in the small state of Vermont, Toner said many count on their salary of $1,900 per class credit to augment their incomes.
The half-dozen classes cut in his department will save about $50,000 in salary and related costs, according to Toner, which he said doesn’t seem like a lot in the face of a $4-million shortfall. “It’s not insignificant,” he said of the reduction, “but in a way that gives you the perspective that that amount of money should be significant but it isn’t.”
According to a statement issued Wednesday by UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera, the College of Arts and Sciences “has not met its enrollment and retention targets and has not yet been able to adjust costs so as to keep its budget in balance.” Toner said the cuts have many within his department on edge.
“The students and the faculty are concerned both about what’s happened immediately,” he said, “and what the potential is down the road.”
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or email@example.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.
Images From our Spring Legislative Trustees Reception
Comments before the UVM Board of Trustees
Dr. Felicia Kornbluh
Associate Professor of History and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
and President, United Academics, AFT/AAUP
February 6, 2016
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Board this morning. And hello to those legislative trustees with whom United Academics has had the pleasure to share its perspectives in recent months.
I am Dr. Felicia Kornbluh, an Associate Professor of History and of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, at UVM and the President of United Academics. Here with me today are members of our elected leadership bodies, the Executive Council and the Delegates Assembly, and other active members of our union. We are all busy teachers and scholars, who join together in UA to forward our vision of the university.
Let me begin by acknowledging your service to the University of Vermont. As the representative of the organized faculty of the University, United Academics is indebted to you. We know that this is a hard-working board, and that you all have many other commitments in your lives as well. We acknowledge as well President Sullivan and other university administrators who use their best judgment to sustain UVM financially and steer it toward a stable future.
This morning I will say a few words about United Academics and share some of our current concerns, offering not a “state of the union” but thoughts on the state of the University from the union’s point of view.
Since 2002, United Academics has represented the large, diverse faculty of UVM. Our 800 members range from library and research faculty, to part-time faculty, with specialized knowledge as experienced practitioners in their fields, to full professors in the humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences. We share a profound commitment to our students, to thi university, and to our own professionalism. We stand for the material wellbeing of each and every faculty member – including our access to high-quality, affordable health care and to the time that allows us to nurture our family lives and feed our intellects. We also stand for the values of the faculty. These include the accessibility and affordability of higher education to all who seek it; the importance of education that is challenging—and to courses that are small enough to allow for the most rigorous pedagogy; intellectual and political independence that permit us to challenge young minds; and a democratic, humane university that can serve as a beacon in an era in which the most truculent or meretricious voices are often the loudest.
We care more than perhaps you know about the fate of the University of Vermont and about the fate of universities generally in our society. These institutions value fairness and free inquiry, depth of engagement and the search for truth, and the ability to stand at a critical distance from the picture of the world provided by conventional media, political, and economic authorities.
Our over-arching concern at present is that a certain version of fiscal sense has taken priority over other values that define us as a community. Throughout the university, we seem to be experiencing a death of a thousand cuts. I say “seem” because UA learns about these only episodically and anecdotally. Under Incentive-Based Budgeting, the central administration has divested itself of responsibility for these decisions while imposing demanding fiscal targets upon the Deans and colleges.
We insist that the UVM administration at all levels hold the faculty harmless in the face of the many remaining unknowns of this budget model. We should not be taxed to enable its implementation. The letter and the spirit of our collective bargaining agreement with the university must be honored. Changes in the quantity or quality of faculty members’ work must be bargained and negotiated with United Academics as their organized representative. We call for a moratorium on administrative decisions that are ending the careers of some of our treasured colleagues and exposing others to uncertainty and unanticipated, exploding workloads.
As a partial solution, we ask this Board to demand that the UVM administration work with the faculty to establish new democratic procedures that give faculty the power to approve or reject any decisions that affect our and our colleagues’ wellbeing under the IBB system.
Last, we ask that this comment period be restored to FRIDAY AFTERNOON to enable more students and faculty to attend.
I fear that this Board has received a somewhat false sense of the level of satisfaction within the UVM faculty. The hope of Incentive-Based Budgeting is that it will provide for greater democratic participation because decisions are made within the colleges, which largely command their own budgets. However, we have seen the following:
* Disparity across colleges in implementation of IBB. This includes disparity in the degree of consultation and democratic participation that individual Deans have solicited, or even allowed. We must ensure that faculty have power under this system – not merely the ability to have their voices heard, but the authority to make choices based upon our experiences and expertise.
* Departmental chairs and deans operating in the shadow of IBB to cut costs pre-emptively. Some appear to be running scared, limiting or eliminating the contracts of nontenured faculty just in case the finances do not work out. This is no way to make decisions about matters of intellectual and academic value, which have implications for our students’ education and which may end the livelihoods of professors who provide enormous value to UVM.
* Increased class sizes—by fiat and against the best judgment of the faculty. This happened in the Environmental Program, a shared endeavor of the College of Arts and Sciences, CALS, and the Rubenstein School. It is one of our flagship programs at UVM, a national leader and one of the defining elements of the undergraduate curriculum.
* The withdrawal of Teaching Assistance. We know of one faculty member, a distinguished part-time Lecturer, who has left the university largely over this issue. The faculty member had taught essential courses for six years and is also a scholar whose research focuses upon urgent contemporary issues. Faced with rising class sizes, no assistance, and no additional compensation, this faculty member left UVM. Aside from the rising workload, this professor felt disrespected and devalued by a university that was apparently more interested in cutting costs than in preserving a high-quality education.
UVM can and must do better. United Academics is eager to work with you to take the next steps forward.
For The Member Meeting: November 2, 2015
Today I want to talk briefly in three parts:
First, the assault we are facing and the vision of the world that motivates that assault;
Second, what we as faculty, and education workers, and union members have as a contrasting vision, what our sense is of the kind of university we hoped to work in and we want to help create;
and Third, to begin to think together about what are the concrete steps we can take.
I want to start off by acknowledging everyone for your contribution to United Academics: Past leaders; NEW MEMBERS: The most important people here Delegates; Departmental Representative; members of the Executive Council; Member of our staff; Allies of United Academics, friends of our union.
And ALL members of United Academics –who joined with the intention of joining with other faculty at UVM to accomplish things we care about.
My intention today is that you leave here knowing that the union absolutely needs you and every colleague you can bring with you into active membership.
We face a historically new situation.
- Thanks to our predecessors in the 20th century, universities have been special places, held apart from the most dehumanizing dictates of market capitalism.
- Since the 1970s, public-sector unions, such as ours, have been a port in the storm for organized labor. It has been possible for labor to keep unions alive and even expand our efforts to humanize the workplace in the public sector.
- UVM has benefited from a demographic “bubble” that has allowed it to expand and bring in more revenue without lowering admission standards.
These are all changing. In fact, we have so many challenges, we could spend hours just talking about those. So, very briefly --
At UVM: Budgeting (the “Incentive-Based Budgeting” model and its concomitants): By design, cost is designed to be in the driver’s seat in ALL university decision making – by every Dean in every College, and therefore by every Chair and Department head.; Erosion of faculty governance, for example, in the powers of the Faculty Senate.; Continued biases on the basis of race, gender, (dis)ability, nationality and sexuality; andNOT looking at how we can have smaller classes, give students more attention, engage in more ethnical and critical reflection, reduce our teaching loads.
State legislature – multiple proposals – including Higher Education “performance measures,” distracting from the scandal of Inadequate funding : Vermont 49th in the country in its support for higher education (in the dollar value of its per-pupil expenditures)
U.S. Supreme Court: Friedrichs v. CTA case, which could imperil our ability to have a class of “fee-payers” whom we represent in bargaining but who do not affirmatively declare that they are members of the union.
Those are serious and sometimes overwhelming challenges, attempts to transform UVM as we have known it, to operate like a private business, with managers calling all of the shots, with students conceptualized largely as “customers” here to provide a revenue stream, and with the emphasis ONLY on the bottom line instead of expanding knowledge, opening minds, and encouraging the free exchange of ideas.
We have to counter these challenges, but we also need to put forward our contrasting vision, to insist that WE ARE THE UNIVERSITY. We need to be a key part of the decision making process, and to involve people to create the kind of university that Vermont deserves.
That’s what our union is: a chance to come together, to talk about what WE want to create, to unite with student and community allies, to contrast our vision with the administration’s vision, and to work in solidarity to stop the outrages -- and start to create something better.
Doing that isn’t easy. But we have the power of the faculty and the people who work here, the support of many students, and a set of legal and organizational tools created through past struggles. Those include the union itself, our right to decide on our goals and to bargain with management, and a contract that we can enforce. Those are potential resources – resources we can strengthen!
II. What to do/Hope
The main source of hope here is our committed union itself. Just recently the part-time bargaining unit of UA finished negotiating a remarkable contract. Brian Tokar will share details in a minute – but in summary, it makes the part-time faculty of UVM among the best protected in the country.
The Contract Administration Committee for good reasons keeps many details of its work confidential. But it, too, has stood up for individual members of UA with incredible tenacity and dedication – and won much for those individuals.
In the past, some of you may have brought a concern to the elected representatives of the union or the staff. You may have heard, “There’s nothing we can do,” because the contract has already been signed, or state labor law doesn’t seem to address the situation that concerns you or your colleagues. You may even have said that yourself when somebody came to you with a question or a concern. Starting today, we never want to say there’s nothing we can do. We can build on our success at contract bargaining and the bringing of grievances to expand our work to face our new situation: We don’t yet have all the answers. But many of us in UA want to work together to be more creative in our response to some of the challenges we face – and we want to be more effective, and more powerful.
Please be part of the effort to widen the conversation in UA, to make us a union that can really never again say, “no, there’s nothing we can do for you.” To do that we need to build active membership. We need informal interest groups, committees, and Delegate and Representative structures that are firing on all cylinders.
We need to start by increasing our capacity to listen to our members, and talk with them.
Several of us have discussed the idea of having departments invite in people from the union for 15 minutes or so. When UA gets invited in, we need members who will volunteer to attend those meetings, to have questions to ask members at those meetings, to tell people what we are already doing, and to ask for suggestions about other things to do.
- What two topics would you want UA to emphasize if leaders of the union were to come to your colleagues or your whole department or college?
- What other strategies and ideas would you propose in the face of our current challenges?
We have met with the Administration's team three times, and proposals are in. We seek a fair contract that recognizes the hard work of our PT Faculty, leaders in their field who have been teaching at UVM for years or decades. UA Members, come to a bargaining session and support us as an Observer. Students and community supporters, tell your favorite PT Faculty member how much they appreciate their work.
United Academics Members in our Full-Time Bargaining Unit have ratified a new contract with the Administration of the University of Vermont. The new contract contains significant gains for all members, with a special emphasis on Lecturers and other lower-paid faculty. The emphasis on lower-paid faculty was proposed by United Academics, and remained a priority of the Bargaining Team throughout the negotiations.
I am pleased to report that both the Delegates Assembly and the Executive Council have approved the tentative agreement for a new contract, which means that we will hold a ratification vote in mid-December (date to be announced).
We will be holding two informational meetings for members, both in Memorial Lounge, Waterman:
Thursday, December 4, 4:00 - 5:30
Tuesday, December 9, 11:00 - 12:30
Please come with your questions!
I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.
As the weather gets colder, UA's table has moved indoors, but you can find us in the Davis Center Friday the 7th, Friday the 14th and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the 17th - 20th. Come by and say hi, or, better yet, join us at the table - contact Nancy Welch to sign up.
We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers at Rutgers!
I’m David Feurzeig, Associate Professor of Music. I’ve been a member of this faculty for six years, and hope to remain many more. When people ask if I’m a Vermonter, I tell them no one chooses where to be born, but here is where I plan to die.
Recently, our central administration announced the formation of a Council to review UVM’s administrative units. The eight units slated for review this year do not include the offices of the President, Provost, or Deans. Gary Derr, VP for Executive Operations, told the Faculty Senate President that there is currently no plan to do such reviews.
I am asking that the administration and this board correct that omission. A review of leadership offices is especially important for three reasons.
First, administrative compensation has grown out of proportion to all other areas of the university. From 2002 to 2012, the number of top executive positions (those at VP level and above) swelled by 52%, while student enrollment grew 40% and full-time faculty positions increased by only 10%. The average salary for these top 35 administrators grew as well, by 53%, to $210,851. The chart in my handout out illustrates these trends.
UVM’s excessive administrative pay has been the subject of sustained public attention, from stories in the student-run Vermont Cynic to area media and even national coverage by ABC News and the Washington Monthly. United Academics has compiled an archive of about three dozen selected pieces. I encourage you to browse them to see how much this issue rankles in a state with a proud tradition of frugality.
Second, the upper administration has recently advanced, at great cost, several major initiatives that were never implemented. This is largely because they were put forward without serious regard for faculty input. Yet according to the Faculty Senate bylaws, the authority to establish policy regarding academics and research is “vested in the faculty by the Board of Trustees”. A comprehensive review of the university must include a complete accounting of recent administrative initiatives and their outcomes.
Finally, a thorough review of the central administration will set a positive tone for the other university-wide reviews. In keeping with “Our Common Ground's” expressed values of openness and responsibility, the administration should seek the broadest possible input. This will do much to rebuild the trust of the faculty and staff, which has been eroded by what is perceived as administrative overreach and under-accountability.
Thank you for your attention.
Good Morning. My name is John Forbes, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and the Vice President of United Academics.
The faculty that United Academics represents is the soul of UVM, and want UVM to be the best institution that it can be. To that end, we are dedicated to providing high quality, personalized, affordable education to our students.
Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. In our contract negotiations, we have tried in good faith to work to improve both of these conditions. A demoralized faculty inevitably affects student interactions and student retention, issues we all care deeply about. Faculty strongly support the principles outlined in “Our Common Ground” and strive to put them into action every day. We would, however, like to draw your attention to significant challenges regarding two of its principles: respect and justice.
Faculty faces a three-tier hierarchy: tenured faculty, full-time lecturers, and part-time lecturers. Our lecturers comprise one-third of the faculty, but teach one-half of the courses.
Most of them have the terminal degrees, yet they receive less money for doing more teaching than do tenured faculty, and the administration’s latest contract offer would represent no raise for some of those lecturers. Many do not even have an office and are forced to meet with their students in public spaces on campus. Until United Academics started bargaining in 2003, they had no job security at all. A decade later, despite our best efforts, most have little more security than a two-year contract provides.
A large percentage of our lecturers have taught at UVM for years, have deep roots in the university and our community, yet they must live in fear of a non-renewal letter because of “no further need.” Even if they are renewed it may be at less than full-time, which affects not only salary and benefits, but also their level of commitment and student interaction.
The most egregious recent example of such a termination is the case of Kevin Thornton, a historian at UVM for fifteen years, who had been promoted to Senior Lecturer and nominated for the prestigious Kroepsch-Maurice Award, both signs of his excellence in the classroom. Dr. Thornton’s forced departure has left the History Department without a teacher of American Civil War history.
Like many lecturers, he has an active scholarly agenda that currently focuses on Andrew Harris, whom the university is now celebrating as the first African American graduate of UVM. Dr. Thornton first alerted the administration to this fact in January 2014, but his contribution was not acknowledged in any campus announcements. The Harris story exemplifies the unacceptable situation in which many of our lecturers find themselves.
United Academics is proud to sponsor a lecture on Andrew Harris by Kevin Thornton on October 29, at 4 pm in Memorial Lounge. We invite all of you to join us for this lecture.
Shortly before 11:00 AM on Friday, October 17, a large and enthusiastic, but orderly group of faculty, staff and students made their concerns known to the UVM Board of Trustees. United Academics took a stand for justice for faculty, supported by the UVM Student Union, VSEA United Staff and others, because Faculty Working Conditions are Our Students' Learning Conditions. Student Climate Culture exhorted the Board to divest UVM from the fossil fuel industry. VSEA United Staff called for a fair union election without interference or intimidation Faculty, Students and Staff all stood in solidarity, united by a common call for justice at UVM. Together, we are the University!
Doing Justice to Andrew Harris – and Kevin Thornton
Behind every headline is a history that bears further investigation. That’s also true for the Burlington Free Press’s headline of April 19, 2014: “Long forgotten, UVM’s 1st black graduate gets his due.”
As Tim Johnson reported last spring, the University of Vermont administration has pledged to recognize Andrew Harris (UVM Class of 1838), its first African-American graduate. But in the meantime, Kevin Thornton, the Senior Lecturer at UVM whose research established Harris as a standout figure in our university’s and state’s history, has been shown the door.
In statements to the student newspaper and Vermont Public Radio, the administration claimed budget woes, adding that Lecturer positions such as that held by Thornton are “not expected to be permanent.” For the record: Kevin Thornton first joined UVM in 1998 and had taught full-time since 2006.
It’s not that UVM no longer needs Kevin Thornton. Based on his record of superior teaching, his colleagues in History and in the College of Arts and Sciences were unanimous in promoting him to Senior Lecturer in 2012; he also had been nominated for the prestigious Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Excellence in Teaching. With his dismissal, the university has lost its sole historian of the U.S. Civil War, one of the most critical times in American History and the focus of exhibits this fall at the Fleming Museum.
Does this mean that UVM can’t afford to teach about the Civil War? That seems unlikely, as Kevin Thornton's entire salary for teaching seven heavily-enrolled courses a year was less than the raises UVM recently has given to incoming top administrators, compared with their predecessors.
Meanwhile, the audit of university finances commissioned by United Academics, UVM’s faculty union, raises questions about why the administration claims a budget gap at all. Over the past decade, that audit finds, the university’s unrestricted net assets—that is, its savings account, independent of restricted endowment funds—have grown close to $137 million.
After more than a decade of delay by its own admission, the university is finally poised to celebrate Andrew Harris as a pioneering champion of African-American equality—a pioneer who, as Thornton’s research also reveals, endured the hostility of classmates and administrators as he worked to obtain his degree.
As we understand it, Kevin Thornton has received a (belated) invitation to the ceremony that will be taking place between 3 and 4 pm on Thursday, October 16, 2014 alongside the recently installed commemorative plaque on the 3rd floor of the Waterman Building. But this justice deferred for Andrew Harris will continue to be justice denied if the historian who made sure Harris would be remembered at UVM is no longer teaching on campus.
The reinstatement of Kevin Thornton as Senior Lecturer would be an excellent way for UVM to demonstrate its commitment to the values of Integrity and Justice that it proclaims in its statement on “Our Common Ground” (http://www.uvm.edu/~presdent/?Page=miscellaneous/commonground.html).
In the meantime, we at United Academics invite you to attend the lecture that Kevin Thornton will be giving on “Andrew Harris and UVM: 1835-2014” at 4pm on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 in the Memorial Lounge of UVM’s Waterman Building (Waterman 338).
Dennis Mahoney is a Professor of German
Our colleagues at VSEA United Staff are featured on Traven Leyshon's most recent Equal Time Radio show. Click the link above to go to a podcast of the show.
Sarah Goodrich and Jennifer Larsen discuss why UVM staff are organizing their union. Assisted by the Vermont State Employees’ Association, staff have petitioned the Vermont Labor Relations Board to schedule an election so the nearly 800 non-teaching personnel at UVM can make needed improvements at UVM through wining union recognition. As union members, staff would have a legally enforceable right to bargain with the administration around key issues like wages, benefits, working conditions, and fair discipline. Staff deserve the right to bargain for a fair contract, to be treated with respect, and to have their expertise valued. While UVM's top administrators are warning faculty and staff to prepare for substantial program cuts and probable layoffs, their own ranks and salaries have been growing far faster than faculty and staff, at rates far outpacing changes in student enrollment.
UA Vice-President John Forbes spoke in support of the VSEA petition to the Vermont Labor Board.
“It is time for the staff to organize and have a say in their own working conditions the way United Academics and the United Electrical Workers, the Nurses and the Bus Drivers do. When we sit down across the bargaining table with the UVM Administration to negotiate the terms of our employment, the Administration has to care because we formed a Union and they are required to care. They may not like it and I’m pretty sure they don’t, but about that, guess what – We Don’t Care! Our rights to have a say in our employment are guaranteed
United Academics’ full-time faculty, along with the United Electrical Workers, are currently in their own fights for a fair contract. Next year, U.A.’s part-time faculty and the nurses will begin their negotiations for their own fair contracts.
We all look forward to a time, very soon we hope, when the Staff’s Union will have that same opportunity.. The opportunity to speak out for their members about salaries and benefits and working conditions, and the opportunity to negotiate a fair contract, rather than having a contract dictated to them.”
Thank you to all who attended Monday's rally, both United Academics members and our colleagues from around the campus and the Burlington community! A few images from the rally are below, for those who couldn't be there in person!