UA Vice President John Forbes Remarks to the Board of Trustees

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.