UNION COUNTY, NJ — Citing changes in school policy put in place since 2009, a report published by the American Association of University Professors alleges that Union County College has bulldozed faculty rights by taking advantage of a state labor law, resulting in “demeaning” treatment of faculty and an inferior educational product.
The report, released in late November, illustrates a deteriorating relationship between administration and faculty at Union County College, which hosts more than 11,000 students at campuses in Cranford and Elizabeth.
In the report, the president of the campus chapter of AAUP, for example, said that there’s “a growing sense of fear, intimidation, and retaliation,” and that faculty members who publicly criticize administrative actions have been told continuing to do so may result in “adverse personnel actions.”
Although the report does not mention him by name, Harold Damerow is the local chapter president and he was reached by phone on Tuesday and confirmed making those comments. But he also had a lot more to say.
“I made these comments some time ago, and I think there is still a sense that if you make negative comments there, and if you are not in line with the sentiments being expressed by the administration, you can get in trouble,” Damerow said. “I think there is a climate of a sense of apprehension. If you don’t go along with what is being done here, you might face consequences.
“And you can verify the sense of the climate that is developing from a lot of things,” Damerow continued, citing an ongoing battle between the adjunct union’s president and the school, among others.
According to information obtained from sources weeks ago, William Lipkin has been an adjunct president since 2004 and has been in an ongoing conflict with the school over claims of insubordination and unfair labor practices that many have alleged is just a form of retaliation by the school.
When reached on Tuesday, Lipkin declined to comment on the ongoing conflict for legal reasons. He did, however, express similar concerns to that of Damerow.
“It appears that the adjunct union leadership is being retaliated against by not being offered their normal schedules for the spring semester,” Lipkin said before ending the conversation.
According to the report by the AAUP, faculty members are critical because of the various changes made during the years under college president Margaret McMenamin, many of which were made without being agreed upon by faculty in a collective bargaining agreement.
“At a June 28, 2012, bargaining session, the UCC administration, through its attorney, presented the AAUP chapter with a binder identifying over one hundred specific provisions of the current CBA that the administration claimed to be non negotiable — that is, no longer subjects for collective bargaining,” the report reads. “Barely two weeks later, bridging the July 4 holiday weekend, the administration filed a scope of bargaining petitions with PERC, effectively blocking an unfettered discussion of the disputed provisions.”
PERC is the Public Employment Relations Commission.
Damerow continued to express concerns about the way the faculty is being treated, including the adjunct professors, of which there are currently 395, up from 260 just two years ago.
“I think unless some changes are made, this university will probably be censured,” Damerow said. “I think that is the right word. You don’t treat professionals this way. In our areas of knowledge, we know more than the administrators do. And a lot of things are being proposed here that I don’t believe are in the interest of our students and our faculty and our community, and they are no longer bargainable. But even if they are not bargainable, you can still have conversation about it, and that is not happening here.
“This is my personal view,” Damerow continued, “but a good little community college is being turned into what I would call grade 13. Personally, I don’t think that is in the best interest of our students, but for some of them, maybe. In college, you’re an adult and you choose your own courses. And it’s a different climate whether you are going to college or continuing high school.”
Many of the other assertions made in the report have roots dating back to October 2014, when the Union County College chapter of AAUP penned a letter to the organization’s national leaders, asking for assistance. The AAUP represents the faculty in collective bargaining agreements, and its website says that part of its mission is to protect academic freedom at colleges.
“The letter detailed faculty complaints regarding actions taken by President McMenamin that the chapter characterized as an ‘attack on collegiality and shared governance,’” reads the report, “and asked the AAUP’s national office ‘to review the governance situation at Union County College.’
Arguably the largest of AAUP’s problems with Union County College was a new governance structure, ushered in by McMenamin, that eliminated many “key” faculty committees, as well as the ability for faculty members to choose their own representatives.
Other issues included the imposition of new procedures for reappointment, promotion and post-tenure review — or changes in how to evaluate personnel — and the planned elimination of existing academic departments, along with elected department chairpersons, to make way for a new division structure with management-appointed deans.
School faculty should also be able to control the curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction during class, according to the AAUP report, and the letter called into question whether college-level standards “can survive at this community college,” due in part to administrative interference.
That’s a question which McMenamin believes she has the answers to, though. The most important result of these changes, she said in a statement, is an upwards trajectory for student success, with far more students graduating than they did six years ago.
That, she says, is what matters most.
“In 2010 when I arrived at Union County College, our graduation rates were the lowest in the State of New Jersey. After 20 years of single-digit graduation rates, I decided to refocus the entire institution on students and student success,” said McMenamin. “Most of our faculty and staff have welcomed that change and our efforts have paid off with a near tripling of our graduation rate since 2009. The change has been difficult for some to accept but our students deserve it, our taxpayers demand it, and our nation needs it.”
In the spring, the AAUP’s 2016 annual meeting may vote to add Union County College to the list of institutions sanctioned for “substantial noncompliance with standards of academic government,” according to a statement on the AAUP website.
Damerow, amid more inflammatory statements, also expressed remorse over the entire situation.
“And let me give a positive,” he said. “We did have a very low graduation rate, and under the current president it has increased. I’m certainly not opposed to that. A lot of what she does is the manner in which it is done, and not the objective. I was on the search committee that chose this president and I liked her at that time. But I don’t relish the idea that the college I’ve worked at for over 35 years is going to be on the censure list of the AAUP, but there has been no effort to talk and see what can be done to avoid this. It’s new management and it’s my way or the highway. And I probably will get into trouble for being as open as I am with you.”
Regional Editor Patrick Bober contributed to this story.