Report: UCC has ‘bulldozed faculty rights’

American Association of University Professors claims reorganization is ‘demeaning’

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.

COMMENTS

6 Responses to "Report: UCC has ‘bulldozed faculty rights’"

  1. watchdog   December 13, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Yes, it is great that graduation rates have risen, but there could be other ways than abusing the rights of professors and other employees and punishing those who exercise their 1st amendment rights. UCC used to be a great place to work.

  2. N_McCagnett   December 13, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    McMenamin needs to explain her figures on how she arrived at an increase in the graduation rate. As a teacher at this institution and one who attends most meetings, I know that she has been asked and no answer has been forthcoming. That is not unusual. She and her sidekick, the academic vice president, treat public information like it’s money coming out of their pocket.

    Furthermore, she has decimated programs that were very useful to the community, but that might keep her from making claims about the graduation rate.

    An example is ESL courses. Many recent immigrants sign up for such courses because it will help them in their employment. Numerous students told me their mothers and fathers had wanted to take the courses to help them with their jobs, but now there are not enough courses available at times they can attend.

    Why did McMenamin slash the number of ESL course offerings? Because these potential students are already employed and do not intend to work toward an associate degree. They are taking the course only to do better at their current place of employment. Having them as students would push her graduation rate down.

    Furthermore, it is no secret that teachers are pressured to pass students who do not deserve to pass. In my department, I know of a case where a teacher was fired because she refused to pass a student who had barely attended the class.

    UCC and Kean are probably the two most poorly administered schools in the state. At least we have the Union News Daily informing citizens of this situation.

  3. Carol   December 14, 2015 at 9:27 am

    The best way to raise graduation rates is to lower standards. Or you can just change the data in the computer. Without the transparency real independent oversight requires, a school can report any results they like and even qualify for bonuses. Columbus OH City Schools demonstrated this in spades a few years ago.

  4. newbie   December 14, 2015 at 10:40 am

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T is lacking at UCC. The administration appears to act like an absolute monarchy when it comes to the adjunct faculty. They will not listen to our expertise and now forcibly include us on only 6 committees. Even though the adjunct faculty makes up over 70% of the instructional staff we are treated like serfs and disrespected. Yes we are ‘at will employees’ but even as such we do deserve to be recognized and respected.

  5. Cordelia Siporin   December 14, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    I can attest to the very real atmosphere of intimidation and retaliation from first-hand experience. I was an adjunct at UCC during the 2014-2015 academic year, things were great and my prospects were promising–until I started speaking out at board meetings. I had stellar peer and student reviews, and had been offered summer courses even though I was only a first-time adjunct; things were going great–until I was called into my supervisor’s office and told that the administration had instructed them to rescind the offer of my summer classes, and, it was implied, not to offer me any more classes in the future.
    I asked to know the reason why, and my supervisor admitted that it was very clearly the result of my speeches to the UCC board of trustees and my adjunct union activity–though the “official” reason was some flimsy technical excuse about my humanities research Masters Degree being quite suddenly unsatisfactory to teach the basic, entry-level humanities courses I was assigned and had been teaching with great success for a year.
    The truly ironic thing, to me, is the fact that I was originally recommended for the courses I had been teaching by President McMenamin herself; I had a connection to her via a helpful family member (before I had any idea what she was like), and she had been sent my resume and asked to recommend the department of her choice to hire me to teach whatever courses she deemed appropriate for my degree credentials…! The fact that the college administration found my resume spontaneously inadequate as soon as I started speaking out against the abuses of power going on in the administration, when it had been the president herself who originally recommended me for them, strikes me as extremely telling.
    And then, as it turned out, I was actually merely the first one to go–just a couple semesters later, I see the entire adjunct union board beginning to suffer the same fate as I did, courses being taken away one by one. These are veteran professors who taught the same courses at the same times for years, sometimes decades–suddenly having their classes taken away from them out of nowhere because they dared to speak out. It’s blatantly obvious: at UCC, people who speak out against administrative abuse suffer retaliatory measures.
    It’s no wonder that an atmosphere of intimidation and fear of retaliation is festering at the core of UCC–skilled and talented professional educators are being targeted for exercising their first amendment rights and speaking truth to an intractable and abusive administration.

  6. John Henry Newman   December 17, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    This is not only a problem at UCC. It is also a problem at Montclair State University, and a very serious one where many of the same union-busting tactics and academic sloppiness (increased graduation rates and ratings) are pushed by the administrative clerks– most of whom have not been in a classroom in decades. It is time for the unions to step in heavily to really protect their members, to further quality education and to put a monkey wrench into the wheels of the business-model of education, which serves no one and indeed damages students.