UNION – The Kean Board of Trustees heard an earful from the adjunct professor’s union president at the last meeting, including that non-tenured professors are not treated like they work at a “world class university.”
Kathleen Mary Henderson has worked at the university for decades as an adjunct professor and is president of the Kean University Adjunct Faculty Federation.
At board meetings she has a seat at the board table and has no qualms about passionately expressing her concerns regarding how her fellow adjunct professors are treated.
For example, at the end of 2012 when adjunct professors had their workloads reduced and some were forced into unemployment lines right before Christmas, Henderson fought back and filed a grievance against the university.
The grievance included the school turning around and posting job vacancies to replace one course for each of the 210 adjuncts hit by this change, rather than simply keeping the existing adjuncts on board.
And now, last week when the board of trustees met, Henderson did not hesitate to step to the microphone and let the board know she was not pleased over several things that happened recently.
“Our first issue concerns Kean’s deplorable, third class treatment given to the adjunct faculty from Kean who went to Kean-Wenzhou,” Henderson told the board.
Wenzhou is a China satellite campus that University President Dawood Farahi promoted and has stood behind despite little evidence that it would not add to the more than $353 million in debt the university is already shouldering.
Henderson went on to explain to the board of trustees that she discovered that adjuncts who went there to teach for a week were not treated the same as others from Kean who were on the trip.
“Not only was it recently found out that the adjuncts were not housed in the same English-speaking hotel as visiting Kean students, trustees and their full-time teaching counterparts, which was agreed to in our negotiations, but they were not given any of the amenities afforded their full-time counterparts,” said the KUAFF president, explaining full-time staff from Kean University, along with students and board of trustee members, were housed across the street in a hotel they were told they would stay at.
“The adjunct professors had limited access to amenities and had to pay out of pocket for a fraction of amenities provided across the street,” Henderson added, pointing out that, for instance, no one spoke English at their hotel, and there was no access to WIFI, which was needed.
Also troubling was that they had only 15 minutes each morning to eat because breakfast was served at 7 a.m. and the taxi taking everyone to the university campus left promptly at 7:15 a.m.
“Add that to all the many inconveniences, the adjuncts were not even paid the entire time they were in China,” she said, noting that it took some seven weeks after they returned to receive their pay.
“Their full-time counterparts were paid every two weeks by Kean,” Henderson said, adding that it also was odd that there was no orientation prior to leaving for China or debriefing when they returned to the Union campus.
Apologies were given, the adjunct professor said, but this came late and after a labor management meeting when all this came to light.
“The bottom line is this is how Kean treats its adjunct faculty,” she said to the board of trustees, adding “this is unacceptable and certainly not world class treatment of its precious commodity, our adjunct faculty.”
Despite this, not one board of trustee member addressed what took place or apologized.
The second concern Henderson spoke about involved the impact students felt “over the deceptive and adamant refusal of the administration to withhold posting the names of all adjunct and overload staff.”
The adjunct professor said this involved courses students are registering for the fall semester and most students want to know the name of the professor teaching a course.
“This was the first time in our union’s history that ‘all’ adjunct names were deliberately excluded during the student advisement and registration period,” said Henderson, pointing out that these are adjuncts that have “faithfully taught at Kean for 5 to 20-plus years.”
“It is the position of the KUAFF that our students have the right to know who their course instructor is before they register, not be surprised. It only adds to the public’s perception that Kean continues to spin a good PR tale that all is well, but in truth still does not have its act together,” said the union president.
The third issue concerned questions asked of the union by the Middle States Visiting team. Henderson told the board that when the team visited Kean, while they were on probation in 2012, adjuncts were asked when was the last time University President Dawood Farahi met with the adjunct professors to discuss any union concerns they might have on their mind.
“I responded by saying in the decade since Dr. Farahi has been president, he has only met with me twice and on both occasions it was strictly casual conversation. No shop talk,” Henderson said, adding “his door is not always open to me or the union as he has boasted to the adjuncts and public in the past that it would be.”
Henderson said she told the visiting team that this was Farahi’s management style and “it is not his management style to engage in such trivial things like labor negotiations, nor sign his name to agreements, that he delegates to others.”
“Decisions take months. Sometimes years,” she added, pointing out that the adjuncts have heard the board of trustees “often have no clue” what is being negotiated.
“We are a campus of myths and rumors. Somewhere among them is a kernel of truth,” Henderson told the board.
The adjunct professor also told the board that even though she has repeatedly asked for a meeting with them to open the door of communication and discuss union concerns, there has only been one meeting and it occurred immediately following Middle States’ last campus visit.
“We looked at the meeting as a hopeful start of open, transparent two-way communications. Alas, that too was done for appearances only,” she added.