‘Nothing really has changed at Kean’

By cutting credit hours, Kean effectively lays off hundreds of adjunct professors

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With the holidays fast approaching, Kean University, according to the adjunct teacher union, made a swift decision to cut credit hours of adjuncts, putting 210 of the teachers on unemployment beginning the week of Dec. 17, and has circulated ads seeking more teachers.

Last week 210 adjunct professors at Kean University had their workloads reduced and will be forced to head to the unemployment office just weeks before Christmas.

The adjunct union claims the university violated their contract with the union because they were never notified in writing or designated an official to consult with the AFT concerning this abrupt change in policy, which takes effect the week of Dec. 17. As a result, the union intends to file a grievance and do what it takes to right this wrong.

Two weeks ago when news broke that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education accredited Kean for another ten years, the 344 full-time resident-tenured members of the Kean Federation of Teachers and 1,200 untenured Local 6024 Adjunct Federation of Teachers, were relieved.

While that did not alleviate the concerns both unions had about the direction the university appeared to be heading under President Dawood Farahi’s leadership, the AFT was shocked by the layoff.

(See related story: Accreditation comes with a few strings attached)

According to internal emails obtained by LocalSource, the brouhaha began building more than a month ago when rumors that hundreds of adjunct professors would have the number of credit hours they teach slashed.

Kean University AFT President Kathleen Henderson, who has taught 18 years as an adjunct professor at the university, noted in a Nov. 29 email to the Kean Board of Trustees that despite continued efforts, all communications have broken down with administration.

Not only has Henderson been unable to schedule a meeting with Kean’s Academic Affairs Vice President Jeffrey Toney regarding the layoff, but meetings have been “delayed, postponed and rescheduled for months.” The AFT president said in another email that Toney had not met with the union since Jan. 26

Toney, according to Kean’s website, reports directly to Farahi and is responsible for all academic operations and functions.

In an email to the board of trustees Nov. 29, Henderson blamed Toney for the lack of communication, but it was in numerous pleas for help to Kean Executive Vice President Phillip Connelly that the AFT president really let loose her frustrations.

“You said you were puzzled that people come to the union, well I have been teaching at Kean for 18 years, 14 of those years I have been union president,” she said in an email dated Nov. 28 to Connelly. “I have seen people in administration come and go, all with good intentions, some with great ideas and others with disastrous ideas, many leaving after they created problems for those of us left behind to deal with.”

The day before, in another missive to Connelly, Henderson said she would no longer be a party to “coverups, putting out fires and mediating and defending negligent hiring practices.”

The AFT president called the layoffs “a suicidal administrative move to increase, even more, the current adjunct population which is threatening many departments future academic accreditations,” and strongly suggested to Connelly that Toney had an obligation “to follow the contractually agreed procedures and detailed steps for initiating changes to established practice and they were completely ignored and disregarded.”

On Oct. 28 Henderson told AFT union members in an email the university violated its contract with the adjunct professors union and, in fact, Toney’s attitude towards the union had been merely one of “tolerance” since he assumed the position more than a year ago.

And while Connelly is not Toney’s superior because he reports directly to Farahi, Henderson let him know that appealing to the university president was a lost cause.

“Dr. Farahi is completely out of the picture in all of this. Everyone has given up even going to him about anything,” the AFT president said, adding “his promises and gentleman’s agreements are just empty words as evidenced from this fiasco.”

After spending months fighting for union members who will be forced to go on unemployment right before Christmas, Henderson admitted she had no other choice but to file a grievance.

“So this is bigger than just me. The unions have been dragged into this internal war of academic power and either the vice president of academic affairs listens to his employees, or he does not. He has all the power,” she said, pointing out that the union members jobs “rest in his ability to compromise.”

Connelly did respond toHenderson’s emails, but his comments were just one or two lines and made no promises or commitments to help the AFT union.

Henderson told the board of trustees in her Nov. 29 email that although she tried to keep Kean from any bad publicity about this festering issue until after the Middle States decision, she may have spoken too soon.

“It appears nothing really has changed at Kean. Everything was superficial to simply pass Middle States,” she said, adding that “Kean is back to its old ways in labor management relations.”

“What is most frustrating is that absolutely no reason has been given to any of us for this action,”Henderson told the board in her email.

Especially frustrating to the AFT president was that Kean reduced the teaching workloads of teachers who were carrying the lowest number of hours on the payroll. But what added fuel to the fire was the state university turned around and posted job vacancies to replace one course for each of the 210 adjuncts.

Henderson said that was “completely ludicrous.”

“No manager in their right mind would do this, much less a vice president of academic affairs,” she told the board, adding that none of the adjuncts has had a raise and have been working without a contract for over two years. “This action by the vice president of academic affairs is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Multiple calls to Toney’s office were not returned.