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Barnard contingent faculty union releases response to email sent by Spar, Bell

The Barnard Contingent Faculty Union has released a formal response to an email sent by Barnard President Debora Spar and Provost Linda Bell last Thursday and refuted certain claims made in the email.

The union has been in negotiations with the college over a first contract since February and have since been publicly critical of the college’s stance toward negotiations, staging several demonstrations and events in recent weeks to highlight their discontent.

In their response to the email, the union described Spar and Bell’s statement that only 30 percent of courses this semester are being taught by adjunct faculty as “misleading” because the statistic didn’t take into account the percent of courses taught by the entire membership of the union, which includes full-time non-tenured faculty.

The union, however, did not clarify what percentage of contingent faculty are currently teaching this semester in their letter.

“Regardless of whether we are the absolute majority of faculty, we deserve fair treatment,” the union’s statement said. “Most of us are women, many are alumnae. More equitable compensation, job security, inclusion in college life, and benefits for part-time faculty, some of whom live without health insurance, are not unreasonable requests.”

At a Barnard Student Government Association meeting on Monday, Bell said that to accommodate the union’s initial requests for increased pay and benefits, the budget allocation for contingent faculty would have to more than double and that the college’s finances would make this prohibitive.

“I want to preserve the quality of our academic program, and we are an institution that has a very tight budget,” she said. “I would love to be at the forefront of resetting the scales of what it means to be an adjunct faculty member, [but] we can't change the paradigm—we operate within the paradigm.”

In the letter, the union also reiterated their previous stance on the college’s decision to retain representation from the Jackson Lewis firm during negotiations and described this as a “betrayal” of the college’s values.

Referencing Northeastern University’s retention of Jackson Lewis, a firm described by the New York Times as being “one of the nation’s most aggressive anti-union law firms,” the union stated that Northeastern’s adjunct faculty union were forced to threaten to strike—something that Barnard’s union is currently considering as well—because of frustrating negotiations with Jackson Lewis.

“Law firm aside, it is Spar and Bell who are the decision-makers in negotiation,” the union’s statement said. “They ... must take responsibility for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on a union-busting powerhouse instead of allocating it to the work of education.”

But in Spar and Bell’s email, they wrote that the decision to retain such outside representation was done so out of necessity, given that the college’s current counsel lacks experience negotiating first contracts.

“We have never negotiated with a faculty union before (indeed, most liberal arts colleges have never negotiated with faculty unions), and we want and need to ensure that this first contract sets the foundation for a long and productive working relationship,” Spar and Bell wrote. “We simply do not have the expertise in-house to undertake such an important project.”

Still, the union said that while they disagreed on execution, they did agree with the college’s position to “produce a contract that fairly rewards the pedagogic commitment of our contingent faculty, while also maintaining ongoing commitments to Barnard’s students, full-time faculty, and staff,” as stated in Spar and Bell’s email.

“We share these commitments fully and think that the collective bargaining process is the best way to achieve these goals,” the union wrote. “We hope the supportive rhetoric in Thursday’s email presages a change in the administration’s positions at the bargaining table.”

The union and college will meet at the negotiating table again this coming Friday. | @ACBandrowski


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