[Marxism] An Angry Professor Mounts His Own Labor Protest in Alabama
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Tue Jul 13 06:06:42 MDT 2010
July 12, 2010
An Angry Professor Mounts His Own Labor Protest in Alabama
Glenn Feldman, a labor historian, accuses the U. of Alabama at
Birmingham of trying to drive him out because of a pro-business bias.
By Peter Schmidt
Note to college administrators: Think twice about getting into fights
with experts on labor activism.
The risk is ending up locked in battle with the likes of Glenn Feldman,
a tenured labor historian at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Administrators there abandoned a training center that he ran. Convinced
that they withdrew support—and now are trying to drive him out—because
they have a pro-business bias, the professor has come at his bosses with
two lawsuits, a faculty grievance, and a U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission complaint. He also mobilized members of the
United Steelworkers to swamp the facsimile machines in the
administration's central office, and has sent the entire State
Legislature an e-mail message accusing the University of Alabama
system's administration of misusing state funds and victimizing him
because he is Hispanic.
Along the way, Mr. Feldman helped establish a chapter of the American
Association of University Professors on his campus—getting himself
elected as its president—and persuaded the state conference of the AAUP
to take up his cause.
He probably is not done yet.
"I am being treated in a way that is beyond description," Mr. Feldman
said in an interview. He characterized himself as someone "who has
wanted to do nothing but write and teach," but now finds himself
defending his livelihood from people who object to his views.
University administrators have denied his accusations. Although they
eliminated Mr. Feldman's previous position as part of a reorganization
of the business school, they have offered to keep him on in the
economics department if he earns graduate credits in that discipline. He
has refused, alleging that the administration eventually plans to close
the economics department, so its offer to let him work there is a
set-up, an invitation to board a ship just before it is scuttled. (The
training center, meanwhile, has found a new home at a community college.)
Mr. Feldman is unusual in his zeal, but he is hardly alone in suspecting
college administrators' motives and their willingness to respect tenure.
William F. Trimble, a professor of history at Auburn University and
president of the AAUP's Alabama state conference, argues that tenured
faculty members feel especially backed into a corner in Gulf Coast
states, where they watched several colleges cite the financial hardship
brought on by Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005 as justification
for jettisoning academic programs and faculty positions.
"We now have a situation where there is a budget crisis all over the
country," especially at public colleges, Mr. Trimble says. "Tenured
faculty members have found themselves in a vulnerable position."
Taking Care of Business
As Mr. Feldman sees it, his problems began after the university's
business school got a new dean, David R. Klock, in March 2008.
At the time, Mr. Feldman was serving as director of the business
school's Center for Labor Education and Research, which provided clinics
and seminars on labor and employment law throughout the southeastern
United States. Mr. Feldman had joined the center as an assistant
professor in 1996, earned tenure there in 2002, and taken over as the
center's director in 2006.
Mr. Feldman's complaints against the university argue that it very
quickly became apparent to him that the center's work was not valued by
Dean Klock, a former chief executive of CompBenefits Corporation—a major
health-benefits provider—who had spent the previous two-and-a-half years
as dean of the college of business administration at California State
Polytechnic University at Pomona.
The idea that Mr. Klock was no fan of the center's work is seconded by
Marc T. Cryer, who worked under Mr. Feldman as an assistant professor
and now directs the center at its new location, at Jefferson State
Community College, in Birmingham. In an interview, Mr. Cryer called Mr.
Klock "very business-oriented" and "certainly not a friend of labor."
"He was pretty clear that he did not feel that the labor movement had
any business in academe or that academe had any business spending time
on the labor movement," Mr. Cryer said.
What is clear from the record is that in May of 2008 the university
asked the Alabama Legislature to withdraw a $650,000 line-item
appropriation for the center from the university's budget.
Dean Klock and other administrators there who have been named in Mr.
Feldman's complaints declined to comment for this story, citing a
lawsuit he has brought against the university system's Board of Trustees
in U.S. District Court.
But Dale G. Turnbough, a spokeswoman for the University of Alabama at
Birmingham, issued a statement broadly saying "we dispute what Dr.
Feldman alleges." And Claire Peel, the university's associate vice
provost for faculty development and faculty affairs, wrote to Mr.
Trimble of the state AAUP last month to say that "many of the facts and
assumptions" Mr. Feldman stated to Mr. Trimble in seeking the state AAUP
conference's help "are incorrect."
An extensive chain of written and e-mailed correspondences that Mr.
Feldman provided The Chronicle show a pattern in his interactions with
administrators there. In one exchange after the other, the
administrators use a measured, formal tone in refusing his demands. In
many cases, they also accuse him of various forms of inappropriate
behavior—such as threats to use litigation and the news media to tarnish
their reputations if they do not give him what he is asking. Mr. Feldman
responds—often with coarse language—by accusing the administrators of
ineptitude and ill motives, and alleging that their demands that he
apologize for behaving inappropriately represent an attempt to get him
to incriminate himself for termination proceedings down the road.
Mr. Feldman's federal lawsuit accuses Mr. Klock of unsuccessfully
seeking to derail Mr. Feldman's bid for promotion to full professor in
the spring of 2008, and telling one faculty member there "we are going
to fire this guy anyway and it wouldn't look good if we just promoted him."
Late that spring, after labor-union officials went to state legislators
to fight the attempt to close the center, the lawsuit says, a deal was
brokered in which the university agreed to let the center stay until the
end of September 2009, when it would be moved elsewhere. The pact did
not bring any lasting peace between Mr. Feldman and Dean Klock. The
lawsuit claims Mr. Klock agreed to let Mr. Feldman stay on at the
university after the center left, only to subsequently demand that Mr.
Feldman cease engaging in labor advocacy and threaten to fire him after
the center leaves.
In the end, Mr. Feldman joined the faculty of the business school's
Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics. But, he
says, administrators there altered the terms of employment without his
consent, moving him from a contract that annually paid him $110,000 for
12 months of work to one that paid him $83,000 for nine months.
Administrators said such changes were standard in cases in which someone
is moved from an administrative post to a faculty position.
Mr. Feldman was subsequently told that his academic background in
history would be a problem for accreditors examining the marketing and
economics department, and he needed to obtain 18 graduate semester hours
in economics to be deemed academically qualified to teach in his new
position. He was given until the beginning of this month to submit a
plan for earning the additional academic credits, but he has refused to
do so, and the university has yet to say how it will proceed.
Last month, Mr. Trimble of the state AAUP sent university officials a
letter disputing the idea that accreditors would deem Mr. Feldman
academically unqualified to teach economics. He called the university's
request that the professor obtain graduate credits in that field "at
best curious," asserting that Mr. Feldman had already long taught
economics courses and has "an impressive publication record."
In an interview this month, Mr. Feldman argued that "the bottom line is
I am being retaliated against for the sole crime of not leaving when I
was told to." He said he has refused to earn credits in economics
because doing so would "cement" him into a department that might be shut
down completely, denying him the ability in the future to argue in court
that he had been singled out for dismissal.
"It does not take a genius," he said, "to figure out you are being set
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