[Marxism] An Angry Professor Mounts His Own Labor Protest in Alabama

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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.
Fighting Words

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 
up again."

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