June 24, 2009 in City

NIC subject of scolding

School violated academic freedom by letting part-timer go, AAUP says
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The case of a North Idaho College instructor who wasn’t reappointed after a student accused her of bashing Republicans prompted a national organization to censure the Coeur d’Alene college, saying it violated the principles of academic freedom.

The 47,000-member American Association of University Professors says the case will test the organization’s policies regarding treatment of part-time and adjunct faculty, who constitute about 50 percent of college and university instructors nationwide.

“If part-time faculty serve at-will, how can they feel academic freedom is secure?” asked Robert Kreiser, the senior program officer who investigated the case of Jessica Bryan, a part-time English instructor whom NIC did not reappoint after she taught for 13 straight semesters, several of them full time.

“There’s a lot of exploitation of (part-time faculty). This report is intended to emphasize the importance of treating such individuals well,” Kreiser said.

NIC officials said the college had no responsibility to rehire Bryan, because she was not full time or tenured. The college uses part-time faculty to maintain flexibility in the courses it offers, said John Martin, NIC’s vice president for community relations and marketing. By contrast, he said, the AAUP “treats everyone as though they’re tenure-track individuals. We’re not pleased about being censured by them, but we’re not overly concerned about it either.”

Bryan worked for the college from 2001 to 2007, teaching at least two classes a semester, the AAUP’s report found. She taught full time during two of those years and received positive evaluations. She was nominated for the college’s Part-Time Faculty of the Year Award in spring 2007.

That spring, a student of Bryan’s demanded a refund from NIC, saying Bryan regularly made derogatory comments about Republicans during class. Bryan said at the time she made provocative statements to stimulate debate and critical thinking.

The following semester, Bryan said, she was informed via e-mail on the last day of class that she was not being reappointed. Other adjunct faculty members with less experience were rehired and a new instructor was hired, she said.

Bryan’s requests for an explanation or a faculty review of the decision were denied. “The contract governing her temporary appointment afforded her no such rights,” the AAUP report found.

It also noted that Bryan’s husband, Keith Hunter, a tenured English instructor, had been in a dispute with NIC’s administration.

“The College would have me believe this was simply ‘business as usual,’ ” Bryan said in an e-mail.

“To date, I have not been given any legitimate reason for my non-reappointment.”

Martin declined to comment on any potential connection between the student’s complaint and the decision not to reappoint Bryan.

He said adjunct faculty regularly work semester by semester with no guarantee of future employment.

In a statement, NIC contended that “through its employment and tenure policies the College has more than adequately responded to the needs of and protection for its teaching professionals.”

The AAUP report found that not granting part-time employees safeguards for employment has “a chilling effect on the exercise of academic freedom. Faculty members placed at constant risk of losing their position by incurring the displeasure of the administration must always be on guard against doing so.”

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