Dr. Cary Nelson, aka Professor Harold Hill

Lesko_headshot_outsideby P.D. Lesko

Friends, folks, fellow education workers, Romans, countryman, there’s Trouble in Idaho. I say there’s Trouble. That’s Trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with D and that stands for “Due process” (my sincere apologies to “Music Man” lovers out there, but I just couldn’t resist). Alright, let’s start at the very beginning: it seems that an adjunct at Northern Idaho College got the sack. She’d taught for more than six years, was nominated for the Part-time Faculty of the Year Award, and one day opened an email from her boss that said she wasn’t getting any more classes. Why? Well, I think you know the answer to that question. Who the hell knows why! She had a “Special Appointment” one-semester-only contract, and it ended. No one at the college would explain what had happened, and when Jessica Bryan, an English instructor, filed a grievance, the administration claimed that, under the auspices of her contract, she had no right to a “review.”

If this all sounds familiar, pardon me for repeating the kind of story you may have read, heard or experienced yourself. I know someone to whom this has happened not once, but twice. She helped organize unions at her colleges then, later, at each college, her lectureships dried up. I was scandalized and outraged on her behalf. When this happens to people, it’s heartbreaking, because like my friend, I am sure Jessica Bryan was a superb instructor, devoted to her students, her career and her department. Well, either that, or Jessica Bryan was one of those part-timers netted, mounted and catalogued recently by Paul Umbach—you know the ones—the part-timers who aren’t committed to their students…the one’s who are adversely impacting student retention.

So, the AAUP sent in the Marines. Well, it was more like a couple staff members dressed in those sweaters with the leather elbows, packing hefty briefcases, with the full weight and support of the AAUP leadership, Dr. Cary Nelson. According to a press release sent by the AAUP to media outlets yesterday: “Efforts by the AAUP staff to persuade the administration to recognize Bryan’s rights under the Association’s recommended standards proved unavailing.” No doubt AAUP officials used the Think Method, because the Good Lord knows AAUP officials haven’t actually organized part-time faculty into affiliated locals in any great numbers within recent memory, and nothing short of, say, sanction (with teeth) was going to get those administrators to capitulate.

Listen, don’t get me wrong. It was swell of AAUP officials to try and help Jessica Bryan. However, like Pierre Schmitz, of whom I blogged about recently, Jessica Bryan accepted a contract that restricted her rights to due process, and a contract that lasted, well, one semester. Unlike Pierre Schmitz, Jessica Bryan isn’t going to have to apply for food stamps, lose her health insurance, or move to another city to support herself. Her husband is a tenured faculty member at Northern Idaho College, and he earns, according to the college’s faculty salary schedule, anywhere from $54,000-$66,000 (twice the median income for a household in Coeur d’Alene)  per year, plus benefits, including retirement, six kinds of insurance, a month of paid vacation, tuition waivers for his kids at 8 Idaho colleges, professional development funding, childcare, discounted memberships at six gyms and even a discount of almost 20 percent from Verizon wireless. If you ask me, Jessica Bryan, even without her teaching job, is making out like a bandit thanks to to husband’s appointment.

So, of the thousands and thousands of part-time faculty in cities all over the United States who were unceremoniously fired without due process in 2008, AAUP president Dr. Cary Nelson, the AAUP Executive Committee and staff chose to come to the rescue of the wife of a tenured faculty member. They chose a woman who, I would venture to guess, earned more than the $335 per semester credit hour than is the going rate for part-time faculty positions at the school, who was hired as a faculty spouse, and whose dismissal was a personal inconvenience, as opposed to a bona fide human tragedy.

So, why did AAUP Executive Committee and staff choose Jessica Bryan of Northern Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with its 95 percent white, small-town population of 41,328? Ironically enough, putting median incomes aside, the racial make-up and total population of Coeur d’Alene reflect almost exactly the total membership and racial make-up of the AAUP itself. However, that’s not why Jessica Bryan was chosen. It’s not because she was the only case brought to the attention of AAUP’s elected leaders, and whose unfair treatment union leaders were urged to have AAUP investigate, either. Cary Nelson has, in past, stonewalled attempts by AAUP part-time faculty activists to have the organization investigate the abuse of part-time faculty. So I ask, again, why did AAUP choose Jessica Bryan of Northern Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho? Why not Pierre Schmitz at San Antonio College? Why not the part-timers at Champaign-Urbana, or Bunker Hill Community College, in Boston. Hell, why not the American University in Washington, DC, right around the corner from AAUP headquarters?

I think AAUP leaders chose  Jessica Bryan of Northern Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for the same reason Professor Harrold Hill choose River City, Iowa. Small towns make excellent locations for Big Production Numbers. Make no mistake friends, folks, fellow education workers, Romans, countryman, AAUP leaders are giving us all a song and a dance. They’re peddling the Think Method in response to the exploitation of thousands and thousands of part-time faculty.

Think. Men. Think.

Nope. I still can’t play the clarinet, and AAUP leaders still ain’t stepping up and helping part-time faculty in the United States.

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