Cincinnati PTers Glad to See the Back of Nancy Zimpher

In the February 3rd edition of The New York Times, I read that Dr. Nancy Zimpher, president of the University of Cincinnati since 2003, is heading out east to head the SUNY system. In that job, she’ll oversee some 8,000 part-time faculty employed throughout the 64-campus SUNY system. The SUNY faculty union is an AFT affiliate. In the Times piece, several sources lauded Zimpher’s financial savvy. In the six years she headed the U of C, she helped dig the institution out of a mountain of debt. Zimpher is the woman who forced out the U of C’s popular basketball coach, Bob Higgins, in 2005. She did so after declaring to a room full of reporters and television cameras that “Character counts.”

The U of C’s AAUP chapter president Russel Durst had some kisses and hugs for President Zimpher: “She has brought in a great team and is doing her best to improve the financial situation of the university.” The AAUP represents the full-time faculty at U of C. 

All in all, it would appear as though the SUNY board were getting a 62-year-old spitfire of a woman to lead their half a million students and 21,000 faculty—someone who can fish their collective fannies out of the huge fire that’s coming in the form of budget cuts facing the system over the course of the next year. There are, however, about 1,000 people at the University of Cincinnati who are not going to be sorry when Nancy Zimpher packs her little bags and heads off to New York. 

On June 7, 2004, 1,000 part-time faculty sent President Zimpher a letter asking her to recognize their union, an AFT affiliate. Adjunct Advocate writer Mark Drozdowski wrote that, “U of C officials have refused to recognize the AFA’s collective efforts, because they don’t have to. Ohio stands alone as the only state that guarantees bargaining rights to full-time faculty, but not to part-timers or graduate assistants. The state’s laws do, however, give institutions ‘permissive authority’ to recognize unions and adjunct faculty, but University of Cincinnati officials haven’t taken advantage of the loophole.” Adjunct Advocate published pieces about the U of C part-timers’ union, the AFA, here and here. Nancy L. Zimpher dug the University of Cincinnati out of debt in part by having half of the courses there staffed by adjuncts, who earn $17,000 for teaching a full load ($1,700 per course).

For the past six years, the same team praised by AAUP president Russell Durst, has stiff-armed 1,000 part-time faculty and saved tens of millions of dollars on salary and benefits by refusing to recognize the AFA’s right to bargain collectively. I can hardly wait to see what Nancy Zimpher (to whom “character counts” when it comes to other people, of course) will do to the SUNY union. I am also going to be very interested to see what the SUNY union will do to its 8,000 part-time faculty members’ bargaining priorities when President Zimpher negotiates the next union contract. Somehow, the word “screwed” comes immediately to mind, as does the phrase, “Sold down the river.” 

SUNY part-timers should be quaking in their boots at the thought of Nancy Zimpher’s representatives sitting across from union negotiators at the table in 2011. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think she’s going to bring to her new job the same collegiality and good will she showed toward the part-time faculty at the University of Cincinnati. Meanwhile, back on the banks of the Ohio River, in Cincinnati, AFA leaders could, possibly, find themselves across the bargaining table from a new President to whom character really does count.

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