Lecturers' union rallies after top official terminated, claims move was 'union retaliation' by University officials

Salam Rida/Daily
Janella James, an LEO organizer, talks to a crowd through a megaphone outside of the Fleming Administration Building Friday afternoon. Buy this photo

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published April 2, 2010

University lecturers rallied this afternoon to protest the non-reappointment of one of the Lecturers Employment Organization's top officials, a move some lecturers are calling retaliation against the union.

Salam Rida/Daily
LEO members fill a hallway in the Office of the Provost in the Fleming Administration Building Friday.
Salam Rida/Daily
A LEO member tapes a sign to a picture in the Fleming Administration Building that reads: "You fired our Vice President? During contract negotiations?? After 18 years of service???"

The group of about 30 lecturers, dressed in yellow LEO T-shirts, gathered in Angell Hall before marching from the English Department’s offices in Angell Hall to LSA Dean Terrence McDonald’s office in the LSA Administration Building. The protest continued with members ending their rally on the third floor of the Fleming Administration Building just outside Provost Teresa Sullivan’s office.

LEO members say the decision by University officials to not reappoint Kirsten Herold, who has worked as a lecturer in the University's English Department for 18 years and serves as the union’s vice president, is the latest of several incidents that highlight problematic review procedures in place for lecturers at the University.

Union officials also say the University’s decision could have a significant impact on the ongoing contract negotiations between LEO and the University.

Herold was going through a remediation process with the University when she received notice on Wednesday that she would not be allowed to return to the University’s English Department after the end of this semester.

Remediation is a process in which a lecturer's performance is reviewed and a plan is developed to address any deficiencies or concerns that are raised. After the remediation plan is developed, the lecturer is given time to implement the plan to adequately address any concerns.

The plan's implementation and the lecturer’s progress is then measured by department officials to see whether satisfactory progress was made. After review, the decision to reappoint or not reappoint the lecturer is made.

But LEO officials say Herold’s follow-up evaluation was met with additional concerns that were not brought up in her initial remediation plan. As such, LEO President Bonnie Halloran said Herold was not given the appropriate time to address the English Department’s concerns.

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said she could not comment on the matter because it involved a specific employee. However, Cunningham did say that, as in any reappointment proceeding, University officials would have followed the proper steps as outlined in the University's contract with the lecturers’ union.

Associate Vice Provost Jeff Frumkin is the senior director of Academic Human Resources and the University’s chief negotiator in the bargaining of labor contracts with the various unions at the University. In an interview Friday, Frumkin said the University typically makes decisions to reappoint or not reappoint University lecturers at this time each year, with decisions made by April 1.

Frumkin said he could not discuss the specific incident surrounding Herold, but said he had not been informed of any improper handling of a reappointment case and that as of Friday morning no grievances had been filed.

Frumkin said to his knowledge the established process for reappointment had been followed.

“It hasn’t been brought to my attention that there have been any procedural irregularities,” he said.

However, Frumkin said the evaluation process is open to interpretation as it can be difficult to definitively quantify many performance areas.

“All of these decisions involve a certain amount of judgment,” Frumkin said. “People can disagree as to whether someone has met the criteria or not.”

LEO President Bonnie Halloran said in an interview Friday that the University handled Herold’s reappointment procedure improperly.

"She made the kind of changes that were outlined in the remediation plan, and then at the end of this process they came up with additional problems that they had identified in her teaching that they had never ever talked to her about before and terminated her at the end of this year,” Halloran said.

Halloran added that this is not the first case in which the University has used its own interpretation of evaluation criteria to get rid of a lecturer.

“(The criteria) are vague. They can be used however people want to,” Halloran said. “If you have good scores, they think you’re a bad teacher because you give good grades, if you have low scores you’re a bad teacher.”

Halloran continued, “Things are very aloof, and departments can use (criteria) however they want and they’re not held accountable.”

And while LEO bargainers are advocating for a change in the evaluation criteria and process in an effort to make it more transparent and hold departments more accountable, some LEO representatives believe the decision to terminate Herold’s future employment is a form of “union retaliation,” since Herold is on the bargaining team and was serving as the team’s grievance officer.

"We have reason to believe that there is union retaliation going on here in the English Department, and we’re very concerned that this happened while we’re in the process of bargaining,” Halloran said.

Adjunct Prof. Joe Walls, who serves on LEO’s bargaining team and acts as a spokesman for the group, said there are details surrounding Herold’s non-reappointment and the decision process more generally, which he can’t make public, that have made some LEO officials even angrier.

“We know more details about the decision process and what was involved in the process, but we really aren’t in a position to reveal any of that information,” Walls said. “There’s some things we know that we can’t reveal that make us even more angry than we might be otherwise.”

Walls said he finds the timing of the incident a little strange, given that contract negotiations are currently underway.

“We think the timing is rather interesting that this is happening in the midst of our bargaining and she is on our bargaining team,” Walls said. “On the other hand, this is the time when these things are supposed to be announced.”

Contract negotiations are continuing as planned, but Walls said he expects that negotiations — originally planned to end next week — will continue beyond Friday’s deadline.

“Theoretically next Friday is our last day of bargaining, but the contract doesn’t expire until the middle of May so we could continue to bargain past next Friday, and we think we probably will,” Walls said.

Walls said he also expects that Herold’s non-reappointment will change the overall mood of negotiations.

“Certainly the bargaining team’s mood has changed,” Walls said. “We don’t know how the rest of the membership will react, but we anticipate that quite a few members will be very unhappy with this.”

LEO is set to e-mail members about this week’s bargaining efforts, at which time they will inform members about Herold’s situation.

At negotiations Friday, LEO bargainers left Herold’s seat at the table empty. Doing so was a purposeful decision, according to Jim Anderson, an English lecturer at the University’s Flint campus.

“We left her seat open (Friday) symbolically and expressed our anger with what has happened,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty rare, I would say, for management to fire a member of the union’s bargaining team during the middle of negotiations.”

— Daily News Editor Stephanie Steinberg contributed to this report.