Tensions between the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the University administration further escalated yesterday when members of LEO marched in front of the Fleming Administration Building and into the provost’s office to voice their grievances.
The march was the latest of many steps LEO has taken to pressure the University to fully implement the contract it signed last June. Cedric De Leon, a lecturer in the University’s Sociology department, said the most immediate grievance expressed at this rally was what LEO called the misclassification of 23 lecturers. Lecturer titles directly correlate with the benefits and responsibilities given to the individual, and the group claims that a number of them have been given the wrong title.
According to the contract, lecturers are classified in four categories. Lecturers classified as I and II are responsible for teaching classes, while lecturers classified as III and IV are expected to perform administrative duties in addition to teaching. De Leon said he believes the 23 lecturers LEO brought in front of the administration were misclassified because those lecturers were performing administrative duties but were not given the corresponding benefits.
The rally, headed by De Leon, began at 1 p.m. with a series of songs and chants. About 40 lecturers, mostly clad in red T-shirts with the word “Labor” on the front, gathered in front of Fleming and joined De Leon in chants such as “They say cut back – we say fight back.”
After about 20 minutes, the group headed to the third floor, where they voiced their grievances in front of Jeffery Frumkin, assistant provost and director of academic human resources. De Leon said six main grievances were discussed. Besides the misclassifications, other issues discussed were the failure of the University to comply with key parts of the contract – including delayed raises; renaming clinical lecturers as nurses and, in doing so, excluding them from LEO representation; last-minute layoffs of lecturers; overworking of lecturers in the Comprehensive Studies Program; and yearly re-application for lecturers in the School of Art and Design.
“We want to reach out in good faith and put a human face behind these issues,” De Leon said. He added that he thinks the demonstration will prove successful in the negotiations.
“We know unless we do collective action, the administration doesn’t take us seriously,” he said.
Elizabeth Axelson, an English Language Institute lecturer, said she chose to lead the voicing of the misclassification grievances even though she was one of only two lecturers who had managed to be reclassified as a Lecturer IV by the University.
“It’s a big fairness issue – if some lecturers have better jobs and benefits and other lecturers don’t, (but they’re) doing the same job. It is deeply unfair,” Axelson said.
Axelson added that the misclassification problem is especially urgent in her department. She said it is important that the lecturers in ELI are classified correctly because many of them are performing administrative duties. She said she worries that if lecturers stop doing the administrative work they have been doing, much of the office’s work will not get done.
“The dean’s office isn’t worried about it. I don’t know what their motivation is besides saving money,” Axelson said.
De Leon said these concerns are critical for the University and the student body. The demonstration, he said, was an intermediary action to show the University that LEO is serious about having its demands met. He added that, if the demands aren’t taken seriously, LEO will discuss a plan of “drastic action” at its next meeting on Nov. 30.
In response to De Leon’s threat of “drastic action” Peterson said that any disruption of education, such as strikes, would be in direct violation of LEO’s contract.
De Leon acknowledged that a strike would be a violation the contact. But still, De Leon said, there are other courses of action open to LEO if the University does not comply with their demands.
De Leon said that one option for LEO members could be staging teach-ins in their respective classrooms. Other courses of action open to LEO are talking to the media, writing to representatives about the University or voicing their complaints publicly at commencement.
Of course there are nice actions and not-so-nice actions,” De Leon said.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University is disappointed that LEO has chosen to publicly voice its complaints instead of going through the grievance process that was drawn up in the contract.
She added that this is LEO’s first contract with the University, so it is understandable that the lecturers would have disagreements. Still, she said the grievance process in the contract was created specifically to resolve conflicts and to protect both LEO and the University.
In a written statement, Peterson said LEO has already filed 15 grievances. Of those, 12 have already been resolved. Nine of those were settled and three were denied, although one has been resubmitted and is now in arbitration.