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Former Barnard Professor Says She and Others Were Fired For Union Activism

By Jackson Chen | September 13, 2017 3:19pm
 Former professor Georgette Fleischer speaks out against her termination from Barnard.
Former professor Georgette Fleischer speaks out against her termination from Barnard.
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DNAinfo/Jackson Chen

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — A former English professor at Barnard College claims she and eight other colleagues, some with more than 20 years of teaching experience, were fired from the esteemed liberal arts college because of their vocal unionization efforts.

"This is the first instance that a college of this stature has engaged in such a ruthless set of retaliatory terminations, all in one fell swoop," Georgette Fleischer, one of the fired adjunct professors, told DNAinfo New York at a press conference on Tuesday held outside Barnard College's main gates on Broadway. She was joined by Maida Rosenstein, the president of the UAW Local 2110, as well as other professors and students in support of her stance.

Fleischer taught English at the women's college for 17 years as an adjunct professor and led the unionization efforts for professors who were not tenured. While Barnard's sister school Columbia University is also undergoing unionization efforts, UAW Local 2110 successfully reached an agreement with Barnard in February 2017.

The firings began in April, with two probationary faculty members being let go, according to Fleischer. The terminations continued from May 22, when Fleischer herself was fired, through June 1. While she is challenging her termination, Fleischer said the others are too disheartened and demoralized to fight back.

Justin Harmon, Barnard's vice president of communications, said that contingent faculty are not renewed for a variety of reasons — including tenured faculty returning from leave, curricular changes and course scheduling — but not due to union activism.

"There is no basis for a claim that we made appointment decisions based on union activism as we implemented the contract," Harmon said in a statement. "To be clear, union activism was not and will never be a consideration in staffing our courses. Academic departments chairs, in consultation with the provost, determine the courses that are taught in any given semester."

After reaching a mutual agreement with the union, Barnard's administration said it is now offering better benefits and protections for the first time, including severance pay. (Fleischer said she refused to sign the agreements for severance pay, as she would forfeit certain rights.)

Ultimately, Fleischer is hoping to get her job back, but also to pave the way for current and future professors who are fighting for unionization at their schools.

"If we can rebirth this, we will have the victory and we will demonstrate the strength of the academic labor movement," she said. "It's crucial we don't leave a bad precedent."