By Elizabeth Landry
Asst. News Co-Editor
The April 8 Spring Preview, a longstanding tradition of showcasing what Fordham at Lincoln Center has to offer, became a magnet for activism this year as two unofficial groups vied for leverage against the administration. While members of Students for Sex and Gender Equity and Safety Coalition (S.A.G.E.S.) passed out flyers on the sidewalk in front of Lowenstein Hall, Fordham Faculty United (FFU) representatives from all Fordham campuses rallied in support of adjunct and contingent faculty’s right to unionize.
Following a strong reaction from Fordham’s legal representation against their Service Employees International Union (SEIU) petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), FFU decided to withdraw the petition on April 3 in favor of a public campaign for community support.
From around 9 a.m., members and supporters of FFU occupied the front of Lowenstein, handing out flyers and displaying bright posters reading, “Give Faculty a Vote,” “Low Pay is Not the Jesuit Way” and “Faculty Working Conditions Student Learning Conditions,” among others. As the crowd grew, drawn by a widely circulated Facebook event, Fordham Public Safety officers asked them to move to the other side of the stairs to the sidewalk.
They moved without complaint, but soon the rally had grown to more than 60 people. Many were students, but there were many faculty members as well.
At the same time, members of S.A.G.E.S. took up the vacated corner of the sidewalk, handing informational flyers to the prospective students heading inside for Spring Preview. “We’ve been planning this since last semester,” one said. The flyers told readers Fordham’s policies regarding the availability of contraceptives and the fact that the residence halls have gendered housing, among other topics. They also included information about Theatre Director Matthew Maguire’s February settlement of a $20,000 sexual discrimination suit, filed by a former assistant professor, and some sensational details of the sexual misconduct claims against him.
The S.A.G.E.S. students did not attract much attention from Public Safety officers, as the FFU rally became louder and more prominent throughout the morning.
Using a megaphone, faculty members and students spoke in support of adjunct and contingent faculty’s right to unionize.
“It’s truly baffling that at such a polarized time in our nation’s history, the administration would side with an anti-education, anti-labor fervor, that has paralyzed the country’s highest offices,” Alessandro King, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) English adjunct instructor, said.
“My position at Fordham is one of complete precarity where any day I could no longer be here,” Nate Sloan, adjunct music professor, said.
English and Communications and Media Studies professor Chris Brandt said, “I try to teach my students about justice, at the same time knowing my colleagues and I are being paid wages that cannot possibly support someone who lives in New York City… We cannot give you students the kind of individual attention which you all deserve, given the enormous tuition and fees that you pay.”
Compared against figures from the CUPA-HR 2017 salary survey, Fordham’s typical payment to adjuncts of $3,900 to $5,000 per course with a two-course cap is nationally average. However, FFU argues that the high cost of living in New York City makes it unreasonable for adjuncts, and that coupled with adjunct faculty’s lack of benefits, Fordham is breaking its commitment to Jesuit values.
Rally organizers led the group through the front doors of the school with a banner saying “McShame Give Faculty A Voice” despite a Public Safety officer spreading his arms wide and saying loudly, “You can’t go in there.” Entering the Atrium, the group confronted a room full of prospective commuter students and their families having brunch with student representatives.
Conversation stopped while organizers spoke. They chanted: “Father McShane, you can’t hide / We can see your greedy side,” while any attempt to derail the demonstration was blocked by the sheer volume of protesters. Parents at the tables looked askance and asked their student representatives for an explanation with generally displeased looks on their faces.
Once the speakers finished, they turned and exited through the emergency door, setting off the alarm for the next few minutes. A smattering of claps followed them. The demonstrators filed through the door and returned to the front of the school. Just moments after the rally disbanded, some groups still milling around, a New York Police Department vehicle arrived to confer with Public Safety. They left after getting a look at the dwindling crowd.
On the rally, Assistant Vice President for Communications Bob Howe said via email, “The administration was surprised by the demonstration that took place … because the union (SEIU) had voluntarily withdrawn its petition to represent our adjuncts. We are not aware of the reasons behind their decision to withdraw their petition.”