California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Barnard President Sian Beilock re firing of Georgette Fleischer

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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October 25, 2017

To: Barnard College President

Sian Bellock

Dear Barnard College President Sian Beilock,

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af),*​* a group of over 200 academics from different California institutions of higher education focused on protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression, is writing to express our deep concern over the news of the recent firing of Georgette Fleischer, who taught for 17 years as an adjunct in the English Department at Barnard College.

As you are surely aware, Dr. Fleischer has a long history of contentious relations with Barnard’s administration. First in 2014-2015 she filed and won a case in State Supreme Court after she was not reappointed for a course she had taught for 12 consecutive years and Barnard then denied her the right to a Faculty Internal Grievance. Second, she initiated and actively participated in the drive that led to the formation of the Barnard Contingent Faculty Union (Local 2110 UAW). Along with six other long-term faculty members and two more on the cusp of becoming post-probationary, Dr. Fleischer was terminated a few weeks after the first union contract was signed.

Unlike her peers, however, Dr. Fleischer did not accept the modest severance package she was offered, but filed a grievance that was rejected by Provost Linda Bell, and now proceeds to arbitration. In addition, Dr. Fleischer and the union have filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against Barnard College with the National Labor Relations Board.

Cs4af has reviewed the accusations levied against Dr. Fleischer that seek to justify Barnard’s termination by singling out her grading standards and feedback on student work. We believe them to be serious violations of academic freedom. As recently reaffirmed by AAUP, grading is the sole responsibility of the faculty member teaching a course (https://www.aaup.org/issues/grading) and cannot be regulated in any way by either students (who of course can appeal) or administrators. In addition, as AAUP also notices, we are deeply troubled by the rise of a consumer-oriented view of higher education that envisions a certain grade as an entitlement for one who has paid tuition, or as an enticement to keep students enrolled and their tuition dollars flowing into an institution. From what we understand, Barnard’s main motivation for terminating Dr. Fleischer had to do with her giving lower grades than her students expected. It seems to us that Barnard is not only violating Dr. Fleischer’s right to be solely responsible for the grades received by the students in any of the courses she taught, but is also irresponsibly punishing someone who is fighting the good fight against grade inflation.

Our concern over the faulty and dangerous grounds upon which Barnard has dismissed Dr. Fleischer is greatly augmented by the smell of retaliation arising from this case. We find that Dr. Fleischer’s leading role as a member of the bargaining committee for sixteen months, her outspoken criticism of the Barnard administration throughout the years, and her recent differences with the leadership of the union itself, made her into an easy and isolated target for retaliation. Her refusal to accept the severance package offered to her by the College, and her decision to pursue a labor lawsuit instead, are principled actions that cs4af greatly admires—and which we were created to defend—especially when carried out by an adjunct faculty who is unafraid to be controversial in order to fight for academic freedom and fair labor practices.

We also know that you personally bear no direct responsibility for the firing of Dr. Fleischer, having become President of Barnard only after she was terminated. We therefore add our voices to those of the many faculty members and associations that have appealed to you in the past weeks to reinstate Dr. Fleischer immediately. By doing so you will demonstrate that, as with free speech, academic freedom is a value that is not only for unions and faculty associations to defend, but for all in higher education to endorse and uphold precisely when it is least convenient to do so. To wait for the results of an arbitration that is not scheduled to begin until the end of April 2018, almost a full year after Dr. Fleischer’s termination date, would add more retaliatory insult to the injury already suffered by Dr. Fleischer and would escalate Barnard’s profile as a union-busting administration that mistreats dedicated long-term faculty.

Cs4af is committed to remaining attentive to this case because of its important national profile and implications for the academic freedom and employment rights of our adjunct colleagues everywhere. We very much hope you will respond positively to our plea and those of many other organizations and that you will reinstate Dr. Fleischer immediately. Reinstatement of Dr. Fleischer would allow us to commend Barnard’s renewed commitment to academic freedom and fair labor practices.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons:

Eileen Boris

Hull Professor and Distinguished Professor of Feminist Studies

Professor of History, Black Studies, and Global Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

Rush Rehm

Professor, Theater and Performance Studies, and Classics

Artistic Director, Stanford Repertory Theater (SRT)

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Lisa Rofel

Professor, Department of Anthropology

Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

Susan Slyomovics

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures

University of California, Los Angeles

Barnard ‘71

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

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October 27, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. […] union, and her record did not warrant termination. Read more on Fleischer’s case here and here. We encourage others who support Fleischer’s case to write to President Beilock to support […]

    Pingback by Letter in support of Georgette Fleischer – Miami University AAUP Advocacy Chapter | December 21, 2017


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