Faculty unions fear for contract rights after Maitland Jones firing

Untenured faculty across NYU have expressed concern about their terms of employment after organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones Jr.’s contract was terminated without warning. Faculty unions say they will fight for better grievance procedures and reappointment rights.


Kevin Wu

NYU faculty fear for their contracts after Maitland Jones was fired without advance notice. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Abby Wilson, News Editor

Several instructors’ unions at NYU are concerned about the stability of their employment with the university after the firing of organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones Jr. Speaking to WSN, members of the unions said they are looking to strengthen their right to redressal and seek more protection from sudden termination.

One adjunct professor, who requested anonymity due to fear of employment retaliation, said that despite his involvement with the union, he does not feel that he has the power to make decisions about the way he conducts his own classes — part of a larger trend he said he has seen in higher education.

“I wasn’t surprised that something like this happened,” he said. “It just seemed like a sign of the times in a way and, for me, it reflected some of the pressures that I’ve felt as an adjunct at NYU and elsewhere.”

When he was a student at NYU, the adjunct professor was involved with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, the union for graduate student workers. Now, as an instructor, he is a member of the adjunct union, ACT-UAW Local 7902. The adjunct union has been formally recognized by the university and is currently in the process of negotiating a new contract for its members, demanding higher wages and a number of other rights and benefits.

Although union membership has given adjunct faculty more leverage over the conditions of their employment with the university, the adjunct said that he still has had to change the way he distributes grades as a result of pressure from leaders within his department. On several occasions, students filed complaints with the department about the grade they had received in his class.

“In those cases, I was able to successfully defend the grade I had given them, but it was a lot of work,” he said. “Considering the amount of money I get paid, this was not a battle that I was prepared to fight along with all the other things I have to worry about. I thought, ‘This is not a hill I’m gonna die on here.’”

Lizzie Olesker, who has been an adjunct professor at the Tisch School of the Arts for over 20 years, serves as a representative for the adjunct union. In this role, she helps fellow adjuncts navigate the conditions of their contracts with the university and, if necessary, file grievances. Olesker said that the adjunct union had already been working during bargaining sessions for its new contract to demand improvements to instructors’ right to reappointment — the procedures involved in the university’s decisions to renew or terminate the employment of a professor. She added that Jones’ firing made her reflect more on the impact of job security on the entire university.

“It made me think yet again how important this contract is,” Olesker said. “The more that we can build on our security in our job and getting compensated for the amount of time we need to put into the work, that makes a difference for everybody — and for the university, ultimately.”

NYU differentiates between adjunct faculty, who are typically part-time, paid by the hour, and offered new contracts each semester, and contract faculty, who are typically full-time employees and renew their contracts annually or biennially. Contract faculty have their own union — Contract Faculty United, or CFU-UAW Local 7902 — but it has not yet been formally recognized by the university, unlike the adjunct union. Since it does not have a collective bargaining agreement, NYU can unilaterally alter the terms of employment for contract faculty, such as their compensation, benefits and reappointment rights.

Jones’ contract, which he negotiated to his own terms 15 years ago, fell into neither of those categories — he was not considered an adjunct or a contract faculty member, but instead designated “other faculty.” NYU used this as justification for its dismissal of the complaint he filed contesting his termination earlier this year.

Beckman ignored several questions about why Jones’ contract made him “other faculty” rather than contract faculty. The lack of transparency surrounding Jones’ designation has led some faculty to question the security of their own employment.

Elisabeth Fay, a Contract Faculty United organizer who teaches in the College of Arts & Science at NYU, said that though Jones was not considered contract faculty and therefore would not be protected by an agreement between the contract union and the university, even if the union is recognized in the future, NYU’s treatment of his case has made her fear for the terms surrounding all contract faculty workers.

“Jones’ particular contract situation doesn’t overshadow the fact that he had no due process and that he was terminated before he was able to respond to the complaints that were made against him,” Fay said. “If we accept that Jones belongs to a mysterious category of ‘other faculty,’ those faculty do not have an opportunity to grieve. That’s just raising new questions about job security for faculty.”

Contract Faculty United will also place more emphasis on securing stronger reappointment and termination-related rights, according to Fay.

“If Jones had been an adjunct professor or a grad worker, NYU would not have been able to unilaterally terminate him without due process — and there would have been no confusion about what kind of contract he was on,” Fay said. “Confusion over contracts will always end up benefiting the NYU administration.”

Heidi White, a Liberal Studies professor who represents contract faculty in NYU’s University Senate, and holds a senior role in the faculty dispute resolution process, said that the dismissal of Jones’ complaint poses a threat to all 2,525 contract faculty members and non-tenured faculty members working at NYU — more than half of all faculty at the university.

She added that she believes Jones matches all three parts of the university’s definition of a full-time contract faculty member, meaning that he should have the right to file a grievance, according to faculty bylaws

“In some ways, it’s like habeas corpus for a citizen,” White said. “Habeas corpus is what gets you in front of a judge, but if you can’t even do that, then you can’t get any of your other rights enforced. So that’s why the right to grieve is so important. It’s how you start an investigation of whether any of your other rights have been violated. If you take away the right to grieve, you take away everything.”

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected].