Opinion Reader Contributed Schools

Op-Ed: UHart Teachers Union Joins with Non-Union Faculty and Students to Demand Shared Sacrifice and Transparency

Dawn Ennis at the 4Cs demonstration May 3. Courtesy photo

University of Hartford faces a $16 million deficit, and given the bloat in its cabinet, it’s simply not fair to balance the budget on the backs of the faculty.

4cs AAUP demonstration May 3. Courtesy photo

By Prof. Dawn Ennis

This should be a time of celebration at the University of Hartford. We’re in the midst of final exams to wrap up the spring semester, we’ll send off the class of 2023 this Sunday at their commencement and the university tells us enrollment for the fall semester is up. But these are, in fact, troubling times across our West Hartford campus. 

After a controversial term in office that saw UHart exit NCAA Division I and spend $58 million in constructing new and renovating old campus buildings, President Gregory Woodward is gone as of June 30. He’s retiring, leaving former Barney Business School Dean Stephen Mulready to clean up his mess. What’s been described as “a major accounting error” has only compounded the problems that leave the university $16 million in the hole. 

I’m writing today as a concerned member of the part-time faculty and the new chapter officer of the union for both part-timers and adjunct professors, SEIU 1973, aka The 4Cs. My concerns are shared by not only our union members but also the non-unionized campus faculty members including members of the American Association of University Professors, and of course, our students. 

They are the reason we do this work, and love doing it. So the AAUP, the 4Cs, and our students took action last week to send the message to the administration and the Board of Regents that it’s simply unfair to balance the budget by cutting courses and eliminating faculty. 

4cs AAUP demonstration May 3. Courtesy photo

We started with a peaceful demonstration at the entrance to the campus on Bloomfield Avenue on Wednesday and then marched to the Gengras Student Union, where the university held its annual Faculty and Staff Appreciation Luncheon. To us, appreciation equals shared governance. To us, cutting a few positions in the administration’s bloated leadership will save dozens of courses and jobs. 

We calculated that if even one cabinet position were to be eliminated, that savings could fund as many as 50 of the nearly 500 sections the administration is considering eliminating. 

We waited our turns in line for the barbeque lunch and were silent but visible to all as we held signs such as “Cut the Cabinet” and “Adjunct Equity,” and more. 

4Cs demonstration May 3. Courtesy photo

We were strong in numbers and united in our messaging, but respectful and not disruptive, and the same was true at two other demonstrations of our unity: Together with members of the AAUP, UHart students and even nonaffiliated faculty, we showed members of the Board of Regents and the administration that we stand together in asking for transparency and a shared sacrifice as budget cuts loom. 

They met in private Thursday and Friday, and we shared personal messages from faculty on handout sheets, asking them to remember that we stand for the students. We are the heart of UHart.

Fortunately, we have been welcomed by interim president Mulready and other members of the administration. We met again with the leadership on Monday, and we share in the goal of doing what’s best for the university and its students as well as our own jobs. 

But we still don’t have any details of what’s been proposed or a timeline for when we will learn what’s to come. All we know is that the members of the Board of Regents were “receptive” to budget proposals and that the response to those proposals was “positive,” according to the administration. 

We’re looking forward to seeing the Class of ’23 step out into the world this Sunday when they receive their diplomas, toss their caps and snap their selfies. We can only hope that the powers that be will remember how those students made it this far, with the support of adjunct, part-time, and full-time faculty who earn far less at this university than at other campuses in the region. 

We don’t have any demands, just a plea for transparency and shared sacrifice. 

4Cs demonstration May 3. Courtesy photo

What last week’s demonstrations have made clear to everyone: We are united, we are eager to learn our fate, and there are many more people across the campus who have joined our call, to stop leaving us in the dark, wondering what the future holds. It’s time to educate us on your solution to the problems you have inherited so we can all work together for the betterment of our university, and its students. 

Prof. Dawn Ennis is a member of the contributing faculty at the University of Hartford and chapter officer of the 4Cs. 

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