by Robin Meade
Editor’s Note: In 2013, Robin Meade was fired by Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC) for telling the truth as head of her union local about adjunct faculty working conditions in a letter of “support” she was asked by the college to write to a prize commission. She immediately filed a grievance with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which eventually ruled that MVCC must reinstate her with back pay, expunge her record, and cease to interfere with campus organizing activities and speech. This is only the beginning, however. Robin is continuing the fight with a free speech lawsuit for which AFT has filed an amicus brief. She writes here about the importance of pursuing such legal actions.
Historically when intellectuals are silenced, what follows isn’t good for anyone. What happens with academic freedom and freedom of speech at institutions of higher learning is telling for the future of higher education. We have already seen critical thinking skills wane. The ability to disagree, to debate without either side being vilified, even for each side to be willing to come to the table for polite debate, is becoming rare. Instead, data are often replaced by emotions. Where did the data go? Was it thrown out with the bath water?
Isn’t that the purpose of an education? So that we as members of a polite, evolved society can come together individually or in groups and civilly work out differences? Isn’t the goal of educating people to make us all more morally conscious and civilized? To be concerned not about fighting for the scraps that are available, but for what we can build together for the future?
I think that in my case, the irrelevancy of facts was the biggest “I didn’t see that coming” blow. So much effort was spent in trying to get a place at the table to debate that I did not anticipate facts not being considered. After that realization, retaliation was a certainty. The decision of the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals and the decision of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board both clearly rule that the letter I wrote to League for Innovation was not a personal attack but contained concerns of the adjunct bargaining unit and of the community that the college serves.
When data and facts are of no consequence, truth becomes subjective. Those who hold the power in the situation create the truth and reinforce their beliefs by shutting out any opposition to the subjective truth. They tell themselves that anyone who opposes the subjective truth is wrong or even evil. Anyone who drinks the Kool-Aid of the subjective truth is in the club and anyone who will not drink the Kool-Aid is out.
Such is also the case with the contract for teaching in my case. In the decision of the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals, the court ruled that the document I signed labeled “Employment Agreement” and containing the classes I would teach for Fall 2013 complete with the dates of the semester and the expected pay was, in fact, a contract. The college has argued and continues to argue otherwise. However, the college stopped having adjuncts sign these agreements beginning in Spring 2015, immediately after the decision of the Seventh Circuit court. The Kool-Aid is so strong at MVCC that they consider their opinion above the ruling of the courts.
I won the appeal to the Seventh Circuit and the right to have a hearing in federal court concerning Freedom of Speech. I won the IELRB case. But the college has already given notice that they will appeal that decision. They will continue to fight and fritter away tax payer dollars rather than admit wrongdoing. Why? For two reasons. The first is that there is no fact to anchor their point of view, only emotion, and they do not wish to change so they will avoid change and responsibility at all cost. The second reason is that they can. On the whole, the taxpayers in the district, many of them members of trade and labor unions, have no idea how irresponsible the college is with its money. So the college board and administration move on with their agenda unchecked. Moraine Valley is just one of many community colleges where this happens.
Fighting this wave of Kool-Aid will take time and resilience. We must stand together. My case is not an anomaly. I’m certain it is not the beginning but the middle of the struggle. This shift did not happen overnight, and it will not abate overnight. Why should you fight? Because the life of the common worker is at stake. If educated people with a wide variety of skills can be exploited in the system of higher education, then why should people bother being educated—and what does this mean for those outside academe? The idea that education is finite or that education happens for a season in one’s life must be trampled into the dust. There must be recognized value in lifelong education and the free exchange of ideas in academia or there will be no free exchange of ideas.
Robin Meade has been a Professor of Business for over 15 years. Robin has her MBA from DePaul University and did her undergraduate studies at OSU. She currently teaches online at Triton College and works as a management consultant, specializing in project and change management. She has three children and lives outside Chicago. You can reach Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.