Parsons Lets Go of Adjunct Faculty in Fine Arts

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In December, New School president Bob Kerrey received a no-confidence vote from 94 percent of the school’s full-time faculty. Now there’s turmoil brewing among the part-timers.

On March 10, twelve adjunct faculty members of the Parsons fine arts department received notification from department chair Coco Fusco that they would “not be reappointed to teach” in the fine-arts program during the 2009-2010 academic year. Fusco’s letter provided no specific reasoning, other than to say that “appointment decisions are based on multiple factors including, but not limited to, curricular changes, student enrollments, and instructor’s performance history, the need for departmental flexibility in hiring, and work load agreements with full-time and senior part-time faculty.”

The twelve professors who received letters constitute nearly one-third of the total part-time fine-arts faculty, and the department’s staff is now up in arms. On March 18, 22 faculty members who hadn’t received letters sent a petition to Kerrey, Sven Travis (dean of the School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons), recently appointed New School provost Tim Marshall, and Fusco, among other senior administrators, objecting to the cuts, which they called the “summary firing” of their colleagues. “They, like all adjunct faculty at Parsons, have worked many hours beyond their contractual commitments and have provided scholarship, skill and guidance to countless students,” the petition stated. “To not rehire faculty in this economic climate is both cruel and socially irresponsible,” the signatories added. “We therefore insist upon an immediate reversal of aforementioned summary firings.”

But the school’s administration disputes the characterization of the action as firings. “No cuts are being made to the number of faculty in the Fine Arts programs at Parsons; in fact, the faculty body is growing,” Travis said in a statement. “Due to curricular changes under way in the programs, a handful of part-time faculty with probationary status under their union contract and who teach semester to semester have not been assigned for the fall, but may be assigned in the future subject to need.”

Faculty members, however, aren’t buying it. “They’re just trying to control the rhetoric,” argues Peter Drake, one of the petition’s signatories who is helping organize faculty resistance to the cuts. “They’re trying to make it seem like being non-rehired is less painful than being fired,” he says. “I believe when you lose your job and there’s no justification for it, it’s 'being fired.'”

Editor's note: This article has been amended to clarify that the professors who received letters were only told they would not be teaching in the fine-arts department for Fall 2009.