In a win for Ithaca College’s embattled adjunct faculty union, the American Arbitration Association said last week Ithaca wrongly disciplined Tom Schneller, part-time professor of music, for engaging in protected union activity. Ithaca recently announced heavy cuts to untenured faculty that threaten to decimate union ranks. In May, worried about potential layoffs, Schneller wrote a memo to full-time faculty colleagues called “Solidarity in a Time of Crisis: A Plea from Your Contingent Colleagues” and posted it to a virtual Ithaca message board. Ithaca accused Schneller of violating a no-strike clause in the collective bargaining agreement and threatened him with discipline “up to and including termination,” according to the union. The Service Employees International Union-affiliated chapter also said that Ithaca asked it to retract the memo. It filed a grievance with the college, which was denied. The issue proceeded to arbitration, and an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association sided with Schneller, finding the memo didn’t violate the union contract.
The union said in a statement, “While contingent faculty are relieved by the arbitrator’s decision, the union committee remains troubled by the heavy-handed attempt of the IC administration to crack down on legitimate union activity.” Dave Maley, a college spokesperson, said the arbitrator in the recent case found that conduct that Ithaca felt “violated the letter and spirit of the no-strike clause fell outside the bounds of that particular clause. The college accepts the arbitrator’s determination.”
Ithaca has argued that faculty cuts are necessary. “The pandemic has impacted enrollment numbers at our college for this academic year, but it is not responsible for a shifting demographic trend — one that points with clarity toward a coming enrollment cliff for institutions like ours, a private residential college in the Northeast,” President Shirley M. Collado and Provost La Jerne Terry Cornish wrote in a recent op-ed for Inside Higher Ed.