Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Conflicts on Campus: Fordham Endures Series of Disputes over Faculty Health Care; Unionizing

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Conflicts on Campus: Fordham Endures Series of Disputes over Faculty Health Care; Unionizing

Article excerpt


NEW YORK * Over coffee at Rex, the hip, Upper West Side shop that Fordham University students haunt, Kyle Pritz, 28, pauses to hold his glasses up sideways. It looks as if something has taken a bite out of the piece of the plastic temple that ought to cover the right hinge. The missing part broke off about five weeks prior during a struggle with Fordham security

Sustaining injuries and broken glasses and getting slapped with disciplinary action by the Jesuit school, which forced him, he said, to take an incomplete rather than graduate on time, wasn't how things were supposed to go. Pritz, who grew up an hour north of Manhattan in Carmel, New York, chose Fordham for its values and participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

As a veteran, Pritz paid neither tuition nor fees at Fordham, which has touted a "veteran-friendly" reputation since the Civil War. Raised Lutheran, he isn't religious but was drawn to Fordham's mission. "I like how the Jesuits' conception of God is God in everything," he said. He was also impressed with Fordham's social justice emphasis and what he understood to be the Jesuit history of "standing with the oppressed against corrupt and unjust power structures."

That same sense of social justice led Pritz, a philosophy and psychology double major, to join about 50 students and faculty on April 27 outside Walsh Library, some 9.5 miles north of Rex on Fordham's Bronx campus. The group voiced support for contingent, or adjunct, faculty, whose unionizing efforts the administration sought to block on religious grounds. The protesters then walked a couple of minutes northeast to Cunniffe House, home to the office of Jesuit Fr. Joseph McShane, Fordham's president.

What happened next is the subject of much dispute between the administration and professors and students, and it is one of several incidents that threaten to further divide a campus upon which 80 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty on April 19 voted --at a rate of 88 percent--no confidence in McShane.

Escalating tensions

On a recent visit, Fordham's Bronx campus is a study in lush, sprawling lawns and iconic gray and brown Gothic-styled buildings, which lend the 85 acres a monastic, meditative feel. Turning corners on the campus, which is near the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, visitors chance upon religious sculptures and crosses. Even the trees on this well-manicured campus have identifying tags revealing their species, and crimson banners celebrate Fordham's recent 175th birthday and its U.S. News & World Report ranking: tied for 60th in the nation.

It is hard to imagine such an idyllic place could be the focus of such conflict. To outsiders, a vote of no confidence in McShane by faculty might sound like the kind of thing that would keep a university president up at night, but Fordham didn't interpret the statement as indication of a true lack of confidence support in leadership. Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and a special adviser to McShane, notes that in the last fiscal year alone, 23 votes of no confidence have been leveled against presidents or other senior officials at US. colleges and universities.

"It is an increasingly common tactic in labor negotiations," he said.

But the vote didn't feel like a stunt to Eric Anthamatten, an adjunct philosophy professor of five years at Fordham, who voted with colleagues in a parallel adjunct no-confidence vote, with similar results. "I felt a general sense of solidarity," he said over coffee, some 35 blocks north of Fordham's Manhattan campus.

Anthamatten, who holds a doctorate, has taught six courses on three campuses in the same semester and often has to tell students he isn't sure where his office hours will be held. For three months last year, he had an unanticipated insurance coverage gap.

"I was in this doughnut hole without insurance for three months. …

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