An adjunct professor at Binghamton University has filed a grievance against the institution, saying it did not renew her teaching contract for next semester as part of a campaign to get rid of her after she refused to give players in its scandal-ridden basketball program better grades.
The adjunct, Sally Dear, said that in filing the grievance she had to sidestep the faculty-union chapter on her campus, which is part of the State University of New York system, because a professor who sits on the chapter's executive board was involved in the basketball scandal. In addition, Ms. Dear said, the chapter's board is reluctant to draw more attention to problems with the basketball program by supporting her complaints.
"I said I want a grievance filed, and I want it filed now," Ms. Dear said she told James A. Dix, an associate professor of chemistry at Binghamton and the interim president of Binghamton's chapter of the United University Professions. (Mr. Dix is not the professor who was part of the basketball team's problems.) But Ms. Dear said Mr. Dix "made it crystal clear to me I did not have support of the local UUP."
Ms. Dear said she then went to state leaders of the union, who helped her file the grievance last Friday. The complaint alleges that in failing to renew her teaching contract for the coming semester, Binghamton violated her academic freedom under the union's collective-bargaining agreement. According to the grievance, which was sent to C. Peter Magrath—Binghamton's interim president—Ms. Dear's nonrenewal was "motivated by the events that ... are still ongoing in the athletic-department scandal."
In a telephone interview, Mr. Dix said there had simply been a misunderstanding between him and Ms. Dear. He said that he did not realize she wanted the local chapter to file a grievance but that "we were certainly willing to do that." He said he had been pursuing other possibilities with the union—including passing a resolution supporting Ms. Dear—but the chapter was still discussing how to handle her case.
Ms. Dear said she didn't have time to wait. She needed to file a grievance within 45 days of learning, in an October e-mail message, that her contract to teach in the sociology department would not be renewed. This past semester, Ms. Dear taught two sections of a sociology course called "Diversity and Social Justice." The e-mail message—from Jean-Pierre Mileur, Binghamton's interim provost—said the university had looked at potential teaching opportunities for Ms. Dear, but, "taking into consideration scholarly needs and budgetary constraints, ... nothing has presented itself in time for the spring semester."
This is not the first time Binghamton has told Ms. Dear she would not be reappointed. Most notably, in September 2009, following an article in The New York Times that quoted Ms. Dear as saying she had been pressured to give basketball players better grades than they deserved, the university said her position would not be renewed. It blamed budget problems. After Ms. Dear complained to other newspaper reporters and to the American Association of University Professors, she was reinstated.
All along, Ms. Dear has asserted that she is a casualty of the extensive fallout over the university's troubled basketball program. Last year the university dismissed some players, one of whom had been accused of selling crack cocaine. Eventually both the university's basketball coach and its athletic director resigned after an audit of the basketball program, ordered by the president of the SUNY system, found that Binghamton had admitted players who didn't qualify academically. In January, Binghamton's president, Lois B. DeFleur, announced that she would retire.
A Lingering Scandal
But Ms. Dear said the effects of the basketball scandal still lingered. The union's own executive board, she said, was reluctant to support her for fear of reigniting controversy over the issue. The union also faces a conflict of interest, said Ms. Dear, because Sandra D. Michael, a professor of biological sciences and the university's former faculty athletics representative, sits on the union's board. Ms. Michael was faulted in the basketball-program audit for lobbying the admissions office to admit players with low grade-point averages.
Ms. Michael did not return e-mail messages and telephone calls seeking comment from The Chronicle. But when asked about the possible conflict regarding Ms. Michael, Mr. Dix said the union "welcomes diversity on its executive board."
Ms. Dear said because of the deep-seated conflicts over the basketball program, she was unsure whether her grievance could get a fair hearing, not only at Binghamton but also across the state. The first step in the grievance process is for Binghamton officials to hold a hearing on her complaint. If the complaint isn't resolved that way, it could go to the central SUNY administration, and then to an outside arbitrator.
Paul Zarembka, a professor of economics at the University at Buffalo, another campus in the SUNY system, and an officer in the UUP chapter there, helped advise Ms. Dear about the grievance. He said he, too, had his doubts. "I'm concerned the Binghamton University administration will not move on it and the union won't move on it," he said.
Gail Glover, a spokeswoman for Binghamton, would not address the specifics of Ms. Dear's complaint. But she said: "The university will follow the standard protocol for processing the grievance." Ms. Glover also said that while the university did not have work for Ms. Dear now, she was not barred from applying to teach in the future.