Friday, September 9, 2016

Adjunct Sues University…Wins Easily

By Professor Doom

     Perhaps the most abusive employment situation in higher education is in Colorado, where the food banks specialize in helping the severely underpaid faculty. Yes, things are tough all over, but the starving faculty there know the system is exploitative, because, well, let me recycle a quote:

    The culture of fear in higher education did not arise spontaneously. Quirks in our legal system give administration on campus considerable leeway when it comes to crimes, allowing them to “criminalize” perfectly legal behavior and mete out extreme punishments, via the campus kangaroo court system.

      Thus, faculty are terrified on campus. A single word out of line can easily result in termination and even other punishments far beyond what a “normal” employer could inflict on an employee. Due process, even if written into campus policy, is typically ignored by a royal administrative caste that has long since figured out that they really can do whatever they want without repercussions.

      Only faculty with financial resources (not a given when you’re paid below minimum wage, not the only common illegal activity on campus), can take wrongs to our admittedly broken legal system.

      The ACLU will sometimes take up the more abusive cases. Even when this happens, many institutions have deep pockets and are willing to fight, even when blatantly wrong.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed a complaint against Adams State University administrators on behalf of Danny Ledonne, a former adjunct professor of mass communications and video production employee who was banned from campus after he repeatedly criticized the university on a personal website called

          Banned from campus for criticizing the university. What horrible things did he say?

Ledonne wrote about pay differences between faculty members and administrators and questioned the university's hiring practices…Adams State issued Ledonne a no-trespass order this fall. The complaint, filed in a federal court in Colorado, alleges violations of Ledonne’s free speech and due process rights, as well as false and defamatory claims by the university that his behavior was threatening.

     Ah, the ol’ “we can do what we want because we felt threatened” ploy. Hey, it’s worked well for the police, and I can even see it when dealing with an obvious criminal in the street…but how can anyone accept this in response to words on a web page?

       Naturally, Adams State is quite confident that they’ll beat this case, hinting that there’s far more here than just a website:

Adams State said in a statement that the complaint is “based on a wholly false premise that we have been eager to completely refute, but have lacked the legal ability to do, until now.” Officials said that they look forward to “making the case that the university’s actions were based solely on evidence and the belief that Mr. Ledonne’s longstanding pattern of inappropriate actions and threatening statements required us to act in an abundance of caution to protect our students, faculty and staff. We will aggressively contest any accusation that our safety-based decisions were in any way related to constitutionally protected freedom of expression.”

     Thing is, admin is used to having complete control of the system. I know the kangaroo system well; I’ve seen admin destroy evidence…and then dismiss the case of abuse against faculty for lack of evidence. I’ve seen admin construct secret evidence…and then convict faculty based on evidence which the faculty can’t possibly defend against because he doesn’t even know it exists. I’ve seen “faculty committees” formed in response to due process concerns…and then seen administration threaten these faculty to rule in administration’s favor.

      I’ve seen plenty of faculty lose their jobs in this system…and I’ve never seen an administrator lose. Their control is so complete. So, naturally, administration is confident that they can get away with anything.

      So, the adjunct takes admin to court. How’d it work out?

Adams State University in Colorado has agreed to rescind a no-trespass order against a former adjunct professor of communications and pay him a $100,000 settlement based on claims that it violated his free speech and due process rights.

     But…admin was so confident they were in the right. The students were in danger, admin said. Their decision against the adjunct was strictly in the cause of safety, and admin was determined to fight this case, or so they said.

      Alas, nigh every word falling from administrative mouth is false.

      Instead, they’ll just cough up $100,000. Granted, this is peanuts, a month’s salary/benefits for the Poo Bah, but the fact remains: actual lawyers explained slowly (more accurately, “very, very, slowly”—I spent years trying and failing to convince admin about some pretty basic concepts to no avail) that admin was wayyyyyy out of line in what they did to the adjunct, and that there was absolutely no way administration was going to win this case in court.

      I know, our court system has many critical flaws, and is hardly the best, or even a decent, place to go to get justice. Compared to the utterly rigged system on our campuses, however, it’s practically Nirvana in terms of fairness.

     Admin just can’t let it be, can’t just cough up the check and admit they lost:

A university spokesperson said in a separate statement Monday that the judge “ruled there was no wrongdoing on the part of Adams State University or our administration. The insurance company settled this as a nuisance case.”

      Wait, what? If the judge ruled “there was no wrongdoing,” why was there a $100,000 payout? If the judge made this ruling, the case is over. Any lawyers reading this? Please use the contact form to let me know if I’m wrong on how this works.

      Nuisance cases are generally settled before you get to court (making the quick payout prevents the expensive court costs). If the judge is hearing the case, there’s less reason to make a nuisance settlement…and you’re sure not going to pay it after the judge has ruled in your favor.

      If you’ve won, you don’t pay. And that’s taking the above lies seriously. If admin was really honest about “protecting students” on campus by suspending the adjunct, then they’d fight this, and fight this hard…because administrators with integrity would do so, should do so. Again, this assumes admin was telling the truth. Were they lying then, or are they lying now?

     Trick question: they’re always lying.

     Across the country, this sort of stuff goes on regularly, and the ACLU can’t protect every adjunct that’s getting screwed. Even though admin lost this one (but won’t admit it), they win every time in the kangaroo campus system. 

     The gentle reader need not hold hope that this one case will change anything, however, as administration didn’t really lose. When an adjunct loses, he loses his job, but when administrators lose, it’s just taxpayer money anyway.


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