I Won! A Victory for Academic Freedom
By Robin Meade
On September 17, the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB) made its final ruling in my case against Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC).
It all started in August of 2013, when I was fired by the administration at Moraine Valley Community College in Illinois for writing a letter to the League of Innovation in the Community Colleges decrying MVCC’s lack of innovation toward adjuncts. I sent the letter as president of the adjunct bargaining unit. My termination letter specifically stated “your letter goes far beyond what could be considered responsible advocacy on behalf of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty association”, meaning I was fired for my activities as union president and not my teaching position. This situation began the workings of two legal efforts; one with the labor board (IELRB) and one in federal court defending my freedom of speech.
I must say that with many decades of precedent supporting me for both legal efforts, I did not anticipate losing. However, I did not anticipate the MVCC administration and presumably the board fighting so hard. This is the final ruling from the IELRB. An administrative law judge ruled in my favor early this year. The college chose to pursue an appeal and I suspect they will appeal this ruling at the state appellate court which is their right. The federal case was initially dismissed but the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit resounding trounced that ruling. This IELRB ruling came in just in time for my attorney to use it for his summary judgment in the federal case. The IELRB cited the college’s own testimony and evidence as a reason for ruling in my favor.
These ongoing court proceedings have been a learning experience and the curve is sharp. During the depositions for the members of the college administration, I came to full realization of the arrogance and group think that plagues the college administration and board. There was a refusal to accept that the contract I signed to teach was actually a contract and that the Seventh Circuit court determined it to be so. The administrators and the board agreed to fire me with absolutely no consideration the contract I had signed or the adjuncts I represented.
Where do things go from here? According to the IELRB ruling, MVCC must offer me full and unconditional reinstatement of my position without prejudice, pay me with interest the wages I have lost since being terminated, wipe away any reference of the termination from my record and, my personal favorite, post the IELRB notice prominently on the employee boards all over campus for 60 days. The college also has to report to the IELRB what actions they have taken to comply with the order within 35 days. Their other choice is to appeal to the state appellate court. I haven’t heard anything as of yet, so I’m assuming the latter.
I’m encouraged by Governor Rauner signing into law a limit on severance packages and automatic renewals for contracts for college presidents. Perhaps the next law will be to limit administrator salaries, which have risen ridiculously along with tuition. Community colleges should be about educating the community. Education is about helping people grow. Academic Freedom is essential to providing meaningful education. Professors must feel free to speak out on issues that affect the community, including the college that serves it.