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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

An Open Letter to SFAI President Charles Desmarais

President Charles Desmarais:

For many years now, more than three-quarters of the teaching taking place at the San Francisco Art Institute has been the work of adjuncts who have no job security, who can be dismissed at the discretion of the administration without notice, who are provided no benefits, professional recognition, or seniority even after contributing decades of exemplary service to the community. We have long been described as "Visiting Faculty" at SFAI, even those of us who have been an integral part of the work of the school for decades. Lately, we have been described instead as "Contract Faculty," a no less ironic designation since our "contracts" confer on us no security, no status, no stability, no respect for our service and loyalty, no recognized stake in the community to which we devote so much of our lives.

Given all this, it is unsurprising that last year adjuncts at SFAI voted to be represented by SEIU in unprecedented numbers. And this year we have been negotiating the terms of a new adjunct faculty contract with the administration. Throughout this process of negotiations, our priorities have been the same as the ones that impelled us to organize in the first place: we have sought real job security, recognitions of excellence and seniority, and a greater voice in governance to reflect the unique insights emerging from our experience doing so much of the actual teaching of the actual students for whom SFAI actually exists.

Throughout the year we have made many proposals and regularly offered compromises in the face of administration counter-proposals, proceeding in good faith, but the bargaining progress has recently stalled. The administration's representatives have become less timely in responding to our proposals in what has begun to seem an effort to run out the clock as the academic year draws to a close and public attention strays from the injurious impacts of administration policies. More and more unionized adjuncts with many years of service to SFAI are finding that they will no longer be offered courses for the coming year; meanwhile, advertisements for new replacement instructors grow apace. The most recent administration proposal has not remotely met any of our concerns or reflected the least awareness of our core values: it refuses to provide any job security, any recognition of excellent or long service, any relevant stake in governance. This is worse than unacceptable, it is an outrageous expression of indifference and disrespect to the history that brought us to this moment of distress.

In a communication to tenured faculty -- but apparently not to adjuncts -- Dean Schreiber expressed incredulity at our response to the administration's blanket rejection of our key demands, then went on to explain that any "job security proposal… must take into account our obligation to the entire institution to create a system that provides the level of flexibility that we need." It is very clear "the level of flexibility" that the administration thinks it "needs" amounts to arbitrary discretion over hiring and firing at will, precisely the intolerable state of affairs that inaugurated this dispute. So long as "flexibility" amounts to absolute unaccountable control over the terms of our employment it is antithetical to any security for the dedicated, talented, professionals who do most of the teaching at SFAI. It should go without saying that the administration's "obligation to the entire institution" actually includes obligations to all the people who are working here, to the maintenance of a community that includes us, and also requires support of ongoing academic standards and traditions and a shared ethos that is ill-served by a precarious, short-term, isolated, ill-respected cohort of teachers.

In your welcome message at the official SFAI website, you speak of the Institute as a "tight-knit community of peers and accomplished faculty" and that word "faculty" links to a directory that includes us all. You say that "SFAI must apply its distinct culture and long-held values in a contemporary context." We are sure you understand that we are indispensable to that distinct culture and that we are doing the work of applying those shared values. You immediately recognized the verdict of our vote to unionize and expressed a commitment to work with us on what you agreed were shared concerns. That is why we are exhorting you now to become involved in the bargaining at this crucial moment. Come to the table yourself and offer up an acceptable and respectful proposal to restore the good faith bargaining to which we must all remain committed.

Over the next two weeks there will be a number of events celebrating the accomplishments of our wonderful students at the close of another academic year. As you know these events will be thronged with students, donors, alumni, celebrated figures and press. You should expect that we will be a presence in these events, educating all the interested (and often, we fear, misinformed) stakeholders to this institution about our circumstances and the present status of our bargaining. Let us be clear, we are as dedicated to and proud of our students as only their teachers could be, and we are more thrilled than anybody to celebrate their work and achievements with our community. The information we provide the public will not disrupt their events or distract from their accomplishments. If you could provide a tentative proposal by on job security that satisfies the Bargaining Team that administration is finally showing real movement reflecting our demands for a system recognizing tiers of seniority, providing a path for advancement including multi-year contracts, offering a grandfathering system to recognize the long service of many adjuncts, and a greater voice in our coursework and school governance you can be sure that the information we provide the public would reflect that promising change and provide a congenial end-of-term for all.

SFAI Visiting Faculty Bargaining Team and Action Team


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