It's not personal. It's just business.
Last week's post about Danny Ledonne, the former Adams State University film instructor who was abruptly banned from the Alamosa campus with little explanation shortly after he launched a website critical of the school's administration and pay policies, has generated some interesting e-mails and comments from the halls of academia.
Some struggling adjunct professors have written to commiserate with Ledonne and affirm that those who speak out about lousy pay and rank exploitation risk losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, Adams State president Beverlee McClure has fired off a missive to faculty and staff lamenting "misinformation and negativity," and defended the administration's effort to adopt a formal persona non grata policy to keep undesirable elements off campus. To Ledonne, though, his nothing-personal banishment feels very personal indeed.
As reported in the previous post, Ledonne worked as a part-time instructor at ASU from 2011 until 2014, then one year as a full-time visiting professor; his contract wasn't renewed this spring. A few weeks ago he started a watchdog website, Watching Adams, that delved into the poor pay for part-time instructors and accused the university of violating the Colorado Wage Act by making adjuncts wait until the end of the semester, or longer, to collect the widow's mite owed to them for their work.
The site had been up only a few days when the chief of campus police hand-delivered a letter to Ledonne from President McClure, informing him that he would be arrested for trespassing if he stepped onto campus property. "Your presence on campus presents a concern to the campus community; is disruptive and/or you have been previously warned that such behavior will not be tolerated," the letter stated, providing no specifics of the alleged behavior.
Ledonne denies making any threats or receiving any prior warnings. He believes the ban is a direct result of his criticism of McClure's administration. Our report brought a spirited response from other adjunct professors, including activist Caprice Lawless, vice president for the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) chapters of the American Association of University Professors, which has a website devoted to eye-opening info on how little adjuncts are paid (in many instances, a third or less of what full-timers earn per class) while teaching the bulk of the courses in the state's community colleges. Here's the gist of the Lawless missive:
"First Amendment rights are under attack at Adams State University in Alamosa and in Colorado’s Community College System (CCCS). Nothing seems to irritate six-figure-earning college administrators more than faculty who raise legitimate questions about staggering differences in wages between administrators and faculty. Those who do, like Prof. Danny Ledonne in Alamosa, might lose their ability to walk onto campus. Others, like me, may lose their jobs.
"In 2012, Front Range Community College (FRCC) President Andy Dorsey explained to me when I interviewed him for our Adjunct Network newsletter that the only recourse we adjunct faculty had for a pay raise was to work with the state legislature. Since then, I have led peers to organize many chapters of the American Association of University Professors to help us do it. In 2014, Rep. Randy Fischer and Sen. John Kefalas co-sponsored HB 14-1154, the first-ever equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation for CCCS adjunct faculty. That bill failed. We tried again. In Jan. 2015, Sen. John Kefalas and Rep. John Salazar co-sponsored SB 15-094, a similar bill that would have required equal pay for equal work. It failed as well. Our legislation failed largely because CCCS administrators tapped our budget to pay their lobbyists $132K to defeat our bills. The CCCS also recruited the North Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Aurora Chamber of Commerce to pay their lobbyists to help defeat our legislation. It is demoralizing to know how the CCCS threw its own adjunct faculty — the ones who teach 60% to 85% of all the courses the system offers — under the bus after telling us to work with the legislature.
"Launching that legislation required us to network with lawmakers, researchers, labor-union officials, and authors in the academic labor movement. To make our case, of course, we had to find facts. Like Prof. Danny Ledonne at Adams State, I filed Colorado Open Records Act requests and published findings. In our case, we discovered how very little of the CCCS $613 million in annual revenue goes to 75% of its teachers. The pay of 4,667 adjunct faculty, who teach up to 85% of all the courses the system offers, accounts for less than 12% of the CCCS budget. It prefers to spend its revenue on administration and on building projects. Even so, the CCCS still takes in $20 million more than it spends each year and has more than a quarter billion dollars in reserves. The CCCS can rearrange its priorities and budget for its adjunct faculty the 28% pay increase its own Adjunct Task Force recommended in February.
"My reward for making these few discoveries public and for leading the legislative effort, as I was so directed? My course load and subsequent income (which was poverty-level in 2012) has been cut in half by my employer, FRCC. Never mind that I have been teaching successfully at FRCC for 16 years, and that I received Teaching Excellence Awards in 2013 and 2014.
"An army of migrant workers earning poverty-level wages to teach 163,000 community college students across Colorado is not a stable vision for the future. It is the unsustainable nightmare of the present. We can do better by our faculty and the students they serve. We can learn facts and not shoot the messengers who brought them to us. Maintaining a stable faculty and protecting the First Amendment are not mutually exclusive endeavors."
President McClure declined a request for an interview about the ban, but her office issued a brief statement denying that the decision was made in response to the Watching Adams website: "It is unfortunate that a disgruntled, unsuccessful job applicant is misconstruing information about Adams State University. Mr. Ledonne’s persona non grata status was not issued in response to his website, but for safety reasons. There is an appeal process that can be pursued by Mr. Ledonne. Since this is a personnel issue, the University will not comment further."
In a recent e-mail to faculty and staff, McClure defended ASU's open-records policy and announced that the university website no longer requires a visitor to sign in to access salary data — a requirement that Ledonne suggested was being used to monitor and learn the identities of the curious. "Under my leadership, Adams State University will remain as open and transparent as possible," she wrote.
Not particularly reassured by McClure's declarations, Ledonne has written his own response to the ban, which can be found in its entirety on the Watching Adams site. "Banning the messenger is not the solution to the problem," he writes. "I do not believe it is in Adams State University's best interest to court further public controversy by upholding this legally tenuous ban, nor does it serve the core mission of an institution of higher learning to issue retaliatory policies in response to constitutionally protected free expression."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.