Seventh Circuit Protects Part-time Faculty Union Leader, Robin Meade

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is becoming a very pro-faculty, pro-adjunct, pro-academic freedom and anti-Garcetti v. Ceballos court. It continues to reverse or remand upon appeal several draconian decisions of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Loretta Capeheart, a member of the Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure at censured Northeastern Illinois University, received a favourable ruling as reported in Academe.

Robin Meade is an adjunct at Moraine Valley Community College that is located in Palos Hills, a southwest suburb of Chicago, and president of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization. Meade had written a letter that was quite critical of M.V.C.C.’s treatment of adjuncts “as a disposable resource” and “a separate, lower class of people” and commented on its adversarial impact on student learning. For this act of courage, she was fired by Moraine Valley Community College. Walter J. Kendall III, a professor of law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago, an Illinois Committee A member and past president of the Illinois Conference, shared the appellate court’s decision in an email. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed reported on the Seventh Circuit’s ruling.

What is heartening is the Seventh Circuit’s refusal to cite Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006) in order to destroy academic freedom, eviscerate the First Amendment and establish a virtual police state in public higher education. The so-called public-concern allowance of employee speech that was established in Pickering v Board of Education (1968) is given sweeping application by the appeals court. It rejected the district court’s interpretation of Garcetti and declared Meade’s letter as protected speech. Since the lower district court had issued a summary judgment against Professor Meade, the appeals court remanded the case back to the trial court–the district court–thereby, ordering it to consider her complaint in a multiplicity of areas including retaliation for exercising her right of freedom of speech that is protected in the First Amendment.

While Professor Meade has not at this stage won her case, she will get another day in court. She can still fight for the restoration of her position as an adjunct business instructor. Chief Judge Diane P. Wood wrote the Seventh Circuit decision. It is worth quoting at some length due to its profound implications in the battle against the destruction of tenure and corporate higher education’s increasing reliance on alienated, immiserated labour. I am also impressed by her knowledge and citation of relevant, advocacy literature:

Applying these standards, we have no trouble concluding that Meade’s letter discussed several matters of public concern. In fact, the letter contained almost no content personal to Meade…The letter’s multiple references to the difficulties facing all Moraine Valley’s adjuncts remove it from the realm of the purely personal. And Meade is not alone in expressing concern about the treatment of adjuncts. Colleges and universities across the country are targets of increasing coverage and criticism regarding their use of adjunct faculty.  See, e.g., Sydni Dunn, Colleges Are Slashing Adjuncts’ Hours to Skirt New Rules on Health Insurance Eligibility, CHRON. OF HIGHER EDUC (Apr. 22, 2013), http://chronicle.com/article/Colleges-Curb-Adjuncts-Hours/138653;  Rachel L. Swarns, Crowded  Out of Ivory Tower, Adjuncts See a Life Less Lofty, N.Y. Times,Jan. 20, 2014, at A11; Lewis Wallace, Adjunct Professors Demand Inclusion in Health Care Reforms, WBEZ NEWS (Mar. 11, 2013),  http://www.wbez.org/news/adjunct-professors-demand-inclusion-health-care-reforms-106034…

The content of Meade’s letter places it squarely among matters that are of public concern. The district court thus erred in concluding that her speech was not constitutionally protected. Because it resolved the case at that point, the court did not address the other two issues her case raises: whether the speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the retaliatory action, and whether the defendant can show that it would have taken the same action without the existence of the protected speech. See Chaklos, 560 F.3d at 711. We think it best for the district court to have the first look at those issues on remand.

The Seventh Circuit is listening and is aware that the crisis in higher education of replacing full-time tenured faculty with at-will marginalized labour has reached critical mass as an issue of “public concern.”

8 thoughts on “Seventh Circuit Protects Part-time Faculty Union Leader, Robin Meade

  1. The letter was written by myself with input and approval from my board on behalf of the adjuncts I represented as president of the union and based upon data gathered from the members of the bargaining unit and eyewitness accounts.

    Some people say I was brave and some say I was stupid. I say that living in fear and ignoring the truth to stay safe isn’t freedom. Signing and sending that letter cost me my job, my reputation and many friends and contacts. As part of my termination, the college even threatened to charge me with criminal trespassing if I set foot on campus to perform my duties as union president. At a community college. Public land.

    And given the choice, I would sign and send the letter again.

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  3. Well done, Professor Meade. MVCC has given me six stellar reviews for my classes over the past decade, but I haven’t got a chance to get hired full-time there. They dissuaded me from getting a school ID, they never bother to give me a podium key, and so on. We definitely are second-class citizens. I hope you come back as a full-timer. Thank you for your work.

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  5. Pingback: Robin Meade Wins Grievance for Her Adjunct Job at Moraine Valley | The Academe Blog

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