Georgette Fleischer is a scholar of modernist studies and, until recently, adjunct faculty at Barnard College, where she taught in the First Year Foundations and the English Department for 17 years. She is a vociferous advocate for union organizing of contingent labor and was instrumental in organizing Barnard Contingent Faculty, local 2110 of the UAW/United Auto Workers. Clearly in connection with her organizing activities, she has been terminated by Barnard College, using a concession in the very contract she negotiated to do so.

The situation of adjunct faculty nationwide is a scandal that has affected academia at every level and is a major factor in the continuing decline of higher education. We must broadly support the right of contingent faculty to organize; to earn a living not a subsistence wage; to be fairly evaluated and not subjected to arbitrary procedures; to have access to security of employment; to achieve professional dignity in otherwise increasingly hierarchical institutions; and finally to participate fully and openly in academic inquiry and public advocacy without risk of censorship or punishment.

Georgette Fleischer is a courageous advocate for all these rights, and her case touches on all of them. She was instrumental in organizing contingent faculty at Barnard after having endured a decade and a half of substandard wages, lack of opportunities for advancement or security, lack of recognition for the intellectual and pedagogical contribution she has made, and exposure to arbitrary procedures. It is obvious from the history of her teaching and organizing at Barnard that she has been singled out as a “squeaky wheel,” a voice that refused to be silenced, a gadfly that kept returning to the struggle.

Her union organizing history has been summarized in detail in online articles, and there is now a Facebook page for BCF-UAW, with numerous support letters. See the following:

“An Inconvenient Adjunct,” by Colleen Flaherty. Inside Higher Education, 9 June 2017; click here.

BCF-UAW 2110 Facebook page, with numerous supporting posts; click here.

Barnard Contingent Faculty, letter to the President of Barnard College; click here.

“When Unfair Labor Relations Reify, It’s Time to Strike” by Georgette Fleischer. The Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA) Contingent Faculty Blog, 25 September 2016; click here.

The following is from her faculty page at Barnard College, now accessible only in cached versions:

Georgette Fleischer received her M.F.A. in Writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts (May 1994), and her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (February 2002). Her scholarly interests are in Modernism, especially women writers’ responses to National Socialism and World War II. Publications include work on Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, published in Studies in the Novel, and numerous review essays in both scholarly and general audience venues, including The Nation and the L.A. Times Book Review. Professor Fleischer takes an active interest in organized labor in higher education. Recently she published on the Labor and Working-Class History Association’s Contingent Faculty Committee Blog (September 25, 2016), and will publish in Spring 2017 in International Labor and Working-Class History (Cambridge University Press).

This summary of her achievements, however, has been removed; what one finds in its place is a forbidding warning: “Access denied / You are not authorized to access this page.” In silencing Georgette Fleischer, Barnard College is sending a message to academia in general: in the new corporate university, your rights have been curtailed. Faculty should be united in insisting that this potentially retaliatory action be rescinded. Georgette Fleischer should return to the classroom and to her organizing activities on behalf of contingent faculty.

Barrett Watten
Professor, English
Member, Academy of Scholars
Wayne State University

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