Sociology instructor Cynthia Mahabir is back in the classroom. What did it take to get her there, after her district mysteriously refused to honor its contract with faculty and rehire her after 17 years of teaching at Laney College?
Mahabir emphasizes that this fight — to reinstate her and her colleague, Matthew Hubbard, as part-time faculty members after they were deemed “not a good fit” and were not rehired — was not all about her or any individual faculty member; it was a fight to defend the rights of all part-time faculty. Mahabir urges all part-time faculty to be prepared to respond to violations of contractual rights by:
Making connections with people throughout the campus community, including but by no means limited to union representatives. Mahabir acknowledges that it’s very easy to be isolated as part-timers, especially if we don’t feel warmly welcomed by full-time faculty in our departments or have limited time to spend on campus outside of class meetings. But it’s worth it to cultivate relationships with other part-time faculty, full-time faculty inside and outside the department, classified employees on campus, and friendly administrators, advises Mahabir.
“I found people coming up to me in the hallways offering me their best wishes and expressing solidarity after they heard about my case,” she recounts. “That support helped emotionally. It also meant more people were willing to speak up — to sign petitions for my reinstatement, to write letters and make phone calls, to speak publicly at our Board of Trustees meeting.” Being less isolated and more visible on campus can build a powerful support network that may help part-time faculty in more ways than one.
Keeping good records of interactions with students, especially those that lead or could lead to student complaints to administrators. While Mahabir strongly believes that the decision not to rehire her was retaliation against her for speaking out against administrative policies, some efforts to characterize her as “not a good fit” for her campus were made by administrators, possibly based on a small number of student complaints.
“Your union can’t represent you as effectively without your records of alleged incidents or actions,” insists Mahabir. No matter how defensible the actions of an instructor or specious a complaint by a student, part-time faculty will be in a stronger position if they can promptly provide a detailed account of any incident that administrators might use against them.
Maintaining accessible copies of potentially important district email communications with students and administrators since non-rehire decisions can lead to restricted access to district email and other online communication channels. In Mahabir’s case, she needed to provide district emails to her local union after discovering that her access to the district email system had been cut off.
And while she never suspected she would not be rehired, she ended up prepared for such an eventuality, having maintained copies in a non-district email account of relevant messages — including communications with students, other faculty and administrators — that helped demonstrate her teaching excellence, her professionalism, and her commitment to her campus community.
All of this evidence contributed to the union’s case against the administration’s empty claim that she was “not a good fit” at her college, eventually resulting in her reinstatement and a successful defense of her contract’s rights for part-time faculty in the rehire pool.