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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Valued Professor Removed Without Explanation

Former UMass Boston professor Steve Schwartz
Former UMass Boston professor Steve Schwartz

As UMass Boston faces budget constraints, one of the favorite mechanisms of saving a buck is to release adjunct faculty of their responsibilities, and of course, their paychecks. However, at the end of the Spring 2006 semester, Professor Steve Schwartz was removed from his teaching position with no explanation and without saving money for the University. Many faculty members have claimed that this firing was likely an act of retaliation by Provost Paul Fonteyn after Schwartz expressed some criticisms against him.

Steve Schwartz, a long-time and well-respected professor who had recently retired from full-time teaching, was set to co-teach an online Creative Thinking course with Professor Delores Gallo, but was removed from that position by Peter Langer, the interim dean of the Graduate College of Education, with no explanation.

Upon receiving word about his dismissal from teaching the course, Schwartz drafted a letter of appeal about Dean Langer’s decision to Provost Fonteyn, saying, “If the decision is allowed to stand … my due-process rights will have been violated since an agreement under which I have been working (gratis) for over a year has been abrogated without any reason provided me.” He also said in the appeal that due to such an unjustified decision, “Faculty prerogatives to the assignment of instructors to CCDE courses will have been compromised.”

Provost Fonteyn responded to Schwartz’s appeal by simply stating that he supported Dean Langer’s decision.

Schwartz’s appeal also outlines his yearlong dedication to the development of the course together with esteemed colleague Gallo, who had retired from full-time teaching due to chronic illness. Schwartz and Gallo had created the Creative Thinking course together approximately 25 years ago and have co-taught it on campus over a dozen times. When Schwartz was asked to co-teach an online version of the course he readily agreed.

The course was being financed as if only one instructor was teaching. Schwartz and Gallo arranged to split the teaching stipend of $4000 between them, and that Gallo would receive the $3000 development money, since she created the bulk of the modules for the course. Because of this arrangement, removing professor Schwartz from his position did not change the cost of providing the course, saving no money for the university.

Schwartz was ultimately provided an opportunity to present his appeal to the Faculty Council and because the decision to remove him from the course was ultimately reversed, some members of the administration and the faculty consider the initial removal a non-issue. However, as Langer failed to provide a reason for the removal of such a valued asset to the university, other faculty members continue to feel as though his dismissal was, in fact, an act of retaliation.

“You have to connect the dots, and these dots seem to connect,” Randy Albelda, professor of Economics, said. “In my experience I can’t think of any time where someone was removed from teaching a course without being given a set of explanations.”

Albelda, along with multiple other faculty members who all wished to remain anonymous, could think of no reason-financial, competency or otherwise-for Schwartz being released from a course in which he held tremendous expertise. These professors expressed a genuine concern about the tense climate created when criticism of the administration for the good of the university could potentially be met with retribution.

In response to Schwartz’s appeal, Fonteyn issued a brief statement to the Faculty Council. According to the council’s meeting minutes of November 2006, “Provost Fonteyn informed the council that the issue regarding Dr. Schwarz is a personal matter and that any action that was taken concerning a teaching appointment should not be attributed to retribution. He reported that Dr. Schwartz would be allowed to teach the course.”

According to faculty members present at the meeting, however, Fonteyn expressed that he was “tired” of the issue and harshly said that Schwartz could teach the course after all. This led some faculty members to question whether Langer had actually made the initial decision in the first place, or if provost Fonteyn had control the whole time.

Both Fonteyn and Langer forwarded all inquiries about this issue to Ed Hayward, Associate Vice Chancellor for University Communications. Hayward defended the decision and referred to school policy, which states “adjunct faculty members are positions at the discretion of the administration.” He also noted “decisions about adjunct and part-time faculty are made on course by course basis.”

While Hayward defended Langer and Fonteyn’s decision as being in accordance with UMass Boston policy, he added, “Dean Langer and Provost Fonteyn have a lot of respect for Dr. Schwartz.”

Although Langer’s decision is in accordance with school policy, several faculty members do not feel the decision was valid or justified.

Faculty members reiterated Schwartz’s countless contributions to UMass Boston including his role as Faculty Representative to the Board of Trustees, Chair of the Psychology Department for 15 years, Associate Dean of CAS, Associate Provost, as well as the interim associate dean and director of the Public Policy doctoral program. They expressed that such disrespectful treatment of him is not acceptable.

“The Provost or Dean may have a formal right to terminate an instructor from a course, but that does not make it the right thing to do,” Albelda said. “It’s like giving a student an F on a paper without explaining why.”

Schwartz was ultimately permitted to teach the course but chose not to do so, as it was already too late to get reacquainted with the project that was so abruptly put on hold. However, he has agreed to lend his expertise in a guest lecture for Gallo’s class.

Prior to his release from the course Dr. Schwartz had taught at UMB for 33 years as a full-time faculty member in the Psychology Department and was the Co-founder of the Critical and Creative Thinking Masters Program. He was honored for his dedication to UMB through receipt of the Chancellor’s Distinguish Service Award and has only recently retired from the school.