After decades of unstable and temporary contract employment, University of Wisconsin math lecturer Sharad Chandarana filed a legal grievance against the university, alleging abuse of hiring policy and administrative negligence.
According to The Capital Times, Chandarana wrote a letter to Math Department Chair Timo Seppäläinen Aug. 21 citing his years of teaching experience and dedication to UW since 1985. Despite these qualifications, UW has employed Chandarana only through fixed-term terminal appointments, renewed on a semester or yearly basis.
“Over the last 20 years, every time I would apply for a long-term position in the math department, I was never given one,” Chandarana said. “This year I am supposed to take two semesters off and I do not know what will happen to me in the face of COVID-19.”
Chandarana said he began his career at UW as a graduate student in 1984 and started working as a teaching assistant shortly after.
While a student, Chandarana said he spoke out against the ways in which graduate students are mistreated, claiming the problems he fought against 30 years ago are the same ones students face today.
Chandarana said though the administration often retaliated against him, he recognized the positional vulnerability of graduate students and chose to be an advocate.
“I speak out, I do not take mistreatment from anybody,” Chandarana said. “This employment issue has become personal. They use me when it’s convenient, then tell me to take a hike!”
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Because Chandarana is not employed this semester, Seppäläinen forwarded the grievance to the Academic Staff Appeals Committee, claiming it was not in the math department’s purview and would need to be reviewed by a higher-level academic body.
The ASAC consists of 12 members appointed by the chancellor on the recommendation of the Academic Staff Executive Committee, university spokesperson Meredith McGlone said. The ASAC reviews or hears all appeals of non-renewals, layoffs, discipline, dismissals and grievances not resolved at a lower level. It forwards a finding of fact in each case with a recommendation to Provost John Karl Scholz.
According to McGlone, for instructors such as Chandarana, a fixed-term instructional appointment within a given department can be offered repeatedly for up to three successive academic years. After that, if the person is hired for a fourth year, it must be a renewable appointment.
March 5, UW informed Chandarana he would not have a teaching assignment for the 2020-21 school year. He taught every semester since spring 2018, meeting the three-year limit that would require a renewable contract if UW hired him for one more semester.
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“Job applicants, not the university, decide which positions they wish to apply for,” McGlone said. “There is no violation of Academic Staff Policies and Procedures in this situation because the university does not have an obligation to hire someone for a fourth year in a renewable position.”
Additionally, McGlone said the university is under no obligation to hire someone for a new role because they were previously employed by that unit. Chandarana worked as a lecturer in the Math Department and the department did not make any recent renewable hires for that title.
According to Chapter 2 of the University’s Academic Staff Policies and Procedures, “fixed-term terminal appointments are made when there is no expectation of continuing employment … [These] appointments shall not be used repeatedly to avoid granting the increased job security provided by fixed-term renewable appointments.”
It is from this policy Chandarana said he bases his legal grievance.
“From what I understand, [UW] has misused its own policy,” Chandarana said. “I do not see what is wrong with giving me a long-term appointment after all of these years.”
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Chandarana also said a lack of administrative support and communication from campus leaders played a large role in the delay of his case. He explained earlier conversations from 2019 and early March with the Dean of the College of Letters and Science Eric Wilcots about faculty raises and inequitable employment practices were “brushed off” along with two follow-up emails.
Moreover, Chandarana said his labor union, United Faculty and Academic Staff, also sent an email to Wilcots and did not receive correspondence. He said he met in-person with the provost in Oct. 2019, but said he received neither answers nor any sense of motivation from the administration to address his concerns.
Associated Students of Madison Chair Matthew Mitnick spoke on how these actions reflect on UW.
“The fact that the provost and president of ASEC ignore correspondence from UFAS, the very union that exists to protect workers, demonstrates how the workers of this institution are not valued,” Mitnick said.
Mitnick said Chandarana’s situation demonstrates how the university views employees as assets rather than people, “squeezing” out a number of years from workers on contract and then severing ties when pay increases must occur. Mitnick said the cycle is concerning.
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Mitnick went on to explain that if workers were placed into the decision-making process through shared governance, cases like Chandarana’s would never escalate to their current levels.
“With the state not even having collective bargaining, workers, professors and staff members don’t have the same kind of institutional powers they should have,” Mitnick said. “ASM is not only present to be the voice of students, but to support those who allow students to get an education in the first place.”
Despite ASM’s influence as one of the four shared governance organizations on campus, Mitnick explained students’ calls for action tend to fall on deaf ears.
He explained every time he and others voice their opinions, directly challenging the administration, they are completely blocked out and ignored. Mitnick described the administration as “hand picking” who they want to listen to in order to avoid confrontation and accountability.
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According to Mitnick, the administration’s pattern of dismissal and faculty neglect does not support workers, students or the Madison community. In order to incite campus-wide change for workers like Chandarana, issues within the administration must become a forefront concern for all students.
“Students must care about this because the same people who are teaching them life skills in the classroom are the ones being mistreated outside of it,” Mitnick said.