Fordham endures disputes over faculty health care, unionizing

Tone-deaf pattern emerges

The events are “very connected” and demonstrate the university’s “kind of disrespect for the rule of law,” Clark said. “Many students and faculty are dismayed by the lack of free speech that is present on campus.”

The university’s tone has also been problematic, faculty say. Official communications can be patronizing even as they are infused with religion, according to Anthamatten. He describes the tone as, “It’s the father, the dean, or the president speaking, so shut up,” which he sees as incongruous with the great social justice sense of another Jesuit, Pope Francis.

A “recovering Catholic,” Anthamatten appreciates Fordham’s emphasis on his discipline, philosophy, but contrasts that with its invoking religious exemption to block his and colleagues’ unionization efforts. “I think there is a hypocrisy or a dissonance,” he said. Nonetheless, Fordham’s actions have made him more curious about Jesuit history and beliefs, and the non-practicing Catholic, who says he weirdly identifies as Catholic, has been reading up on the subject.

Clark points to the May 19 email from McShane, in which the president stated Fordham wouldn’t block adjunct unionization “after much consultation and reflection” and after becoming “convinced of the rightness of this course of action over the last few months by conversations with my fellow Jesuits.” The letter goes on to say that organized labor has “deep roots in Catholic social justice teachings.”

Though the decision was what many had hoped for, the letter made many very unhappy, according to Clark.

“It didn’t recognize what many people believe were the true Jesuit actions of those students, who risked their own academic careers to engage in peaceful civil disobedience in order to try to fight for others,” he said. “It wasn’t for their own benefit.”

Clark thinks Fordham would have pursued the religious exemption clause if not for recent events. “If there had not been a student protest, if there hadn’t been the press and the altercations around the student protest, I am 100 percent confident that the epiphany that Fr. McShane had on the night before commencement would never have occurred,” he said. And a “fact check” that Fordham posted on its website in response to the actions of the 14 students, including Pritz, also struck a tone that upset some. “It’s a tone of total condescension and arrogance that’s punishing,” Clark said.

On Fordham’s graduation day, May 20, many professors affixed pins stating “88%,” “Cura Personalis” — Latin for the Jesuit concept of “Care for the whole person” — with a broken heart, and “Cura Personalis #broken” to their doctoral robes, and some duct taped “88%” — the number who voted no confidence — to their backs in protest of the president, Clark said.

When a professor told Pritz during office hours that he was having trouble getting his insurance to cover a brain surgery he required, Pritz was floored. “I was surprised how ignorant I was of these things, which had been going on for a while,” he said. Pritz couldn’t understand why Fordham wouldn’t realize it was in its best interest to care for its faculty.

Heading uptown on April 27 to protest on behalf of contingent faculty, Pritz had no idea things would get physical. He and 50 others chanted, “What’s outrageous? Poverty wages,” and “What’s disgusting? Union busting,” on the steps to the library, as he supported professors he believes changed his life. “It felt right to be there,” he said.

As the group headed to the president’s office, Pritz first noticed three public safety officers — a group he’d never before observed. “They’re like a secret police force,” he said, noting that campus security usually check students’ IDs when they enter campus. When he learned the officers’ names during the subsequent disciplinary process, Pritz crosschecked them on LinkedIn and learned they were all ex-NYPD.

Howe confirmed that public safety officers “are indeed former ranking officers of the NYPD,” but added that the “tactics they used are consistent with their training, and with university protocols.”

With the officers in tow, the group walked to Cunniffe House, expecting to deliver a written message to the president and dialogue with him. Sensing an escalation in the vestibule, Pritz, who was standing on the stairs, dropped his corner of a banner and maneuvered through an opening in the doorway. Inside, an officer, his back to an inner door, tried to hold protesters at bay.

“I knew instantly that we were facing a very corrupt power structure at this moment,” Pritz said. “Why are these officers here?”

Pritz would unbolt both latches on the exterior door, as three officers grabbed at his clothes and arms. He was left with burn marks all over his body. “It was definitely obvious that I was in a struggle,” he said. “They were very forceful.”

Pritz’s glasses broke, and as he sought to assist a student whom the guard at the interior door was pinning, Pritz felt the officer’s elbow dig into his belt area. “He does this defensive thing and pins my head down,” Pritz said. (Howe said no students required medical support that day, although Fordham officers did.)

Six minutes after the physical altercations began, the students understood getting inside was a lost cause and filtered out. Walking down the stairs, Pritz, who doesn’t see well without his glasses, recognized two classmates from a class. One said, “I can’t believe this is happening at a Jesuit school.”

Pritz responded, “This is not a Jesuit institution.”

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