From:    Leo Parascondola
  To:      Workplace
  Date:    May 24, 2001
  Posted:  May 25, 2001
  Subject: SUNY Dean Ousts Chair

   SUNY-Buffalo Dean Ousts Chairwoman for Not Reprimanding T.A.'s
   in Suspected Labor Action


   A dean at the State University of New York at Buffalo has
   removed the chairwoman of the English department for refusing
   to discipline teaching assistants who were suspected of
   withholding undergraduate grades as a protest against
   low-paying stipends.

   On May 17, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences,
   Charles L. Stinger, asked the professor, Barbara Bono, to sign
   a memo he had prepared informing the teaching assistants --
   who earn about $8,500 a year -- that failure to submit grades
   was a "serious dereliction of academic responsibility" and
   that they would be "subject to serious penalties," including
   being declared ineligible for reappointment to an
   assistantship. The letter also warned that "participation in
   any such unauthorized job action may also well be deemed
   illegal under New York State Law." The teaching assistants'
   union, the Graduate Student Employee Union, is affiliated with
   the Communication Workers of America. Representatives of the
   G.S.E.U. could not be reached for comment. Mr. Stinger said
   that his memo and his request that Ms. Bono sign it were
   prompted by a report that 80 percent of the English department
   teaching assistants had not submitted grades for the spring

   Ms. Bono refused to sign the letter. Mr. Stinger told her that
   she could not continue to lead the department, although she
   would maintain her tenured faculty position. Both Ms. Bono and
   Mr. Stinger agree that these events took place within the
   first 10 minutes of the meeting.

   According to Mr. Stinger, he dismissed Ms. Bono because "she
   expressed considerable sympathy for the student situation and
   didn't see that forceful action was required." He added,
   "Being unwilling to take action in those circumstances made it
   impossible for her to fulfill her responsibilities as chair."

   Ms. Bono said that she had refused to sign Mr. Stinger's memo
   because "my basic instinct was maternal and collegial. I was
   not going to turn to threatening my students." She added that
   it would not have been her place to send such a memo: "It is
   the dean who hires and presumably the one who would have to
   fire the T.A.'s."

   The afternoon after Ms. Bono was removed from her position,
   the memo she was asked to sign was sent out with Mr. Stinger's
   signature. It was followed by two formal letters reminding
   teaching assistants that they would be dismissed if grades
   were not received, and that they were considered to be
   breaking the law by withholding the grades.

   Since Ms. Bono's dismissal, the university has received all
   the grades. However, Mr. Stinger said that the New York State
   Governor's Office of Employee Relations would investigate the
   incident. Said Mr. Stinger, "The office must investigate
   whenever there is a suspicion of an organized job action by
   civil servants, which graduate students are, under New York
   state law. They've sent a questionnaire and we've been asked
   to supply information to them."

   Ms. Bono said she knew that some teaching assistants had
   discussed withholding grades in protest of the stipends. But
   she said she had discouraged them, both in conversation and in
   an e-mail message.

   Ms. Bono said that after removing her from the department
   leadership, Mr. Stinger continued to question her about her
   knowledge of the T.A.'s protest. She insisted that, in her
   message, she had urged the graduate students not to withhold
   the grades. According to Ms. Bono, the dean then said, "Well,
   I'll have to see that e-mail." She refused to show him the
   note. "It was a private e-mail," she said, "And I didn't want
   a couple of students to be earmarked as leaders."

   Justifying his request for the correspondence, Mr. Stinger
   said that the e-mail message "can't be construed as a private
   communication. Any communication with the T.A. was one she was
   doing as chair of the department."

   Peter S. Gold, Buffalo's associate dean for general education,
   said that Ms. Bono's dismissal was a result of a situation
   that "spiraled out of control." "My own sense," he said, "is
   that the students had no idea what was at stake here" when
   they decided to withhold the grades. He pointed out that the
   T.A.'s did turn them in once they were told to do so.

   Mr. Gold, who was present when Mr. Stinger removed Ms. Bono as
   chairwoman, said that in his opinion, Ms. Bono didn't see the
   situation with the same degree of seriousness as Mr. Stinger
   did: "She thought that this was under control, that the T.A.'s
   would turn in grades late and it wouldn't be a problem."

   Ms. Bono said that after dismissing her, Mr. Stinger
   "expressed regret." She said that later in the meeting, Mr.
   Stinger asked her how she would modify his memo to the T.A.'s
   if she were the one sending it. "I said I would take away the
   intensifiers and change the tense to the conditional." But,
   she added, "Surely I must be only advising you, because I'm no
   longer chair."

  Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

  This material is distributed for educational purposes only.