By Percy D. Luján
A week before the start of the spring semester, adjunct professor Theresa Murphy received unpleasant news.
Her class, a course called Black Women in America, was given to another professor, which left her without any course to teach at Lehman.
“They don’t do that to a human being,” said Murphy, who said she was informed through email the Friday of the week before her class was supposed to begin. “After 35 years, I get the information by email.”
Professor Mark Christian, the African American Studies Department chair, declined to comment on the actions taken by the department. He referred the questions to the dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, Deirdre Pettipiece.
Pettipiece said in an email that “specific personnel matters are private” and therefore she could not discuss any details about this issue. She also said that adjuncts were hired based on enrollment need that cannot be met by permanent faculty.
Despite Murphy’s 35 years in the department, Pettipiece said that “in Arts and Humanities, Ms. Murphy has only served as a temporary faculty member,” and therefore she does not have tenure.
When Murphy went to her union for help, the union told her that the department was allowed to do that.
Murphy’s history with the department dates back to the 70s when she joined it as a student in its second year of existence. At that time, student occupations of various campuses over open admissions and better access for students of color pushed the administration to create African American and Latino studies departments.
“The students in the 70s fought to keep the department and fought to keep black studies in the school,” Murphy said.
Murphy said that she was not assigned a summer course, as she usually is, either.
Her students are upset. A couple of them have organized to ask the department to bring her back.
“She is one of the reasons we have a Black studies department,” said Myriah Rose, a senior in the department. Murphy, Rose said, helped her students form a study group, and she helped them found a non-profit organization.
Rose said that professor Murphy used to talk to her students for hours after her lecture, and that students usually followed her to her office to discuss ideas. “She’s like a second mother to me. She takes students under her wing,” Rose said.
Rose said that Murphy’s class was given to a full-time professor to fill that professor’s four-class requirement. She said that there other adjuncts teaching more than one class, but the department decided to take Murphy’s only class.
Professor Murphy is not asking anything from the people in the department, who she says have treated her “like garbage.”
“As a human being I am very disturbed about what was done to me,” said Murphy, who will now dedicate her time to her other jobs. “They took my dignity away.”