After working for seven years at GW, part-time professor Thomas O’Keefe quit teaching this semester because of the administration’s refusal to give him a pay raise during the past five years, he said.
On Sept. 26, O’Keefe informed his students via e-mail that he would no longer be teaching his course because “unfortunately the GWU administration has not budged on its intransigent position regarding my request for a salary increase.” O’Keefe, who had taught in the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Latin American and Hemispheric Studies program since 1999, had requested a pay raise each of the past three years.
When O’Keefe first arrived at GW, he was paid a salary of $5,000 per semester, and it was raised to $6,000 the next year. He had also taught a similar course at Johns Hopkins University where he initially received $6,000 per course per semester.
O’Keefe had originally mailed Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman Aug. 15 to inquire about the possibility of a pay increase, as well as a request to change his title from professional lecturer to adjunct associate professor.
Lehman did not respond until Sept. 19 in a letter that corrected his appointment but did not increase his salary, O’Keefe said. At that point, O’Keefe sent another letter to Lehman informing him of his decision to leave GW. Lehman declined to be interviewed for this story. Hugh Agnew, associate dean for faculty and student affairs in the Elliott School, did not return phone calls from The Hatchet.
In his letter to Lehman, O’Keefe wrote, “I realize that my withdrawal will be a disappointment and may inconvenience students enrolled in my class, but it took you over a month to respond to my letter of Aug. 15. You thereby display the same lack of appreciation and consideration for your students as you do for your adjunct faculty.”
O’Keefe said he believes Lehman intentionally delayed his denial of a pay raise until several weeks into the semester to ensure that O’Keefe would not withdraw from teaching. Since his resignation, O’Keefe said he has not had any contact with the University, except for a request that he return his keys.
“From the University’s perspective, he signed a contract to teach a class for a semester,” said Tracy Schario, director of media relations. “It is disappointing that he reneged on his contract after three to four weeks. He knew before going into the class what his salary would be. It is disappointing that he has used these means of protest because it really impacts the students.”
While O’Keefe said he doesn’t consider his actions a protest, he hopes that he will be a catalyst for the adjunct faculty unionization movement.
“I really hope that students begin to question where all the money is paying is going,” O’Keefe said in an interview.
Kip Lornell, an adjunct faculty member in the music department who is a leader of the faculty’s unionization effort, said O’Keefe’s situation “underscores that there is distinct lack of organized process by the University in dealing with the issues related to part-time faculty employment.”
Part-time professors voted narrowly to form a chapter of the Service Employees International Union last October, but the University has been acting in contempt of an order by the National Labor Relations Board to accept the union. The University said the voting process was flawed, and not everybody who was entitled to vote was able to do so. It is appealing the ruling from the NLRB.
While O’Keefe has not been teaching his class since Tuesday, he is not without work. O’Keefe is also a lawyer and is the president of a consulting firm that advises companies doing business in South America. His class is now being taught by other Elliott School faculty. Schario encouraged students to continue attending class.
O’Keefe said that while he “doesn’t need the money to survive,” other adjuncts will have to wait for the University “to obey the law and recognize the union.”
Mark Smith, an Elliott School senior, said he is saddened by O’Keefe’s decision to leave the University. Smith wrote in a letter to University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Elliott School deans Agnew and Michael Brown expressing his disappointment about O’Keefe’s departure.
“Of all the many courses that I have taken at the Elliott School,” Smith wrote, “his was among the most informed, best structured, and most academically inclined.”