Adjuncts and allies clash with President’s office during march for unionization

Photo by Abby Robb  President, Troy VanAken, confronts students and non-tenure faculty advocating for an adjunct faculty union outside of his office on Tuesday Oct. 31.

Photo by Abby Robb

 President, Troy VanAken, confronts students and non-tenure faculty advocating for an adjunct faculty union outside of his office on Tuesday Oct. 31.


By Victoria Martin, News Editor

Those working to organize the EC adjunct faculty were met with a volatile response on Oct. 31 from EC President Troy VanAken after going to his office to ask for a restatement of the administration’s neutrality.

That day, fourteen students, adjunct faculty, and Arise Chicago members gathered on the Mall patio outside the Frick Center to march and spread awareness to the campus on the issues the union is trying to fix for adjuncts.

The group held signs reading “Trick-or-treat for job stability” and “Static pay is scary” while chanting, “Organizing is our right, EC faculty unite” and “Blue Jays for fair pay.”

After a march around EC campus and speeches to motivate those involved, a sixth of the original group went to introduce themselves and have a moment with VanAken to ask for a reinstatement of neutrality.

Once at the office, EC senior and student member of Arise Chicago, Sam Davis, knocked on VanAken’s office door.

When VanAken opened his door, Davis started introducing himself to which VanAken interrupted, said he was in the middle of a call and would wrap it up, and sent everyone to wait in the sitting area in the office. 

Executive Assistant to the President, Molly Niespo, was the first to talk to the group awaiting VanAken. 

Niespo felt that the union group circumvented her authority by going straight to VanAken and not first stopping in to talk to her.

“There is a procedure to follow when wanting to meet with the president,” Niespo said. “He normally has an open door policy, so when his door is open anyone can come in and sit down with him, but his door is closed.”

Photo by Abby Robb Costumed protesters gather in front of Hammerschmidt Chapel on Oct. 31 to advocate for a non-tenure faculty union.

Photo by Abby Robb

Costumed protesters gather in front of Hammerschmidt Chapel on Oct. 31 to advocate for a non-tenure faculty union.

Organizer and Communications & Development Director at Arise Chicago Shelly Ruzicka said that all they wanted to do was, “drop off some candy in the spirit of [Halloween] and introduce themselves to the president,” and that, “we meant no disrespect to anyone’s position.”

After, Niespo made it clear to the union that, while she could not speak for VanAken, she would be happy to set up appointments with anyone who wanted to sit down and talk to him.

As she was getting down one of the student’s information, VanAken came out of his office.

“You can’t just bang on doors barge into people’s offices. Its rude and aggressive,” Vanaken said as he approached the group. 

As Ruzicka tried to explain why they were there, as she had before to Niespo, VanAken kept interrupting with reasons why he felt the group was aggressive. 

“Coming in here with megaphones,” he said in reference to the march outside, “and banging on people’s doors is aggressive. And this is aggressive unionizing.”

“Molly,” VanAken continued, gesturing to Niespo, “came into my office telling me she felt threatened and unsafe.”

The Rev. CJ Hawking, executive director at Arise Chicago, made it clear that, that was not their intention and they did not want anyone to feel unsafe. 

“All we wanted to do was to get a statement of neutrality and have a conversation,” Hawking said.

To which VanAken responded that the administration had already given a statement to the college saying that the administration would stay neutral and work with faculty no matter the decision. 

EC adjunct faculty member and union organizer Matilda Stubbs mentioned that the adjuncts are still not feeling the neutrality as an email was sent to the adjuncts at EC stating that if people are approached by a union member and feel threatened they can call the police.

VanAken denied the email sent by April Edwards’ existence and Stubbs offered to send it to him.

In the email provided to the Leader, Edwards encouraged any adjunct faculty member approached by a union representative should call the either the police or campus security.

“I am aware that some of you are being approached by union organizers on- and off-campus. This contact is unwelcome at times, and some of these individuals may be aggressive or persistent.” Edwards wrote. “I urge you to contact campus security at any time, day or evening. If you feel threatened off-campus, please call 911 to alert the appropriate community authorities.”

With that, Ruzika offered VanAken and Niespo a pumpkin bucket with candy and the union group left the office.