The Day – Community college professors say board member has conflict of interest

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Community college professors and the Connecticut state college and university system clash again, this time over a board member who also works for a law firm employed by CSCU.

David Jimenez, a member of the board since 2014, is a director of Jackson Lewis, a law firm that primarily represents the board of directors in grievance arbitrations and unfair labor practice charges, the door said. word of CSCU, Leigh Appleby. The firm also provides “advice and guidance on contract interpretation issues, employment law services in Connecticut, and investigative assistance assistance,” Appleby wrote in an email.

As confirmed by both CSCU and faculty union representatives, the system paid Jackson Lewis $ 370,997 for services between January 29, 2018 and May 37, 2021.

However, the company does not “represent the Board of Regents in collective bargaining” and is in no way involved in union negotiations, Appleby noted.

Still, professors question the motives for the connection and cite Jimenez as an example of how the consolidation of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges transformed the system into society. While professors believe there is still hope to defeat this merger, CSCU expects it to be completed – marked by the launch of Connecticut State Community College – for the fall semester of 2023.

“The fact that even though one of the regents is the director of this law firm and they actively use this law firm for so much of the business, how can they not see it as a conflict of interest ? Asked Seth Freeman, professor of computer information systems at Capital Community College in Hartford and president of 4Cs, the union of community colleges. “The Board of Regents found an argument that because Jackson Lewis is not involved in contract negotiations it is not a conflict, but they are involved in grievance arbitrations with unions and others. interest arbitrage. We face their lawyers across the table when we go to arbitration or the labor board. “

In a September 21 press release, the 4Cs circulated a petition demanding that the CSCU fire Jackson Lewis.

Lois Aimé, director of educational technology at Norwalk Community College and a member of the faculty advisory committee to the board of trustees, and other faculty have repeatedly referred to Jackson Lewis as an “anti-union law firm.”

According to his website, Jackson Lewis provides “institutions with essential legal skills and knowledge, as well as an in-depth understanding of higher education,” including in “labor relations” – in particular “the organization of faculty. and students ”and“ collective bargaining and grievance representation. . “

“The conflict is that while he’s on the board, the board is directing funds to his business,” Freeman said. “It’s made worse by the fact that it’s also an anti-union law firm, so that’s kind of why we have a problem with this. “

Appleby said Jimenez never took advantage of the business CSCU gives Jackson Lewis, that he was never directly or indirectly involved in hiring the law firm, and that he was not at all involved in matters the firm had dealt with for CSCU.

In fact, he has recused himself from any discussion of matters involving Jackson Lewis in any way, as he even withdraws from meetings where board members receive updates on the issues. company employee surveys, ”Appleby wrote in a statement. E-mail. “He is shielded from all matters relating to the Board of Regents in his role at Jackson Lewis and recused himself from all matters relating to the cabinet (which) come before the Board of Regents. Jackson Lewis is not involved in the Board of Regents negotiations.

Still, Aimé said Jimenez’s two CSCU roles are inherently in conflict.

“It doesn’t matter whether he is or has been involved in negotiations or not because he is a member of the Council of Regents, so he can speak to the people involved in the negotiations and he could be secondarily involved in those conversations,” she said. said. “It does not matter whether he is directly involved in the negotiations or not, he sits on the Council of Regents. This in itself is the conflict of interest.

Freeman added that “it’s hard to understand” how a director of a law firm that received more than $ 370,000 from CSCU would not benefit at all from the arrangement.

Lauren Doninger, a professor of psychology at Gateway Community College, also noted that hiring an anti-union law firm was contrary to what the state’s community colleges are trying to teach.

“We know that the way for students to rise up to have sustainable, viable salaries is to be able to find unionized positions so that they are protected, so that they can organize themselves and have some power” , she said. “So to speak from one side of their mouths about how they want fairness, they want to uplift all students, and simultaneously wooing a company that is explicitly working to eliminate unions is the height of hypocrisy.”

Appleby praised Jimenez’s seven-year tenure on the Board of Regents and noted that the CSCU had sought advice from the State Ethics Office on him, which “concluded that as long as it was rejects questions related to Jackson Lewis … no conflict exists “.

“Rather than trying to distract, obscure and score points in the press, let’s sit down at the negotiating table, engage in good faith negotiations and strike a fair deal,” Appleby added.

Jimenez did not respond to a request for comment.

Diba Khan-Bureau, professor and coordinator of the environmental engineering technology program at Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, as well as the legislative liaison officer for the American Federation of Teachers, warned of the implications of this alleged conflict of interest and its link with consolidation.

“They’re trying to break the community college union while they’re trying to consolidate, it’s crazy,” she said. “The teachers at Three Rivers are already thinking about going out if the consolidation continues like this. She and her colleagues fear that in a consolidated system, “we don’t really have a say at the local level.

In September, State Representative Greg Haddad D-Mansfield, who co-chairs the legislature’s higher education and employment promotion committee, called himself a “merger skeptic.” He said the biggest barrier to consolidation is “the enormous amount of work that needs to be done in order to take program offerings from 12 accredited community colleges separately and put them into a single course catalog for a community college. “.

“There must be broad support among the faculty regarding the academic changes that need to be implemented before successfully entering a single institution,” he said.

State Representative Holly Cheeseman R-East Lyme said on Wednesday that she, State Senator Rick Lopes, D-New Britain and others are working to build a bipartisan community college caucus .

“We tasked the professors to come up with a couple of priorities before we convene the caucus,” she said, “just so we know what they want.”

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