A petite blonde clutching a megaphone larger than her head steps up on a table in the middle of Harney Plaza. A crowd of students, most waving posters and distributing leaflets, silences at this action. She shouts into the megaphone and the crowd below shouts back.
On this Thursday, April 16, during dead hour at USF, students are out protesting not the latest international war or human rights injustice; rather they are fighting for the job of an adjunct sociology professor named Andrej Grubacic, who, after one academic year with the University, has not been asked to return next fall.
The young woman with the megaphone, a sophomore named Madeline Scarp, shouts, “He’s not coming back and it’s a shame!” The crowd erupted in response.
Grubacic was signed on as a temporary professor in the sociology department with a one-year contract in fall 2008. His contract, he said, was revised sometime thereafter, under what he called “somewhat mysterious” circumstances. He taught two classes as an adjunct professor this spring, as well as advising nine directed studies.
Despite being told his student evaluations “were very impressive,” and being nominated for both professor and mentor of the year awards, he was informed in February that there would not be a space for him next year. Grubacic was surprised; he had turned down two job offers at other universities believing he would continue employment at USF. Students, who had grown to love his style of teaching and mentorship, were shocked as well.
Many students would feel apathetic about fighting for a professor’s job. What makes this professor different, the protesting students said, is his manner of teaching, leading interactive discussion courses and mentoring them on how to become involved with political processes.
Senior Jennifer Herrera, one of Grubacic’s students, said, “He’s very passionate. It’s a pleasure to hear someone talk passionately about issues.”
After taking multiple forms of action to express their feelings about Grubacic’s job, including repeatedly meeting with Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Jennifer Turpin and Sociology Department Chair Steven Zavestoski, presenting their case to the ASUSF Senate, gathering signatures on a petition, forming a Facebook group, distributing literature around campus and holding the protest last Thursday, students were met with the same response from the administration: that there is simply not a spot for him. Herrera said, “I think this is really about a bigger issue: students should have a say.”
Grubacic echoed this statement. “What [the students] are asking is, I believe, a question of the first order: what is the role of students in collective life of the university? Shouldn’t their collective voice account for something more? What does that famous phrase ‘student power’ mean?” He asked. “I believe that this whole ‘movement,’ if we can call it that, is about something far more important then keeping one professor.”
Turpin, who helps oversee the staff in the College of Arts and Sciences, maintains that there simply is not space or funding to keep Grubacic at the University. She said, “Mr. Grubacic was meant to serve as a temporary instructor while others (full-time faculty in Sociology) were on leave. But all of the excellent faculty who were on leave last year will be returning in the fall, and thus we have to resume paying their full time salaries.” These professors not only require the salary that would go to Grubacic, but also will be instructing the classes he would teach, she explained. “All of them teach in globalization – Mr. Grubacic’s main specialization and the area in which he’s been teaching for us.”
Still, many students maintain that in a case where so many students are pleading for a professor to stay, the University should take note and make things fit somehow.
Junior Megan Langley, a student of Grubacic who participated in the protest, said, “We understand that his contract expired, but we’re asking for a re-hire. We’re the students, and we should get some say in who teaches us. It’s just logical.”
Turpin addressed this point, “Student opinion is very valuable. When USF recruits new full-time continuing faculty, students are included in the hiring process. They also play a role when they evaluate faculty at the end of each semester. Student opinion is not the only variable involved in creating new positions at USF, however.” She said there were too many logistical impossibilities with this case: no money designated to pay his salary and no classes open for him to teach.
Some still do not accept this answer. Rumors arose that Grubacic was not being rehired because of his radical political ideology. Chair of Sociology Department Steven Zavestoski said this had absolutely no influence on his not being rehired, but Grubacic said he believes this with certainty. “Do I believe it? Yes. Do I have proof? No,” he said. Grubacic said in fall when he began teaching, other professors accused him of “organizing” his students, and molding them into a “cult” following.
But if Grubacic did help his students learn to organize, he says he had no part in their latest cause. “It came as a surprise, a beautiful surprise. I am very happy to have been able to encourage it, by teaching students to think for themselves.” He said, “It is one of the most heart-warming and moving experiences of my life.”