By Kristen Linsalata
Irving Gerber, 87, a former adjunct professor of Education in the College of Education, Information and Technology, who taught Curriculum & Instruction for 13 years at LIU Post, filed a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights on Nov. 10, 2014. Gerber claims that he was not assigned to any new sections for the Spring 2014 semester because of his age.
The university vehemently denies this claim of discrimination. “It is an unfounded/ unsubstantiated allegation that the university would make any personnel decision based on age or any other discriminatory factor,” said Gale Haynes, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and Legal Counsel for LIU.
A contract for an adjunct professor is usually semester-to-semester on a work available basis, but Gerber is one of three adjunct professors who taught in the CEIT who believe they were discriminated against based on age. Gerber said that he, along with two other men, Brian Persky, 75, and Norman Goodman, 72, both former adjunct professors of Curriculum & Instruction, were the only three supervisors in the department that were fired.
“Why did [they] select the three of us, who are the oldest people [to terminate]?” Gerber asked. “The college did a disservice to the students because when they fired the oldest [in the department], they fired the three most experienced. They didn’t fire me based on merit because I’ve always gotten exemplary student reviews,” he said. Gerber added that he has always been a respected and recommended supervisor in the department of Curriculum & Instruction at Post. “I did more than just what was required of me,” he said. “It’s illegal and it’s immoral.”
“I have worked with Mr. Gerber for over the last several years at Long Island University/C.W. Post Campus, where he serves as a university supervisor,” said Dr. Karleen Goubeaud, former Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Student Teaching in the department of Curriculum & Instruction, in a 2005 letter recommending Gerber to be a candidate in the doctoral program. “I have known Mr. Gerber to be a conscientious professional who has a passion to help students develop into competent teachers. He is always professional in his responsibilities, and demonstrates an enthusiasm for teaching and learning.”
Gerber said that he was not assigned a section for the Spring 2014 semester based upon allegations that were misconstrued and “dishonest.” Gerber claims he was not assigned any classes because of an incident that occurred at a school in the Three Village Central School District where he once observed LIU Post’s student teachers. According to Robert Hannafin, the former dean of the College of Education, Information and Technology in a response to a grievance letter filed by Gerber’s union on March 4, 2014, Gerber walked through an unauthorized door at the school before the initial filing of the current complaint.
Gerber was also accused of calling the principal of Three Village Central School District an “idiot,” according to a Nov. 22, 2013 email sent to Gerber by Goubeaud. However, Gerber said that he has never met the principal of the school, and mentioned to the security guard of the school that it was “idiotic to have a parking lot at the entrance to the school and have nobody at the door to allow visitors, parents, etc. to get in.”
“Mr. Gerber has been a good colleague over the years, but this transgression compromised our relationship with the school and is unacceptable,” Hannafain said in the university’s response to the grievance. Ultimately Hannafin did not “find merit in Professor Gerber’s grievance,” according to the 2014 letter.
After Gerber’s grievance was declined, Gerber said that he filed a complaint with the Human Rights Division. Gerber said that, in denying him classes this semester, the school cited budget cuts, low enrollment, the fact that he was “banned” from the Three Village Central School District for allegedly calling the principal an idiot, and walking through an unauthorized door at the school in their response last month. Gerber denies these claims.
In support of his position, Gerber states that he has a letter from the superintendent of Three Village School District. “It was determined that you were not banned from the building,” said Cheryl Pedisich, the superintendent of Three Village School District schools, in the Oct. 6, 2014 letter to Gerber.
“When they get a complaint, [the administration doesn’t] even investigate it. They fired me without ever really investigating it or asking me. That’s very far from democracy. They just wanted some reason to get rid of me,” Gerber added.
Persky, like Gerber, feels as though he was unfairly terminated from his job at Post because of his age. “I was never given a reason [for being let go]. We found out by the secretary,” Persky said. “My experience teaching at LIU Post was very pleasurable. It was one of the best jobs that I’ve had,” he continued. “I was never questioned, I was promoted while I was at [LIU Post], and I was up for senior full professorship level for adjunct professors at the time I was let go. I didn’t realize that it was age discrimination until I found out who else they had let go.” Persky decided not to file any grievances with the local union, but said that he is in support of Gerber if he goes through the motions of filing a lawsuit.
Robert Bennett, 66, an associate professor of Criminal Justice in the College of Liberal Arts, has a similar claim to Gerber and Persky. “I managed a budget for 20 of my 30-year career [before teaching at LIU Post],” said Bennett “It isn’t rocket science. There have been times where I had to wait to promote someone or budgets were cut. But these two men weren’t even told. They showed up one day and asked what class they were assigned to. They were told ‘we have nothing for you.’” Gerber, Persky, as well as himself, were treated as if they were disposable and without respect, according to Bennett.
Bennett taught 15 different course offerings on the graduate and undergraduate level during his 17 years at LIU. “I really loved the students,” said Bennett of the experience. He also mentioned he was three years from retiring when he was let go from his position, after he applied for a raise. Bennett filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that he was also discriminated due to his age, and is awaiting the outcome of the complaint.
The university has denied that age discrimination played a factor in any of these employment decisions. “LIU is committed to extending equal opportunity in employment to all qualified candidates who can contribute to the diversity and excellence of our academic community,” according to Haynes. “The university prides itself on the many forms
of diversity embraced and respected by our students, staff, faculty, and community; including multiple perspectives on age, culture, ethnicity, geographic origin, and professional experience. LIU has a long history and ample evidence of treating all of its community members fairly. As it is against University policy to discuss personnel issues, we cannot comment on this specific case. Our [number one] priority is cultivating a productive, equal, and fair workplace environment that draws upon the talents and expertise of our dedicated faculty and staff.”
Students have expressed mixed feelings about hearing that the university is being accused of discriminating against professors because of their age. “I suppose [LIU Post] would only fire people for the greater good,” said Danielle Sposato, a junior English major. “However, I think that it should be up to the professor to decide as to whether or not they can continue teaching in their career, unless several students come forward to explain that they themselves feel the professor is inadequate.”
The Pioneer has reviewed copies of documents pertaining to Gerber’s complaint.