When your conduct is the issue

by D. Nicholas Russo

From The PSC's Clarion Volume 27, Number 1, September l997

This Article is one in a Series on Employment and and Grievance Issues

It may never happen - and you had better hope that it won't - but one day you might receive a call to come to the chairperson's office or to the dean's or to meet with a member of the sexual harassment panel. Although you may feel innocent and in fact be free of guilt, you obediently heed the call. Upon entering the room and listening to the discourse, however, you soon become aware that you are the object of the discussion, and it's not about your scholarship or next semester's schedule or someone else's conduct. (Keep in mind that this article does not refer to evaluation conferences that are routinely conducted pursuant to Article 18 of the collective bargaining agreement.)

If called into that type of meeting, try to find out in advance what the purpose is. If you learn beforehand that your conduct or behavior is the issue, do not attend without taking a representative of the Professional Staff Congress with you. Should you attend without knowing the focus of the meeting in advance and then discover that your conduct is the object of the inquiry or discussion, no matter that you are innocent and think you can handle this by yourself, don't proceed.

A fool for a client

The cliche about the lawyer who represents himself having a fool for a client is equally true for CUNY faculty and staff. For one, you are at a disadvantage attending such a meeting without representation because, without advance notice, you did not have the time and opportunity to think through what you are about to be confronted with. You also lack full appreciation for the dynamics of the labor relations and disciplinary settings and, therefore, cannot be expected to adequately and objectively represent your own best interests. You probably are unfamiliar with the union contract and university bylaws and policies that may be relevant. Not least important, if you attend alone, you will not have a witness to what you said and were told. And if you think that is insignificant, just wait until you have been brought up on disciplinary charges and hear how history can be recreated at the hearings that ensue.

What should you do if you naively attend such a meeting only to discover that your alleged conduct is under inquiry? Politely end, and if necessary, firmly excuse yourself, saying that you will need the presence and assistance, of a union representative since the purpose of the meeting is to discuss your conduct. Then immediately contact a representative of the PSC chapter, preferably the chapter chair or grievance counselor, to arrange that she or he attend any future meeting convened to discuss your conduct. These representatives are conversant with your rights and are trained to get further information and guidance if they require it from the PSC central office before accompanying you to the next meeting.

If you are unsuccessful reaching a local chapter representative and the college insists that a meeting take place immediately, contact either PSC Director of Contract Administration Debra Bergen or me at the PSC central office. In no event, however, should you attend any reconvened meeting alone. It is your legal right to be accompanied by a representative of your union.

D. Nicholas Russo is PSC Director of Legal Affairs.

For further information please call the PSC office Monday through Friday at 212/354-1252, or email comments and questions to cage.psc@worldnet.att.net . Thank you for reading the Clarion!

Posted on April 7, 1998. Copyright 1997, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY.