Labor Relations Board Dismisses Former UVM Prof John Summa's Grievance | Off Message

Labor Relations Board Dismisses Former UVM Prof John Summa's Grievance


  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • John Summa
Updated 5:54 p.m.

An economics professor who claimed he was unfairly denied reappointment at the University of Vermont for teaching left-of-center ideas has lost his challenge of the school's decision.

The Vermont Labor Relations Board dismissed the grievance filed by former UVM lecturer John Summa last Friday, finding that he did not "demonstrate that his academic freedom rights were violated," according to its written decision.

Summa, a documentary filmmaker who shot footage of his own lectures, has a PhD in Marxian political economy. He was a full-time lecturer at UVM from 2009 to 2017.

After learning that his contract would not be renewed, Summa contested the decision. He claimed that by challenging the "straitjacket" model of economics being taught at UVM, he had become persona non grata with other members of the department. He also said the university violated terms of its labor agreement with full-time faculty members in the United Academics union.

Specifically, Summa contended that UVM economics department chair Sara Solnick and professors who wrote evaluations of his teaching were motivated to remove him because he was critical of the "standard economic model" and its associated pro-free market ideology.

The board found no evidence for that claim. It concluded that Summa's colleagues were critical of him because he did not explain the standard model fully to students before critiquing it, thus reducing their ability to understand the critique and become engaged.

"The problem was not that he taught the alternative economic model versus the
standard model; it was how he taught," the decision states. It says that the "quality" of Summa's teaching drove the decision to not recommend him for reappointment, rather than "the subject matter of what he taught."

Summa said the decision was unfair and that he is considering appealing it to the Vermont Supreme Court. The ​decision ignore​s evidence he submitted during two days of hearings ​before the board ​in February, Summa said.

"It’s an absolute whitewash," he said.

UVM officials were pleased by the decision.

"The University is grateful to the VLRB for thoughtfully considering all of the evidence and arriving at what we believe is the appropriate outcome," said UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera.

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