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Former UNH lecturers file age discrimination complaint against school

Union Leader Correspondent

August 30. 2018 8:07PM
A third of the College of Liberal Arts lecturers who did not have their contract renewed for this academic year at UNH are claiming they were discriminated against because of their age. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

DURHAM — Six lecturers who received notice that their contract would not be renewed for this academic year at the University of New Hampshire have filed an age discrimination complaint with the state’s Commission for Human Rights.

Sarah Hirsch, grievance officer for UNH Lecturers United, initially filed a grievance on behalf of all 17 affected lecturers in the College of Liberal Arts, but said as she dug deeper, she realized there was something more.

Hirsch said six of the lecturers are in their 50s, 60s, or 70s. They were allegedly replaced by individuals in their 30s and 40s.

“It seems they cherry-picked the older ones,” Hirsch said of UNH officials choosing who to let go last year.

When Dean Heidi Bostic sent out a letter over winter break to the lecturers, she explained to them that the College of Liberal Arts was confronted by a substantial deficit.

“With future programmatic needs forecast in mind, we have been forced to make some painful reductions and strategic realignments in teaching faculty,” Bostic wrote.

School officials said at the time they were also looking to enhance program strength by hiring people with the highest possible degree in the field.

But Hirsch said not all of the new hires have doctorates.

“Around July, we saw they had hired replacements and not all of them had PhDs. So that was really infuriating,” Hirsch said.

UNH spokesman Erika Mantz said Thursday the university has been served with the age discrimination complaint and must respond by Sept. 24.

Mantz reaffirmed UNH’s policies related to the commitment to prevent age discrimination in employment decisions.

“Age was not and would never be a factor in non-reappointment,” Mantz said. “To be clear, no faculty were terminated. All non-reappointed faculty were provided the contractually required notice of non-reappointment.”

Mantz said the affected lecturers had four months’ notice of their contract non-renewal and were employed by the university until the end of the last academic year.

Mantz said Bostic stepped down as dean Aug. 10 to pursue an opportunity in the provost’s office at Furman University. She is taking a one-year unpaid leave of absence while retaining a faculty appointment in the department of languages, literatures and cultures.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Nancy Targett stepped down in early May, but that is not uncommon during a time of university presidential transition, Mantz said.

According to the website of the Commission for Human Rights in New Hampshire, when a complaint is filed an investigator is assigned.

Typically, both parties are encouraged to resolve the case, but if that does not happen the commission can hear the case. Either party can appeal the commission’s decision to Superior Court.

The UNH case is scheduled to go before an arbitrator this fall.

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