In Support of Ebon Fisher
I received this email today from a friend of Ebon Fisher’s.
It seems there is a nasty academic freedom and contract situation Stevens has created by dismissing Ebon Fisher and denying him access to his research materials. It also appears that it results from his valor in standing up to a university policy of overwork and underpayment. Having been in a similar academic sweatshop myself, it is particularly sad to see that an institute like Stevens is sullying its reputation as it starts to behave more like ITT Technical Institute, or DeVry.
I want to voice my strongest support for Ebon, and his work, and his academic freedom, and condemn the actions that Stevens has taken. This is a big stain on Stevens’ reputation, and is bad for academic freedom and labor relations in academia as a whole,
I encourage you to read the letter, write personal emails to the persons listed below, and make phone calls ASAP. This is not just about one man’s job, this is about the first amendment, tenure, academic freedom and labor rights in universities nationwide.
UPDATE: For all inquiries, please contact Ebon Fisher directly at email@example.com
“I have had many dealings with Mr. [Ebon] Fisher over the last two years. In every instance Mr. Fisher has been nothing other than calm, collegial and fair-minded. The same can be said of his dealings with other instructors at Stevens, with the staff, and with students, who consistently give him superior evaluations. He is very well looked upon by all at Stevens.”
— From a signed letter by Jim McClellan,
Dean, College of Arts & Letters, April 28th, 2008
DEAR FRIENDS & COLLEAGUES OF EBON FISHER:
I need your immediate help in supporting a wonderful friend of mine, Ebon Fisher. Ebon’s first amendment rights and his family’s livelihood have just been swept away by his employer, the Stevens Institute of Technology.
I’ve known Ebon for 20 years. I covered the art scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the early 90s and published an arts and news periodical, Waterfront Week. Ebon was one of the most important intellectual forces behind that scene which has galvanized Brooklyn in no uncertain terms. Brooklyn is today the living embodiment of the term, creative economy.
Ebon Fisher catalyzed the art scene in Brooklyn in the early 90s, and by extension the art world at large. He brought to the dialogue a focus on networks and culture that was genuinely original and also deeply learned. This inspired a significant shift among artists from the postmodern literalism and pastiche that had prevailed through the 80s, to the new esthetic of organic forms and dynamic networks that we see all around us in every sphere of cultural production today. He was a true pioneer.
Since then, Ebon has been featured in three important art history books, in dozens of magazine articles, and he has been honored and featured at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim museum, and he has lectured and been on panels in this country and in Europe. Japanese television has also covered him.
Ebon is among perhaps a dozen or more artists from the early Williamsburg scene who have enjoyed fame and success in the ensuing decades. Ebon, however, continues to have a sterling reputation among his old friends and associates from Williamsburg. He is an extremely kind and generous person who always expresses genuine interest in what everyone is doing and thinking, regardless of their stature in the art world, or any other world.
Ebon has been teaching full time in the Art & Technology program at the Stevens Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey and has been honored with a renewed 2-year contract at the Institute. He is in the middle of work on a complex video project involving 3D animation, live action, and underwater photography. His mixing of media helped him and a colleague at Stevens win a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the possibilities for a new kind of search engine involving organic, synesthetic cross-referencing of media sources. As one of the first instructors at MIT’s Media Lab he is clearly on the cutting edge of the creative economy in both his community works in Brooklyn and his current research.
It has come to my attention that the Stevens Institute’s administration has decided to break Ebon’s contract. Two days ago the Institute forced him out of his office, and they have sequestered his computers, files, and research. They have given no meaningful reasons for their actions.
I believe that the real motive here emits from jealousy and academic politics. To his credit, Ebon has been vocal about the scandalously low pay of affiliate professors at Stevens.
My wife and I have had Ebon stay over at our apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on many occasions while he searched for affordable housing. He has carted a sleeping bag from one friend’s couch to another. We were honored and delighted to have the extra time to spend with Ebon. Because Ebon cannot afford to rent a family-sized apartment in Hoboken or any neighborhood for that matter with a good school, his partner and son live in Chicago where they have found an adequate living situation in a decent school district. We know from experience how difficult it is to find housing in the New York Area.
It is very sad that the leaders of a research institute like Stevens cannot find the money to pay its professors a living wage, and yet the Institute accepts money from our very own US government which goes to pay its president and management hefty salaries. Meanwhile, standout professors like Ebon have to endure the indignity of living what virtually amounts to a refugee lifestyle. Stevens has a special interest in US security, as it should, but it can’t seem to connect the dots between the security industry and the actual welfare and security of it’s own community of teachers.
Along with another researcher, Ebon has raised $150,000 in grant money from the National Science Foundation for Stevens. Evidently this is unprecedented in the humanities there. He is engaged there as a researcher, a media manager, and as a teacher with outstanding student evaluations. Unfortunately it appears the Stevens Institute confers the title “affiliate” upon dozens of its faculty in order to justify inadequate salaries. These have even dropped every year relative to the cost of living, rendering every promise for promotion a falsehood. Ebon is not alone in his quest for a living wage. It is fair to say that the situation at Stevens is almost 19th century in its extreme salary range and exploitive practices. The dreary London of Dickens comes to mind.
Ebon has shown me a letter he sent to the Stevens management requesting some understanding about the increasing difficulties of the full-time “affiliates.” Difficulties in feeding, housing, and educating their children. One day later he was shown the door.
The Stevens Institute of Technology is undervaluing and exploiting its faculty. Stevens has with impunity broken the contract of one of its hardest working and most well-liked professors. Separating Ebon from his studio and media equipment, which he needs to fulfill his obligation to the National Science Foundation — to say nothing of his obligation to his students —is most likely a serious breach of contract. As a taxpayer this does not make me happy.
I encourage anyone who knows Ebon Fisher, his brilliance, his gentle temperament and commitment to art and research, to send letters of support IMMEDIATELY to the following people by tomorrow, Sunday, June 6th. All the better if follow-up phone calls can be made on Monday morning.
SEND SHORT (AND POLITE) LETTER TO:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
firstname.lastname@example.org, Kenneth.Nilsen@stevens.edu, email@example.com,
Sophie.Hales@stevens.edu, Larry.Russ@stevens.edu, firstname.lastname@example.org,
NUMBERS TO CALL:
HAL RAVECHE, President, Stevens Instiute of Technology: (201) 216.5213
GEORGE KORFIATIS, Provost, Stevens Institute of Technology: (201) 216.5263
MARK SAMOLEWICZ, VP for Human Resources, Stevens: (201) 216-5218
LISA DOLLING, Dean, College of Arts & Letters, Stevens: (201) 216-5405
JIM MCCLELLAN, Dean, College of Arts & Letters, Stevens: (201) 216-5395
N.B. This post has been updated to remove the names of individuals other than Ebon Fisher at the request of those individuals.
UPDATE: For all inquiries, please contact Ebon Fisher directly at email@example.com