Ed Shannon opens up about American Federation of Teachers

Ed Shannon, professor of literature and president of Ramapo’s State Federation of College Teachers, is a dedicated and intellectual educator passionate about the written culture of humanity and the critical influence of teacher unions.

In an interview with The Ramapo News, Shannon talked about the correlation between strong unions and a strong society, wearing his “Equity for one, is equity for all” graphic t-shirt and answering every question with examples and a “for instance.” He described the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its purpose for those who may not know of it.

“The AFT is a national union representing teachers and other people in the education field from grammar school to college. Here at Ramapo, we represent professors, adjunct professors, non-tenure track professors, clerical staff and professional staff, for instance, your librarians and advisors”

– Ed Shannon

Shannon discussed how the nationwide move to weaken tenure is a significant concern of the AFT. The recent firing of adjunct professor Dr. Erika López Prater from Hamline University, a small private liberal arts school in Minnesota, is an example. Despite her diligent precautions – a warning in the syllabus and her classroom – López Prater was fired for displaying a 14th-century painting of Prophet Muhammad in her art history class. For some Muslim students, viewing an image of Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous and, due to an unhappy senior, López Prater lost her right to academic freedom.

“Theoretically, if an adjunct professor got fired, they would call the AFT, specifically me, for a fair process, and transparency,” Shannon stated, “As a union school, an instance like this can’t happen at Ramapo.”

Concerning the Florida Department of Education’s decision to ban an advanced placement course on African American studies, which The College Board only introduced in August of 2022, Shannon stated, “Schools hire professional educators, with PHDs, and put them in the system to teach. Educators should be trusted. It cannot be the governor’s decision to fire them, this weakens schools, ultimately weakening society. Teacher unions partly defend teachers but partly defend the idea of teaching. A strong union is pro-equity, pro-democracy and pro-justice.”

Shannon provided an example of how the AFT has enriched the lives of adjunct professors. In 1987, an adjunct professor was paid $400 per credit. It took 25 years, but now adjunct professors are paid $1,700 a credit. This change was possible because of a contract between the college and the state–a pivotal undertaking by AFT council members.

New Jersey’s AFT represents nine state colleges. These include Kean, New Jersey City, Stockton, Thomas Edison, William Patterson, The College of New Jersey, Montclair, Rowan and our home, Ramapo College.

AFT promotes critical thought. Photo by Care Granholm.

When asked what information was essential for Ramapo students to understand about our council, he replied, “For 50 years, the AFT has been involved in running Ramapo College. We have shared governance, meaning we all work together to create policy.”

He specified Ramapo’s current contract will end in June 2023, and negotiations will begin again. Shannon furthered the conversation by explaining the importance of union members understanding how their work lives differ. He remarked how it could be disrespectful to assume all employees have the same advantages, and ultimately the ATF’s mission is to increase equity and democracy.

It is important to note that three different unions on Ramapo grounds, the AFT, the Communications Workers of America, and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, meet monthly with President Cindy Jebb to maintain honest communication.

Shannon’s work is that of a strong-willed and passionate educator. He is teaching two classes instead of three this semester, and he will soon begin to prepare for long drives to Trenton every Friday to attend negotiations. Early morning classes, especially those that require close reading, can be daunting, or, even worse, mediocre and dull.

But, Shannon teaches with enthusiasm, as if the subjects he is discussing have yet to be interpreted. What is most noteworthy about Shannon as an educator is that he advocates for academic freedom while creating a fruitful learning experience every day by simply walking into the classroom.

He cares about his students and those in the education field, expressing, “It is important for students to know when you go into a union environment. It can make a huge difference.”



Featured photo courtesy of Ramapo AFT