Faculty Association votes no confidence in Director Charlie Abelmann

Priyanka Shrijay, Editor-in-Chief

The results from a Faculty Association vote show that a sizable majority has no confidence in Laboratory Schools Director Charlie Abelmann. The union announced Feb. 11 that it urges “the Board of the Laboratory Schools to examine the Director’s detrimental impact on the schools.”

In a statement released by the FA, the vote claimed Dr. Abelmann damaged the relationships between families and faculty, disparaged the faculty, has failed to build the trust of the faculty, violated the collective bargaining agreement, and made disruptive and poorly planned decisions.

In the vote, 179 voted no confidence, 12 voted confidence and 22 abstained. The FA has 235 members, representing 80-85 percent of the eligible employees.

Dr. Abelmann has been director since July 2017.

Officials who oversee the Lab Schools responded to the vote in an email sent to the Lab Schools community, obtained by the Midway, in which they acknowledged recent frustrations and challenges while expressing support for Dr. Abelmann’s leadership.

David Fithian, University of Chicago Executive Vice President, and David Kistenbroker, chair of the Laboratory Schools board of directors, wrote, “We recognize that this process can be challenging, and understand the frustration that many in the Lab community have expressed. The University and Board will remain engaged, and we support Charlie’s efforts as Lab continues to work towards a unified community.”

Dr. Fithian and Mr. Kistenbroker wrote that their “highest priority is always the well-being of our students and ensuring that Lab students continue to receive an outstanding education.”

According to FA Vice President Sharon Housinger, FA members — including teachers, counselors and librarians from nursery through high school — met several times to discuss Lab’s atmosphere.

“Although recent events in the high school pushed us into action, the upsetting stories teachers have shared go back to the very beginning of Director Abelmann’s time here at Lab,” she wrote in an email to the Midway. “We are troubled by Director Abelmann’s failure to listen to others, show respect for individuals and groups, or cultivate a healthy exchange of perspectives.”

Ms. Housinger, a science teacher, said the faculty’s priority is the welfare of the students and upholding Lab’s values of kindness and respect.

“The faculty hopes that the results of this vote will send a strong message to the community that we will not sit by quietly while our traditions, families, students, and fellow faculty members are treated with contempt and hostility,” Ms. Housinger wrote.

According to science teacher David Derbes, a member of the FA for 30 years, the relationship between the administration and the faculty is on the rocks.

“I should say that we have certainly heard Mr. Abelmann complain bitterly about the union on more than one occasion,” he said. “We are a convenient excuse when they don’t want to do stuff or when they can’t do stuff — they say it’s our fault, and we’re fed up.”

Dr. Derbes also said that the faculty has shown a clear lack of confidence in Dr. Abelmann and that future actions are now in the hands of the board.

He said, “He has done damage, and in my opinion, he will continue to do damage as long as he’s here.”