After two weeks of canceled classes, the New School and the union representing its part-time faculty will meet with a mediator on Sunday afternoon and again on Monday to work toward an agreement.

Part-time faculty who are members of ACT-United Auto Workers Local 7902 have been on strike since Nov. 16 and rejected the school’s “last, best and final” offer by a 1,821-88 vote on Thursday. Part-time faculty make up 82% of the New School’s faculty, according to the university.

This comes soon after a lawyer representing parents of New School students sent a letter to Junea Williams-Edmund, the university’s interim senior vice president and general counsel, stating that parents are consulting with a class-action law firm for all the tuition fees not going to their intended use.

“Since it is the school that has received tuition payments for educational services this semester, it is the school that our clients will be holding accountable if there is not an announcement of the end of the strike by Sunday night.” Deborah Hrbek, a New York City-based lawyer, wrote in the letter on Friday.

Some parents sympathized with the union’s concerns, but found it unfair that students are caught in the middle of the dispute.

Beverly Dantz has a daughter, Kayla, in her third year at the New School, the year Dantz described as closest to normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled Kayla’s in-person high school graduation and required her to begin her college experience at home through a computer.

Dantz said she had booked a hotel reservation to see Kayla’s first in-person showcase, but it had been canceled already due to the strike.

“The No. 1 concern is the kids’ health. There’s no support for them right now,” Dantz said. “We feel powerless.”

Kayla studies fashion design at the New School and needs to use the knitting machine to finish her final project, but cannot use it while the strike is ongoing.

“I think the school is trying to strong-arm the kids to cross the picket line and go in and use the resources, and that’s not fair,” Dantz said.

The discretion to sue for the money that parents paid in advance for services that are not being rendered is “sort of justice, but it’s not going to make up for what the kids are going through,” she continued.

In a statement, the New School wrote that it understands the frustration the part-time faculty’s strike has caused for students and parents, but contends that the union’s contract demands would create a $125 million deficit for the university.

“We are continuing to do everything possible to reach a fiscally responsible agreement, as quickly as possible, on a contract that is fair, equitable and financially responsible,” Amy Malsin, the New School’s assistant vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a statement.

Jaclyn Lovell has been a part-time assistant professor in the English language studies department for the last decade and is part of the union’s bargaining committee. She said the union’s members sought recognition of their unpaid work, or hours spent outside of the classroom, adequate recourse against harassment and discrimination, and protected health care benefits.

But “it’s not just about pay, we’re really asking the university to live up to the values that draw people to be at the New School,” Lovell said.

While the strike has been going on, an email from a talent management coordinator at the New School asking for “progress reviewer temps” from Dec. 3 through Jan. 3 has been circulating.

The email stated that “progress reviewers” were not expected to be subject experts in the student’s enrolled courses, but would need a “general background in teaching and evaluating in higher education.”

“The Reviewer may be assigned to a student in the Bachelor of Music in Orchestral Instruments. The Reviewer need not have a background in ear training or percussion but should be able to review the stated learning outcomes – or discuss learning expectations with the student if the syllabus does not articulate learning outcomes – and determine sufficient progress,” the email states.

When asked about the email, Malsin said it was “an unfinished and unapproved draft” that was “incorrect and should not have been sent.”

“The university has a responsibility to its students to have contingency plans ready in the event that the part-time faculty union decides to continue its strike for an extended period,” she continued.

However, Dantz found this grading practice to be unfair to students and understood it as a “pretty clear indication that [the New School has] no intention of making this work in time to actually save the semester.” The last day of classes for the fall 2022 semester is on Dec. 18, according to the university’s academic calendar.

Lovell said she would love to stay up all night bargaining on Sunday to be able to go back to teaching her students by Monday.

“That’s where we all want to be right now — with our students,” she said.