My principal role as associate vice provost is to serve as the university’s liaison with Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents our adjunct faculty and our graduate student employees, and is currently engaged in an effort to organize our term faculty.
I am here with you today to report on the current state of our relations with the union. This past summer, we renegotiated the contract covering adjunct faculty, and we are currently negotiating a first contract covering graduate student employees.
For the past year and a half or so, SEIU has been engaged in an organizing drive to try to represent our term faculty. Some of you may have been approached by union organizers. Earlier this month, you received an email from the provost providing some background information and FAQs on that organizing drive. I know that email raised some additional questions that I will try to answer.
Those of you who have been at the university for some time know how much the role of term faculty has changed in the past decade. Personally, I think AU has been at the forefront in higher education creating a supportive and inclusive environment for term faculty, establishing opportunities for long-term employment and integrating them in shared governance.
In the last two budget cycles, we’ve dedicated $1.6 million to begin closing the gap between term faculty and tenure line faculty salaries. Term faculty today have the same role in curriculum development and approval as tenure line faculty. They are program directors, division directors, and associate deans in academic units. The vice provost for undergraduate affairs, Jessica Waters, is a term faculty member, as is the associate dean of academic affairs, Nuria Vilanova, who focuses specifically on term faculty issues.
I know the Senate is well aware of how central term faculty have become to our community. Last year, term faculty comprised a majority of the Senate, and this year they are almost half—and, of course, our Senate chair holds a term faculty position. The Senate has just completed major revisions to the Faculty Manual concerning term faculty, revisions that have gone to the Board of Trustees for approval. You’ve created a standing committee on term faculty issues, and most of the schools and colleges now have active committees of term faculty to raise issues of common interest.
There are real questions about what impact unionization would have on the structures we’ve built to advance the interests of term faculty. It is not clear how existing term faculty committees would coexist with a collective bargaining process. If SEIU represented term faculty, it would be illegal for the university to deal directly with term faculty committees with regard to the terms and conditions of employment. Moreover, unionization could reinforce the very divisions between term and tenure line faculty that we have been trying to overcome.
If SEIU files a petition with the national Labor Relations Board for an election, term faculty will have to decide if having a union represent them through collective bargaining will be a more effective way to advance their interests than the mechanisms they’ve already built and that have produced the progress we’ve seen over the past decade. If there is an election, it will be decided by a majority of those who turn out to vote, so it is important that all term faculty be aware of the issues, understand what is at stake, and vote to express their preference.
There are also important legal issues involved that you should be aware of. Because full time faculty often play a major role in university governance, the law has generally regarded them as ineligible to organize for collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Board has developed a set of specific tests to determine if faculty in a university have a significant role in governance. Because of AU’s model of shared governance between faculty and administration, it appears that AU meets those tests. If so, then term faculty would not be legally eligible to form a bargaining unit for collective bargaining. If SEIU files a petition for an election, this is a legal issue that will have to be addressed, and we have informed the union of our concerns about it.
The university will be setting up a website for term faculty to learn about the issues and exchange views. I encourage every term faculty member to become informed and to participate in the conversation and to vote if there is an election. I hope you will encourage your term faculty colleagues to attend one of the two town meetings the Senate is sponsoring on unionization, on Monday, October 16, from 1:00 to 2:30pm in McDowell Formal Lounge; and on October 17, from 3:30 to 5:00 in MGC 200.
Naturally, as this situation develops, we will keep the Senate and the entire faculty fully informed. Now, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.