October 10, 2014 Leave a comment
The contingent faculty at the college plans to unionize in order to be treated more fairly by the school. Contingent faculty includes faculty that is part or half time, adjunct and non-tenure track, and comprises over sixty percent of the teaching positions at the college. They receive extremely low pay compared to their tenured peers and cannot participate in major decisions made by the faculty. A lack of these rights is not uncommon for contingent faculty at other institutions of higher education.
These faculty members have partnered with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the second largest union in the country, in order to unionize. Non-tenure track faculty at other institutions including the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), American University, and Georgetown, have successfully unionized with SEIU.
Rollie Hudson, an adjunct lecturer in the Communications Department and the Digital Arts graduate program, explained that he is fortunate enough to work other jobs in addition to his teaching at Goucher. However, some contingent faculty live solely from what they earn here.
Fifteen faculty members have already publicly supported the decision to unionize and have signed their names in an email to the entire faculty on October 2. The email stated: “our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” It also explained that these faculty members believe collective bargaining to be “the most just and fair way to address these concerns, including but not limited to compensation, faculty governance, voting rights, job security, benefits, advancement, and transparency.” Collective bargaining will also strengthen the faculty’s commitment to each other and to social justice. In this email, the faculty also recognized the fiscal pressures and challenges in higher education and at Goucher.
Jeffrey Dowd, visiting assistant professor of sociology, and one of the fifteen faculty members to publicly support this decision, explained, “there is an enormous power imbalance dealing with an administration when you’re contingent,” which is why it is important to unionize. Dowd also noted that there are many larger social forces that play into this, and from a sociological and social justice perspective, workers can best confront problems by working together. Additionally, he explained that unions are “primarily controlled by people in the working and middle classes,” and that unionization is a response to the “hollowing out of the middle class” in higher education. Maureen Winter ‘13, who teaches French, thinks that this is “good for the Goucher community to change the relationship between the contingent faculty and the administration.” Laura Orem, a non-tenure track faculty in the writing program, said by collective bargaining, Goucher is “living up to its ideals and commitments of social justice and democracy starting right at home.” Charlee Sterling, who also teaches in the writing program, said that though Goucher treats its non-tenure track faculty well, the school could always improve.
The administration has been aware of the contingent faculty’s choice to unionize for about two or three weeks. Provost Marc Roy sent out an official statement to all faculty on Monday, September 29. That Thursday, October 2, some faculty members met with President José Bowen and Roy. “The college cannot tell faculty that they may or may not [unionize], that would be illegal,” Roy explained. The administration is not involved in the formation of the union. While the administration has the power, the goal of unionizing is not to overpower the administration, but rather to level the power.
In order to form the union, the contingent faculty members must first sign union authorization cards. The card says that “the worker who signs it wants to have a democratic secret ballot election held in their workplace to decide whether or not the workers there will form a union,” a union organizer explained in an email. There must be thirty percent interest from the contingent faculty in order for the cards to be filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Currently, this is the step in the process the faculty is at. The next step is to schedule and hold the election, and if fifty percent of the voters say yes to a union, the union will be legally recognized by the NLRB. Then a bargaining team is selected amongst the workers so that they can bargain their first contract. Once this happens, if an agreement is made between the college and the union, it is voted on and ratified to become part of the contract under which all members of the union are covered. If an agreement is not reached, the union continues to bargain.
When Hudson and three organizers from SEIU met with students at the Radical Leftist club meeting on Thursday, October 2, they encouraged students to take action. This issue directly affects students, as students’ education is dependent on whether or not these contingent faculty can stay at Goucher. Currently, students involved in the Radical Leftist club are working on a petition to gain student support for the unionization.