Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Faculty Unions and Struggle: For, By, and Against

I work at three places, and belong to AFT-affiliate (NYSUT) locals at two of them. Do I lose interest in unions when I teach at the third?

Of course not, not least of all because I believe that union successes and failures, in the long run, raise and lower the bar for adjunct and contingent faculty working conditions.

But I have three ways of thinking about unions: for, by, and against.

This first is about the struggle for unions, to maintain and protect their current strengths, and to establish new unions, particularly when, as at Duquesne, proposed new unions are focused clearly on the plight of adcons. (Check here for my own latest view of that important battle—needs updating, I know.)

Since such new unions are doing two things I’m in favor of 1) struggling for the basic right to organize and 2) struggling specifically to improve adcon working conditions—which are the worst faculty working conditions in the entire system—I’m naturally a great supporter.

The second way I have of thinking about unions is this: the struggle by existing unions, and here I’ll just give you a quote from the late Steve Street—who died recently and much too soon. This is from a column he wrote, "The Fog," for Inside Higher Education in Fall of 2009: “at 3 percent…in five years the gap between initial base salaries (for TT/T and adjunct/contingent faculty) of $70,000 and $15,000 grows by almost $14,000, from $55,000 to $63, 758.”

So, that represents one type of struggle by unions. How can I support that? It’s a struggle by unions to grow the gap between adcon and “regular” faculty.

How is that struggle by unions any different from the sort of discrimination you see, for instance, in a publication from the Office of the Senior Vice Provost at Harvard, on “Faculty Development and Diversity”? Here’s the language: “Adjunct Professors are Non-Ladder Faculty everywhere.”

So, that’s true for Vice-Provosts and for unions too? Something wrong there, I think, and that’s where the struggle against unions—as too many of them now operate—comes in.

I’m not talking about a struggle against unionization, of course, or against the ideals of a union movement—it’s a struggle against a lot of current union behavior, and for unions in a more idealistic and inclusive way, which brings us back to where we started.

Now, back to my six syllabi—I could use old ones, of course, but I do like to keep them up-to-date: I do keep learning. 


  1. You know I am a 'union man' also, but one of my complaints about AFT is that they really do not advocate for the rights of contingent faculty.They have a very strong K-12 presence and in Higher Ed the major focus is on tenure track or tenured full time faculty and support staff. The FACE abd Just Ask campaigns did little to help us. Most of the advances we have made come from the Local level much more than the State or National levels. Are we better off with unions? No doubt, but most of the work is done in 'the pits' not up on top.

  2. Being a 'union man' as both you and Alan are does not mean blind to or in denial about problem areas. It's healthier for unions in the long run too. I admire both of you all the more for it. More voice for adjuncts in unions should and could have a restorative effect.


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