07 June 2014

That "We" Again: Who Did We Say We Were?

Warning: this post is very specific to the campus where I work.  The post may be of interest to those who are following the nationwide push to organize adjuncts, but its merits are otherwise site-specific (which seems to be true of union-related things generally).  The post responds to Nicholas Burbules, Gutsell Professor of Educational Policy Studies at UIUC, whose blog, No Faculty Union at Illinois (coauthored with Joyce Tolliver, Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese), seeks"to deconstruct the rhetoric and strategies of faculty union advocates." 

Back in April, as academic labor unrest was stirring on our sister campus, I wrote this post about the issues that are prompting many faculty to look anew (and where legally available) at unionizing to solve at least some of the problems besetting higher education.

Now "we" (or at least, some of us) are upset because "we" voted by union card to form a union without telling...well whom, exactly? "Us"?

We actually did tell us. A union card drive for non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty involves speaking, individually, to as many members of the potential bargaining unit as can be located. Nearly every NTT faculty member who could form part of the bargaining unit was contacted, and a majority of those faculty members decided that they wanted a faculty union to represent their interests in collective bargaining. So who is this "we" who weren't told? Precisely those people who are not part of the bargaining unit. "By May 5, when the Senate held its last meeting of the 2013-14 academic year, and when union organizers were intensely engaged in a no-holds-barred attempt to persuade specialized [aka, NTT] faculty to sign union cards, once again no mention was made of the card campaign."

The UIUC Senate is not a body that represents NTT interests. NTT faculty are eligible to serve as senators, and a handful do, but most of the senate, like most of the faculty, consists of tenure-stream faculty members not eligible to be part of an NTT collective bargaining unit. So, no, "we" did not see the necessity of telling the small numbers of "us" in the Senate, who already knew about the union card drive. And "we" listen closely when a "we" that has often excluded us suddenly invokes "us" as part of a collective entity that has not dependably recognized our interests, much less supported them.

Some tenure-stream faculty in our departments can tell you "our" names. Some have no idea who "we" are though they see us regularly in the halls. Some of "us" are expected to come to department meetings; many of "us" are deliberately excluded. Some of us had rehiring, promotion, and grievance procedures available to us even before the Senate discussed Provost's Communication #25 which recommends departments put in place such procedures. Some of us do not nor will we in the future, as PC #25 leaves these matters to the discretion of individual departments.

The authors of the anti-union blog "have to ask, Is this the way to make fundamental policy decisions affecting faculty on this campus?" "Fundamental policy decisions affecting faculty on this campus" are routinely made through channels that bypass NTT faculty without being regarded as divisive.  An NTT union is simply a way to make sure that "we" are counted in ways that serve "our" interests, as well as those that don't.


  1. KW --- Remember, too, that the author of that blog post publicly called NTT faculty "a contradiction in terms." Really.

  2. I'm NTT at an R2 in a right to work state (so -- organizing a union probably wouldn't be worth the effort), but the shifting definition of "the faculty" resonates for me (even from my position within a department that is reasonably civilized in its treatment of NTT faculty -- at least until and unless the interests of NTT and TT faculty don't coincide, which, of course, is the rub. I've had some experiences with our own making-it-up-as-they-go-along promotion system for NTT faculty that have left me considerably less trusting than when I began.)

    The other way to see things, of course, is that, at this point, NTT faculty are the majority of the faculty, and conditions that can be imposed on us will ultimately affect the TT faculty as well. That's the view to which I incline, but, as my online moniker indicates, I'm in the liminal/questionable category myself (long-time full-time employed, and even promoted to what *I* consider the somewhat oxymoronic rank of NTT Associate Professor, but still contingent, with the higher teaching load, lower salary, and limited voice that comes with that status).