A Seattle University official has notified faculty that the school’s administration opposes ongoing efforts to unionize non-tenured instructors and encouraged faculty to oppose joining a union. UPDATE: We have additional information from an instructor working to form “a union to work with the administration to retain excellent part-time and full-time non-tenure track instructors.” You’ll find the update below.
In a letter obtained by CHS, Provost Isiaah Crawford recently told SU faculty at the 12th Ave campus that bringing in a union to represent contingent full-time and part-time faculty would negatively impact the university culture by “disrupting the direct relationship between the university and its faculty and the faculty’s governing body.”
Instructor Yancy Hughes Dominick, a full-time adjunct in the Department of Philosophy, told CHS he’s undecided on the union but wants the discussion to continue.
“I was dissapointed that (the provost) would end the conversation before it really started, but I was not surprised,” he said.
Dominick said he and many other faculty members are generally happy with the administration, pay, and benefits at SU. The interest in unionizing stems from the broader issue of year-to-year contracts the school uses for adjunct professors. “It’s hard to be committed to the large project of teaching classes at a university if you don’t know if your going to be teaching or not,” Dominick said.
Here’s a statement from the coordinating committee of the SU College of Arts & Sciences Faculty and Staff Assembly about their desire to pursue the option for adjuncts to unionize.
Crawford said he sent the letter when he heard faculty members were being approached by staff from Local 925 of the Service Employees International Union. SEIU is currently working on a national campaign to unionize thousands of adjunct instructors. A union representative contacted by CHS did not respond in time for this post, but we’ll update if and when they do.
In his letter, Crawford also warned that unionizing may impede the school’s religious freedoms as faculty relations would be subject to federal rules.
“SU is an institution that exists to serve its unique Jesuit-Catholic academic mission. Because of the University’s religious character, we must consider carefully whether the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the federal National Labor Relations Board from exercising jurisdiction over its relations with its faculty,” he writes.
SU wouldn’t be the first school to oppose unions based on religious grounds. The administration at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma is opposing ongoing organizing efforts by SEIU Local 925, partially based on religious grounds.
UPDATE: Representatives from SEIU and SU’s administration have yet to respond to requests for comment on this story.
UPDATEx2: SEIU responded to our inquiries with answers from Larry Cushnie, political science instructor at Seattle University. Below our are questions and Cushnie’s responses.
Can you confirm that SEIU is undergoing organizing efforts with adjunct faculty at Seattle University?
Yes. Our adjunct faculty are forming a union to work with the administration to retain excellent part-time and full-time non-tenure track instructors to provide the best education possible to our university community.
Why adjunct faculty and why Seattle University? Are there specific issues the adjunct faculty want to challenge with the SU administration?
We are concerned with having access to stable, living wage jobs. As a social justice oriented university, Seattle Univeristy should strive to provide transparent decision-making about employment as well as predictability for employees from year to year. We are excited to work with the administration to continue offering a rigorous academic environment for our students, and as contingent employees we make up over half of the faculty but are paid a much lower wage. We save the university money, but at the expense of stable, living wage jobs; the expense of fairly negotiated contracts; and the expense of our students.
Why is unionizing the adjunct faculty a positive move for the university?
We need to be able to recruit and retain talented instructors to continue to provide quality education for our students. Right now part-time professors have no consistency or predictability. Each year we do not know if we’ll have a job, and there is little transparency on how the administration decides who gets to teach and who does not. This weakens our ability to retain excellent teachers so that we can continue to provide quality education to our community.
Do you know how many adjuncts there are? How much support is there for the union?
There were 727 total faculty teaching at SU in fall 2011. Contingents made up approximately 56% of total faculty. There is a lot of support among faculty for forming a union. This is about social justice and we want the administration to live up to the university’s social justice mission and remain neutral on whether we form a union. This effort is ultimately towards retaining and improving the high standards of our academic community.
UPDATE 12/21/13 12:15 PM: Here is a letter from the Academic Assembly “regarding recent progress on shared governance and the SEIU campaign to organize non-tenure-track faculty.” An email distributing the letter says the assembly “will discuss these recent developments as a group” in early January.