Distinction needed in unionization effort

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I am writing in response to the UNews article about non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty unhappy with the unionization movement on campus. I serve on the College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Council Executive Committee (FCEC), and last night we received a request from professor Christy Bagwill to address NTT concerns about unionization on the floor of the Faculty Council. Below is an abbreviated version of the response I sent Bagwill (and copied to the rest of the FCEC, the President of the Faculty Senate, the Dean of the College, the Provost, and President Pestello):

I have a long history as an advocate for faculty and student concerns at SLU. In the spirit of advocacy, I signed the petition circulated among tenured and tenure-track faculty asking for administration neutrality on the question of unionization. In this same spirit, I now ask my colleagues in the College of Arts & Sciences to consider the concerns of NTT faculty as distinct from adjunct faculty. Adjuncts and NTT faculty have very different contractual relationships with SLU. Therefore, there are very different needs and concerns that make the collective bargaining of both groups under one lumped category impractical and even unfair.

I work in a department, with several NTTs (some with over a decade of service, multiple teaching awards and unquestionable commitment to our undergraduate program), that has lost seven tenure lines in the last two years (some to retirement, some to better job offers). In the 12 years since I was hired, my department has gone from 30 full-time, tenure and tenure-track lines, to now having 15 tenure and tenure track lines. Our NTTs are some of our best teachers; they are committed student advisors and mentors, and, in some cases, also active researchers. Without NTT faculty, the quality of instruction in our department would suffer and our numbers of majors and minors would be severely impacted. Not only do we value our NTTs as colleagues, we entrust them with key administrative roles, and, in some exceptional cases, have granted full-time NTTs graduate faculty status.

So why, after signing the petition requesting neutrality from the administration, am I now asking the Faculty Council to heed Christy Bagwill’s concerns? Because I have been approached by almost a dozen NTT faculty members who are worried about the unionization movement, have described rather aggressive pursuit by SEIU organizers, and are greatly troubled that their hard-fought status to become full-time faculty is being undermined. Bagwill has asked the FCEC to bring NTT concerns to the Faculty Council. The President of the Council has informed me that an hour of the May 5 meeting will be devoted to unionization efforts on our campus.

Believe me when I say that if I perceive the administration is in any way working to obstruct or prevent unionization, I will be the first to speak out. But also recognize that the laws behind the collective bargaining process do not necessarily protect all parties included in a particular bargaining unit. Here at SLU, we are trying to nurture a culture of shared governance and mission-driven leadership, in which much progress has been made as regards NTT faculty, and in which neutrality and silence from the administration might be perceived as withdrawal from these commitments. My hope is that we can put aside our differences to reason about what is best for the students and faculty of the University.

Dr. Rubén Rosario is an associate professor in the Department of Theological Studies.