Tenure-Track and Adjuncts Unite! Administration Says: You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Union

12/02/2011 11:04 am ET | Updated Feb 01, 2012
  • Lennard Davis Distinguished Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried a story concerning the fault lines that appear when tenure and adjunct faculty unionize. The biggest problem seems to be that adjunct faculty doesn't get the attention it deserves even though such faculty members make up almost two-thirds of the teaching staff at most universities. The tenured and tenure-track faculty unions get the bulk of the attention and a much bigger slice of the pie because of the prestige and clout they carry.

At the University of Illinois in Chicago, a recently formed faculty union has tried to break this mold. It comprised itself of both tenured and non-tenured members from the start and was certified by the labor relations board as such. However, the administration, quibbling on the language of the state law, has brought a series of challenges to this very idea of a true union of all faculty. The administration now has moved its challenges (all of which it has lost) from the labor relations board to the state courts. The administration's main point is that there should not be a union of both tenured and adjunct faculty.

This is strange objection since both groups of faculty members do the same work, teach the same courses, serve on the same committees, substitute for each other in a pinch, and are considered by the Association of American University Professors [AAUP] as one in the same. In fact the AAUP does not even keep track of which of its members are tenured and which are not.

The administration has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer and student money to keep these two groups, who wish to be part of the same union, apart. It doesn't take a Ph.D. to see why. Two smaller unions are easier to manage than one big union. With the prospect that the University of Illinois in Urbana will unionize, the administration sees strength in numbers and doesn't like what it sees.

At the University of Illinois in Carbondale, non-tenured and tenured faculty unions have joined up with other employees including graduate students recognizing that their interests align. Unions make employees strong because numbers speak louder than words.

Who should have a right to determine union membership -- the boss or the employees? The answer seems obvious, given that unions are the voluntary coming together of workers who know that they and only they can protect their rights and working conditions. The administration of the University of Illinois should stop trying to divide and conquer its faculty and come to the table to begin collective bargaining in good faith.