Q & A with Faculty in Support of Recent Advertisements

Two advertisements taken out last week in the Mooring Mast made waves across campus as students and faculty flipped through their weekly newspaper.  The full-page advertisements, taken out on page four and page 12, called for discussion regarding the treatment of part-time faculty. The two ads discussed the treatment of part-time instructors who did not receive equal benefits alongside their full-time colleagues. The possibility of unionization for faculty was brought into public light, as the gateway for open discussion between the faculty and administration. Beneath the ad on page four was a list of contingent faculty who supported this move. These faculty gave their responses to the advertisement, as well as discussed the need for a more open dialogue.

Joseph Hickey-Tiernan, Visiting Lecturer:

What, to you, is the most important reason to unionize?

My main reason for supporting the initiative of a contingent faculty union is the hope that it might give a voice to many whose situation is difficult, and without an organization to represent them, [they] feel invisible and vulnerable.  I have the strong expectation that, at this particular university, whose high principles are clearly enunciated in its mission and publications, a thoughtful communal voice heard expressing the situation will be met by a compassionate and thoughtful response.  I have no illusions that this will be easy or swift.  I believe in honest first steps.

I do not believe it has been noticed that higher education has changed…Somehow an uneven and stagnant immobility has arisen, in which relatively few of those who teach get to sit on the musical chairs.  The now overwhelming majority serve as contingent (“temps”) at lower wages, and with little prospect of improvement…  When the numbers of contingents rise to fifty — and in some places more than eighty — per cent of the total faculty, we are in a radically altered reality.

What were your expectations as far as responses to the two advertisements? 

I expect the beginning of a respectful conversation.  It is the pattern of openness characteristic of PLU.

What do you have to say to those who think that there is no need to unionize, or who worry about where the money to increase benefits and pay might come from?

Economic distress is the rationale, and while every penny of expenditure is calculated and recorded, there seems to be a benign agnosticism about two elements of the formula of college education: first, students pay more heavily now than before to receive a complete college education, but in most schools the majority of their professors today are impermanent members of their faculties, whose struggles to get by reflect poorly on the values of the institution; and, senior faculty, whose earlier road to tenure was more predictable, seem unaware that most of their contingent colleagues are on a different road, one marked with permanent barriers to ever arriving at tenure.

Needs are felt, and so those who feel the need to organize can be expected to act on their experience.  Everyone should be concerned about how to solve problems once they become clear to everyone.  At that point they are shared problems rather than dark secrets.  Economics remain an issue, of course, but mutuality becomes an asset.

Cliff Rowe, Emeritus Faculty:

What, to you, is the most important reason to unionize?

Honestly, if they formed a union I don’t if I’d join… But [with] the presence of this organizing force, there’s some pressure to do something about [the current conditions]. These are some important issues that they are bringing to the table…not just for PLU, but also for higher education.

Amanda Feller, Associate Professor:

What, to you, is the most important reason to unionize?

Equal and fair treatment is the most important reason. A second important reason is that the entire PLU community is lifted when we treat all equally. You have heard the expression “a rising tide lifts all boats” and this very much applies in this case.

What do you have to say to those who think that there is no need to unionize, or who worry about where the money to increase benefits and pay might come from?

I have yet to heard an argument as to why contingent faculty should not unionize. I have only heard the unsupported assertion that “they don’t need to unionize” but have yet to hear the evidence as to why not, especially when the arguments for the union have been articulated, documented and supported with clear data.

As to the financial concern. As a communication conflict specialist, I am mindful of the zero-sum thought. PLU has funding for salaries as evidenced by President Krise’s genuine efforts to address salary and compensation — resulting in faculty raises, COLA raises, and compression raises. We can also see the creation of new positions this year – the funding of those salaries was made possible because PLU does have the resources. We make choices each year as to what new projects, positions and academic adventures to fund. Students might assume that any new expenditure would mean increased tuition. However, where institutions have unionized this has not been the case. PLU has the means to pay faculty and staff appropriately. I appreciate the work of President Krise and of SEIU working two angles of the same problem. These are complimentary efforts to tackle the very real issue of compensation at PLU for everyone.

Any further remarks?

I request that anyone challenged or worried about unionization take two actions. One, ask contingent faculty members to talk about the experience of being contingent and two, [anyone with] fear or assertion[s]… I [would] strongly encourage [to talk] to an SEUI rep to explore the data and facts.

Categories: Community, Politics, Student Life

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