Letter to the Editor: Vote no on the union vote

I am a long-tenured full professor. Surprisingly, I will be able to vote on whether the Service Employees International Union should represent the “contingent faculty.” This is because I signed a contract to work part-time the year after next as part of Macalester’s phased retirement program and have resigned my tenure as of the end of this year. We will receive ballots sent by mail on June 3rd and need to return our votes by June 17th. I am deeply troubled by the process. To begin with, the college administration and many faculty members were simply blindsided by start of this process. In addition, those of us who will vote have only a month or so to make a decision regarding an enormous change in faculty structure. Like some of my colleagues I feel hustled along at a breakneck pace to make a decision that requires significant thought and much public discussion.

I believe that such a change requires a compelling justification, but I struggle to see any justification. My views are shaped by my experiences dealing with Macalester’s administration over the decades as a periodic department chair and chair of various elected committees. What I have found is great sensitivity on the part of administrators to the needs of contingent faculty and a willingness to be as flexible as possible to meet their needs. Never was this more apparent to me than the last time I served as chair of the Faculty Personnel Committee. Provost Murray called the chairs of the elected committees together to say that we needed a solution to the practice of requiring certain continuing, non-tenured faculty to cut back the number of courses they taught once every six years to comply with AAUP Guidelines. The affected continuing, non-tenured faculty objected to the practice because it reduced their income substantially and created hardships. The Faculty Personnel Committee worked out a solution in cooperation with Provost Murray and President Rosenberg, and I brought it before the faculty. The vote was tied that year and did not carry, but a similar proposal passed next year after a heartfelt speech by Provost Murray on behalf of the affected faculty. What impressed me most about this episode was the administration’s concern for what the union calls “contingent faculty,” the administration’s flexibility, and their respect for faculty governance. It is a subtle and difficult balancing act. I do not believe that a union could pull it off–certainly not one that has left so many of us feeling blindsided and hustled.

The appropriate response to the upcoming union vote is “No.” Let us then work with Provost Murray and faculty governance on issues of concern to the “contingent faculty.”

Martin Gunderson

DeWitt Wallace Professor, Philosophy