Letter to the Editor: “I do not want this union to ‘represent’ me.”

I love my job. I am a faculty member in Biology Department at Macalester where I have taught for almost 20 years, part time when my kids were little and full time for the last 9 years. Who wouldn’t love this job? I teach and am continuously inspired and challenged by bright, curious, interesting students from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors. I enjoy brilliant and committed colleagues from a multitude of disciplines (some tenured, some not) and have good working relationships with my bosses, one, two and three levels up. I deeply respect academia in general and this institution in particular. Life is good.

By the way, I am not tenured, so another name for me is “contingent faculty”. I also understand that I am now considered by the attorneys to be a member of “the affected class”.

Anyway, it seemed like another happy day on campus when I learned that it was “Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week”. Who doesn’t like to be appreciated? Cute photos of students holding signs saying, “I contingent faculty!” began to appear alongside offers of cookies.

I believe now this show of appreciation was actually an effort by the Service Employees International Union (SEIC) out of Washington, DC, to entice students to serve as a “feel good” cover for their efforts to establish a chapter at Macalester. Don’t get me wrong. I am deeply aware of the good work of unions historically and today. I just don’t think it is fair to cover up a union’s intentions with well-meaning students showing appreciation for their faculty. And I don’t think the contingent faculty on this campus need a union. Here’s why:

I do not want some unknown union to come in and establish two classes of faculty on this campus, those with tenure and those in a union. I want to continue working, thinking and discussing with all my colleagues, tenured or not.

I do not want this union to “represent” me. I want to represent myself and I want to be able to directly approach my bosses to wrestle with the issues of our day and address the challenges and opportunities we face as an institution. Having an intermediate will make our strong working relationships artificial and unproductive.

I do not believe a union can effectively represent or bargain for our heterogeneous body of faculty— some here for a semester, others for a decade or two, some approaching retirement. Some teaching full time, others guest teaching a single course while they explore whether a job like this is what they want.

So, I strongly encourage my colleagues to vote NO on the question of whether to unionize adjunct faculty at Macalester. We have a great body of faculty on this campus, some tenured and some not, and this unionization effort threatens to fragment and destroy the rich interactions and collaborations we have built and from which we all benefit, students, faculty and administration alike.

Liz Jansen