Letter to the Editor: A personal view of the unionization campaign at Macalester

I’m a visiting assistant professor in the Physics and Astronomy department, a sabbatical leave replacement for the year. My position is full time with benefits, and the department has been extremely welcoming. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with the students here. I’ve been tremendously impressed by their can-do attitude and their ability to translate ideas into concrete actions and outcomes, which I’ve seen lead to outstanding class work and projects in my courses and in so many others.

When I first learned about the effort to form a union among contingent faculty at Macalester several months ago, I said I wanted to look into it more before deciding whether to sign an authorization card. I read about the SEIU Adjunct Action organizing campaigns in the metro areas of Boston and Washington DC, and how the newly unionized contingent faculty were already seeing significant improvements in their working conditions. And I thought about what a union might mean for Macalester, where some contingent faculty have been here for 10+ years but where many more currently teach class-to-class, semester-to-semester, year-to-year.

The core identity of Macalester is a low student-to-faculty ratio, a wide variety of courses, and a “strong commitment to teaching” (the college website notes that Macalester ranks #7 nationally in this US News category). Contingent faculty do an excellent and essential job helping Macalester to achieve its mission. It seemed to me that contingent faculty (and consequently also the students we teach!), especially those working part-time, would benefit from greater stability, per-course rates that better reflect the importance of these classes and the experience of the instructor, and wider access to benefits including health insurance. There have been only marginal improvements in these conditions at Macalester going back decades.

So, after looking into it a bit, I made an informed decision to support unionization. I and other Macalester contingent faculty members of the organizing committee have been reaching out to our colleagues and having conversations about what you all love about teaching here as well as what changes you would like to see made. It’s true that not everyone shares identical concerns, but I’ve been struck by the common themes of security and equality that keep coming up. People want a real voice in the decision-making processes that impact their working conditions. We were able to file for an election because a majority of those we talked with want to vote. If we didn’t yet have a chance to talk with you personally, it’s just because it’s been a busy spring, and we’d really like to hear your views as well.

In teaching here this year, I’ve also learned. I’m inspired by the can-do attitude of Macalester students. I support unionization to improve conditions for contingent faculty, which I believe will benefit the entire college community.

Brendan Miller

Physics and Astronomy