The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Letter to the Editor: Let’s Seize This Golden Opportunity

Before we all take off for a well-deserved summer break, I would like to address my fellow colleagues. I know that this process seems rushed; however, this timeline of holding an election 42 days after one files a petition is protocol. The Labor Board decided the date, to which the administration agreed. Although we can’t control the timing of the election, we can control how we use this time between now and the election. To that end, as one of the original members of the Organizing Committee, I would like to take the time to dismantle some of the misunderstandings that are swirling around the recent organizing efforts, as well as inform you about why we would all benefit from establishing a union.

Last week, tenured and tenure-track faculty received a memo from President Rosenberg and Provost Murray, stating that SEIU has been working to “convince” non-tenured track faculty to form a union. Based on this language, they seem to suggest that SEIU came here as an outside party and pushed their agenda on us. On the contrary, I reached out to Todd Ricker of SEIU/Adjunct Action. After reading about the nation-wide movement of adjuncts organizing, I sought help from this organization, which has a strong record of helping adjuncts manifest a relationship of equality with their employer. I invited them.

This same false assumption has been reproduced regarding our dear students. The students who organized Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week were not “enticed” by SEIU. Rather, the idea for this week came from the students themselves. Everything they did—from the cookie delivery to the panel discussion—was their idea. I, as well as other faculty members, was touched to see several dozen students taking time out of their packed schedules to show their appreciation for us contingents. To think they were somehow brainwashed or seduced minimizes and disparages their efforts.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the organizing activities that have taken place this semester did not come from an outside entity; these events have not been driven from an external force. Rather, they came directly and organically from members of the Macalester community: contingent faculty (and students, in the case of Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week). And that is how the union would operate.

The union is us. We, contingent faculty, determine what we want and don’t want in our contracts. SEIU is our support staff, providing logistical and legal support to carry out our needs and desires. We determine the issues that are important to us. For some, per-course pay and benefits are most pressing. For others, job security or tuition assistance for our children is most important. Because we are the union, the union is flexible enough to accommodate all our needs.

For example, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and ESPs (Educational Support Professionals) is a union that includes not only traditional classroom teachers but also librarians, school nurses, and substitute teachers, just to name a few of the diverse workers (both full-time and part-time) they represent. In addition, the needs of a high school Science teacher is different from a Special Education teacher, whose needs are different from an Early Childhood and Family Education teacher. Given these various positions, specialized language has been created to meet their varying situations.

The contingent faculty here at Macalester is a diverse body with various positions and statuses. This does not make us unique; rather, it makes us just like any other union. No one wants a union that funnels us into one position or status. We can preserve the diversity and the flexibility that these multiple positions offer in our union. The only difference between what we have now and what we could have once we unionize is that we—contingent faculty—have an equal say in what we want and don’t want. Those decisions cannot be arbitrarily made and handed down to us from the administration with no input from us. Once we have a union, they have to negotiate with us. Why shouldn’t we have this basic right to negotiate the terms of our job?

I have been a Visiting Assistant professor in American Studies for 5 semesters. The first year, I made $5,000. The second year, I made $15,000, teaching three courses. This year, I was a sabbatical replacement. Teaching two more additional courses raised my salary from $15,000 with no benefits to $53,000 with full benefits. I’ve been on both extremes of the contingent faculty coin.

It’s important for the most privileged of us contingent faculty—who make good salaries with full benefits—to realize that we don’t lose anything when we form a union. Our baseline is preserved. If we do lose anything, it will be because we collectively decided to give it up. In addition, the union is not about taking two extremes—part-time, per-course paid faculty on one end and long-term, full-time faculty on the other—and finding a “happy” middle. On the contrary, the union is about elevating those at the bottom to be closer to the top. And even those on the top of the contingent faculty ladder could benefit from the union, specifically around issues of job security and professional development. I’ve talked to faculty members who have been here for over a decade. Although their contracts have been renewed every contract cycle so far, they admit that they still feel a bit nervous every spring, as they wait to see if their contract will be renewed. The union could help assuage this anxiety by creating language that secures their job.

I realize that the structural shifts in higher education and our unstable economy can breed insecurity. It is human nature to huddle down and latch even more tightly to what we have, worried about losing what we already have. When we operate from fear (fear of loss, fear of the unknown), we miss out on the chance of seeing a golden opportunity—even when it stares us right in front of our face.

This is our golden opportunity.

Our fellow colleagues at Tufts, Georgetown, American, and Howard universities have all unionized and have made significant concrete gains. We are not the first, and we won’t be the last. We don’t need to be wary of the unknown because we have models all around us who have forged ahead and paved the way in eight different cities around the nation. Of course, our union won’t be the same as theirs because our needs and situations are different. However, there are some things like per-course pay, benefits, and job security that affect all of us, no matter where we are. They have all made strides in each of these areas.

We have the chance to transform our relationship to this institution. Instead of being put into a position where we are expected to be grateful for what we are given, we can come to the table as equal players who deserve a seat given the time, money, and energy we sacrificed to obtain our highly specialized degrees. Instead of relying on the good intentions of our administrators, hoping that they will “do the right thing” when balancing their budget, we will rely on our contracts to keep us protected. This is what it means to have a union.

If we focus on the potential of losing what we already have, we miss out on the opportunity of gaining something far greater than what currently exists. I invite you to say “yes” to the union so that we can create a better future—not only for us and our students but for the generation of professors who will come after us.

SooJin Pate

American Studies

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