Our Involvement in the Unionization Effort: A Perspective from Three Students

The decision of some Macalester contingent faculty to pursue unionization has sparked a vibrant debate here on campus. Whether or not one supports unionization, it’s a polarizing and complex issue that deserves conversation and contemplation. Because representation through a union would inevitably change the way things operate on campus, passionate and contradictory opinions will naturally emerge in the weeks leading up to the election. This expressing of opinion is a fundamental and necessary part of the democratic process and all affected parties–contingent faculty, students, staff members, administrators, alumni, tenured, and tenure-track professors included—have a right to publically express their opinions so long as they abstain from coercive tactics. The opinions of the administration are a special case. While we understand and respect that they too have a legal right to express their opinions, as employers, the line between expressing their opinion and influencing the outcome of the election is often blurry. Because of this inherent power deferential, we maintain our calls for administrative neutrality in the weeks leading up to the election.

In exercising this right it is critical that we remember not to speak on behalf of others. As the recent series of op-eds have revealed, some faculty who would be directly impacted by the formation of a union feel that the contingent faculty organizing committee went ahead with this unionization plan without first consulting them. This concern is important and should be dealt with by the concerned parties. In stating their opinions however, these faculty members have suggested that the organizing committee and SEIU organizers manipulated students into advancing their campaign. This perception is misguided and as students who were active in organizing Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week, we feel the need to clear some misconceptions about our participation and speak for ourselves.

While we knew from the beginning the role of SEIU and their plan to eventually unionize contingent faculty, this was never our central motivation to get involved in the campaign. We planned Contingent Faculty Appreciation week, not as a front for a union drive, but to spark an important conversation on campus. Whether or not one supports unionization, it is important for all students to acknowledge the role that contingent faculty play on campus and the issues they face. We are not SEIU organizers nor are we unthinking followers of the contingent faculty organizing committee. Rather, we are concerned Macalester students with our own agenda: bringing an important discussion to campus and ensuring a democratic process.

Since the beginning of this campaign, certain voices at Macalester that were not previously audible have been heard. In that respect Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week was a success. We have helped start a conversation, but we have no intention to influence the outcome of that conversation because ultimately, the decision whether or not to unionize does not reside with the students nor the administration, but with the contingent faculty themselves.

Jeremy Levine-Drizin, Eli Liebman, Ilana Master