Last spring the UW American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter launched an effort with SEIU Local 925 to form a faculty union at UW. It may not seem obvious at first glance, but one reason UW faculty wants to unionize is to benefit students. The faculty union will address several issues directly affecting students: strengthening the voice of faculty at UW and in Olympia; reversing the financial crisis in Washington State’s higher education; and pushing back the corporatization of higher education.
Students know how bad the financial situation has been because tuition went up as a stopgap measure. Twenty years ago, Washington State provided 82% of funding per UW undergraduate student; in 2013 the state gave only 30% due to “the crises in higher ed.” As unionized faculty we will work to reverse this trend. We feel your pain. We watch in dismay as students struggle to pay tuition and bemoan the 50% leaving with an average debt of over $20,000. No one should have that kind of debt as a result of their university education. Although the good news is that tuition is going down this year and next, a faculty union will work with administration and SEIU to insist on increased state funding for our students’ welfare.
Tuition hikes over the past few decades are linked to the “corporatization of higher education” across the United States. Corporatization of higher education—making public higher education a money-making scheme rather than a provision of education for the common good—goes against the UW’s primary mission: “the preservation, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge.” Faculty believe in academic freedom, which should include the “preservation, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge” without corporate costs. Corporatization hurts students by raising their fees and dumbing down their education to support increased administration of flashy facilities at the cost of teaching and learning. These trends have turned many of your “professors” into what are known as the “fast food workers of higher ed.”
As a result of “crises in higher education,” UW—like other universities—has hired short-term lecturers. A 2014 UW tri-campus committee report noted the “sharp increase” in hiring short-term lecturers just over the past few years. The now infamous “Professor Staff” may be lecturers hired at the last minute for cheap and short-term contracts without benefit of full faculty resources. Lecturers on year-to-year, or even quarter-to-quarter, contracts are typically excellent teachers with advanced degrees and often teach more courses and a higher percentage of students. Because of their shaky status, however, lecturers don’t always get the freedom to speak their minds about best practices for students and the UW. Unable to create a niche in the UW community and fearful of losing their jobs, this growing percentage of faculty often goes unheard on crucial issues surrounding student well-being. Indeed, some lecturers have no voice in UW decisions because they get no vote as contingent employees. Because Washington State law stipulates all faculty, regardless of title or status, must be part of a faculty union, unionized faculty can speak freely about issues that hinder their abilities to teach at the level of excellence UW students expect.
A UW Faculty Union will be faculty led with support from the UW AAUP whose mission is “to develop the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.” Students—the true life-breath of UW—deserve this and preserving that mission is at the heart of the unionization campaign.
Elizabeth“Libi” Sundermann,Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences Lecturer, UW Tacoma
Michael Goldberg, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences Lecturer, UW Bothell
Carrie Matthews, English Lecturer, UW Seattle
If you support us at all, then please take a second to fill out
the below petition asking the UW administration to be union neutral.