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Letter to the Editor: Why a UW faculty union will be good for students

Dear Editor,

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

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