by Danny Hooley
Non-tenure track faculty at Duke University announced today that they have filed for a union election to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as part of the national Faculty Forward campaign to raise standards in higher education.
Duke faculty are continuing to build support while taking an important step towards a vote to join colleagues at the University of Chicago, Tufts, Georgetown and dozens of other universities who have joined SEIU in the past three years.
“I'm excited that my colleagues and I are a step closer to a union by filing for an election. The filing adds to the momentum that we’ve built in the community.” Fred Raimi, a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Music, said. “Students, faculty and Durham city leaders have all come together to show support for our efforts.
Over 40 percent of Duke faculty are off the tenure track. The trend follows a national crisis in higher education that has led to broad concern over issues like the marginalization of teaching, academic isolation and job stability that affects students. At Duke, students have mobilized hundreds of their peers through petitions, teach-ins, flyering drives, and social media campaigns to call on the Duke administration to respect faculty's right to form a union.
“Duke is a top-tier university, yet a huge group of faculty don’t have any job security,” said Zoe Willingham, a Duke student and president of Duke United Students Against Sweatshops. “Faculty need a voice to advocate for better working conditions, which is why we stand by all non-tenure track faculty in their campaign to form a union. Students want to make faculty, and consequently our instruction, a priority again.”
Together, faculty from coast to coast are building support to form their union with SEIU, and creating a movement to address the crisis in higher education and the declining standards that endanger the profession. Several schools—University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, Brandeis University, and Loyola University Chicago—have voted to form unions since early December.
The effort to unionize non-tenure-track faculty at Duke has received some pushback from the administration. Last year, Duke launched an "informational" website about the potential pitfalls of joining a union, which led to accusations of union-busting and intimidation tactics.