Duke Adjunct Faculty Votes to Unionize | News

Duke Adjunct Faculty Votes to Unionize

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Bucking objections from the university's administration, members of Duke's faculty not on track for tenure voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation this week.
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After securing the 30 percent threshold of faculty support and filing a petition Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election, 203 members of Duke's adjunct faculty cast ballots. 174 faculty members voted in favor of union representation, and 29 voted against, according to The Chronicle, Duke's daily newspaper.

After the NLRB certifies the results of the vote, the Service Employees International Union will represent some 300 faculty members in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Documentary Studies and the university's Graduate School.

From The Chronicle:

Although Duke’s non-tenure track professors, part-time professors and lecturing fellows filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, an agreement was reached to exclude regular rank, non-tenure track professors—professors of the practice, research professors and lecturers—from the voting process.

“While we are disappointed not to be able to continue working more directly with our colleagues, we are glad that together we made some advances this past year that will impact many of our adjunct faculty,” Provost Sally Kornbluth said in a Duke Today release. “We remain committed to their success as members of our faculty and contributors to Duke’s academic mission.”

University officials said in the release that they will begin to work with SEIU representatives on a collective bargaining agreement.

“While the process is underway, we expect most aspects of our working relationship with the members of the bargaining unit to remain status quo,” Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh said in the release.

The vote comes months after a group called Duke Teaching First first started organizing the university's adjunct professors who often work for lower pay with fewer benefits than their tenured colleagues, with little job security beyond their short-term contracts. 

The News and Observer reports that the Duke vote, though rare for a southern school, follows a wave of adjunct unionization efforts across the country. 

From the report:

SEIU also has launched a campaign to advocate for adjuncts to receive $15,000 per course, well above what many now make. The efforts have been dubbed Faculty Forward.

As the Duke campaign gained steam, the administration launched a website warning about tactics of union organizers. “You are your own best representative,” the site said.

The communication from the administration is intended “to confuse and dissuade,” said Chris Shreve, an instructor at Duke.

Shreve has taught at Duke for 12 years and holds two degrees from the university. He now teaches lab sections for a large biology course that is offered every semester – something that has given him some predictability in his income.

He said there has been steady support from tenured and tenure track colleagues. In December, dozens of faculty took out an ad in the Duke Chronicle with an open letter to Duke President Richard Brodhead. More than 80 faculty eventually signed the letter.

The ad said more than 40 percent of faculty members at Duke aren’t on the tenure track, and contingent faculty have increased by 67 percent in the past decade. Schoenfeld said Duke has about 3,500 faculty members, 80 percent of whom are tenured, tenure track or on multiyear contracts.

Faculty who signed the Chronicle ad said Duke had the resources to improve compensation for adjuncts.

“While Duke makes significant investments in building projects and a new campus overseas, the university spent only 9.5 percent of its total expenditures on salaries for teachers in 2013,” the letter said. “Duke relies on non-tenure track faculty to teach a steadily increasing percentage of its courses. It is time to offer our ‘contingent’ colleagues fair working conditions. The university needs their work, and has the resources necessary to raise standards.”

Shreve said support for a union has been building for months.

“We’ve had a generally very positive response from the faculty at Duke,” he said. “It’s very encouraging to see tenured faculty and tenure track faculty recognize the fundamental inequalities present in higher education right now.”



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