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Univ.’s unique contract structure makes adjunct union unnecessary

By Marya R. Levenson

Section: Opinions

October 30, 2015

Dear Editors,

There may be many good reasons for welcoming a union for non-tenured faculty, but let’s set the record right about Brandeis. For example, any non-tenure-line Brandeis faculty person is currently eligible for benefits if s/he works .5FTE [a part-time workload that receives full-time benefits].

Moreover, there are two different kinds of non-tenure-line faculty positions here.

1) The university already offers multi-year contracts for two to seven years for some arts and sciences faculty members who focus on teaching, rather than research and teaching. Many long-term contract faculty members (I am one of them) are eligible for periodic paid-leave, similar to sabbatical leave for tenure-line faculty.

2) There are also year-to-year contracts for faculty, who are hired on a course-to-course basis according to student enrollment and faculty leaves. Brandeis has been raising base pay for these per-course faculty, so that it remains competitive with local universities. While I agree that the increase in the ratio of adjuncts to tenure-line faculty positions in universities is problematic, Brandeis has been moving to hire some of the per-course faculty who have significant responsibilities other than teaching into positions with salaries that reflect these additional responsibilities.

As someone who has negotiated union contracts from both sides of the bargaining table, I recognize that unions use similar language in organizing different universities. I think, however, that the work of Brandeis faculty and administrators to recognize the contributions of non-tenure-line faculty is unique and should be acknowledged. I am proud to be part of a university committed to social justice which has done and is doing what is right, with or without a union.

Marya R. Levenson is the Professor of the Practice in Education and the Harry S. Levitan Director of Education

  • Harry Mairson

    The significance of point (1) above depends on the number of faculty given extended multi-year contracts. If there are few of them, these contracts don’t make much of a difference in judging this issue. The letter does not say how many.

    The significance of point (2) depends on how many year-to-year contracts there are, and what the salaries are. The above letter doesn’t indicate either, so it’s impossible to judge from what’s said here.

    That what’s offered is “competitive with local universities” again begs the issue: there are active unionization efforts at these other institutions, for the same general reasons there is an effort at Brandeis. If we’re competitive with other unionizing campuses, that also suggests there should be a union here.

    What efforts to “recognize the contributions of non-tenure-line faculty” are noteworthy at Brandeis, as opposed to peer institutions? What matters is salary, benefits, and job security. That’s what matters to everybody when they consider their job.

    Finally, universities can be as bloodless as private companies when it comes to employment. Tenured faculty are, by definition, exempted. Long-serving senior administrators (for just one example, Mark Collins and Fran Drolette) were pushed out for no reason at all (see http://www.thejustice.org/article/2013/11/mark-collins-et-alia-departed-the-students-are-watching), custodial workers have been fired with no notice, and the Sodexo/fair wage issues are well covered in both the Hoot and the Justice. We live in the world, with all of its problems. We are not “uniquely” exempt.

    In contrast to what is written above, I don’t believe that the University is committed to social justice, and certainly not any more than most any university is—“social justice” just happens to be the centerpiece of the University’s branding mechanism.

    If we have “done and [are] doing what is right”, as the author above asserts, we do not need a union, because the point of a union is exactly that: to do right by its members. The real question is to judge whether the assertion is correct, and if it isn’t—which I tend to think is the case—then figure out what to do about it.

    Harry Mairson
    Professor of Computer Science

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