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Miami faculty announce unionization plan

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the university.

Miami University faculty members announced a campaign to form a union at an American Association of University Professors (AAUP) advocacy chapter meeting Wednesday, Feb. 2.

The union, named the Faculty Alliance of Miami (FAM), would bring collective bargaining to both the Oxford and regional campuses. FAM would be open to full-time faculty members at all levels, from instructors to assistant professors to tenured professors.

Cathy Wagner, president of Miami’s AAUP advocacy chapter, said at the meeting of more than 170 members that unionization was a long time coming.

“An overwhelming majority of [faculty] strongly support organizing a union,” Wagner said. “That’s a sentence I cannot imagine saying five years ago.”

In Ohio, nine out of 14 public four-year universities have already formed faculty unions, making Miami the tenth if unionization succeeds. 

Jessica Rivinius, senior director of news and communications, wrote in an email to The Miami Student that the university's administration values the shared governance provided by University Senate.

"We value our productive and positive relationship with our primary university governing body, University Senate, which is a democratic body and reservoir of knowledge composed of students, faculty, staff, and administrators where we discuss university issues and through true collective decision-making arrive at conclusions on the policies and actions of the university," Rivinius wrote. "We are highly committed to the success of our faculty, staff, and students as we work together to achieve our student-centered mission."

Michelle Boone, associate professor of biology, said that by giving faculty a voice, the union would ensure Miami’s future as an educational institution that emphasizes a teacher-scholar model.

“Over and over again we’ve heard from you about why you came to Miami and why you really love Miami, a place that has said it values a true teacher-scholar model,” Wagner said to her colleagues at the meeting. “Many of you have told us you feel that that model is at risk.”

In 2020, Miami opted not to renew the contracts of more than 200 visiting assistant professors (VAPs) in the wake of the pandemic, a decision Boone said many faculty members resented. The decision resulted in increased workloads for remaining instructors and highlighted the lack of job security for VAPs.

Chris Sinclair, an associate professor at the University of Oregon and Secretary-Treasurer of the national AAUP, said Oregon’s faculty union bargained to avoid a similar fate, saving the jobs of 211 faculty members by negotiating potential wage cuts. Based on the conditions the wage cuts required, no faculty actually saw any wage cuts.

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As a recently unionized faculty member, Sinclair said Miami faculty need to prepare themselves for an anti-union campaign from administration.

“The idea that unionization is a divisive thing is not necessarily the truth,” Sinclair said. “Your administration is going to paint this as a divisive step that you’re taking … However, having clear criteria in place makes decision making actually clearer.”

Patti Newberry, a senior lecturer of journalism, said at the meeting that unionization is especially important for non-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty.

“I have really enjoyed a fruitful and fulfilling career at Miami,” Newberry said, “But I do want to note that too often, like other [non-tenure-track faculty], I’ve felt discouraged as a non-tenured faculty. Too often I’ve been sent the message either subtly or less than subtly that [non-tenure-track faculty] are second-class citizens.”

Shashi Lalvani, a professor in the College of Engineering and Computing, said FAM would allow faculty to continue delivering high-quality education, a mission that he says the university has struggled to uphold as faculty continue to shoulder more responsibilities.

“Over the years, the standing of Miami as a premiere institution of higher learning has declined quite a lot … and that puts a lot of burden on faculty whose rights have not increased in proportion to the student population that has grown,” Lalvani said.

Before unionization can move forward, Wagner said FAM will need to work through several legal benchmarks and potentially face clashes with administration.

Despite the coming challenges, Wagner said she’s hopeful for the future of education at Miami.

“It’s a long process,” Wagner said, “But it’s very, very exciting to be at this stage where we know we can win.”

This is a developing story, and more information will be published as it becomes available.