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Letter to the Editor: Why I am opposed to faculty unionization at this point in time

Dr. James Kiper of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering brings to the table his point of view on faculty unionization.
Dr. James Kiper of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering brings to the table his point of view on faculty unionization.

There seems to be increased concern about the faculty’s voice in university governance and a concomitant rise in calls for faculty unionization in response.  What are the reasons for this at this point in time?  From the Faculty Alliance of Miami website, these reasons seem to be:

  • Concerns about shared governance

  • Equity and job security for non-tenure-track faculty

  • Workload

  • Compensation

From conversations with other faculty, I believe that some of the underlying reasons for the interest in unionization currently have to do with mistrust of some of our current administrators and concern about the way things were handled during the pandemic.

Let me summarize the key reasons as to why I am opposed to faculty unionization at this point in time. The key reasons are these:

  •  Faculty unionization is a very significant step.  There are other steps that we could follow more incrementally to produce change in a more controlled manner.

  •  A faculty union would change from an atmosphere of collegiality to an adversarial relationship. 

  • A union brings another layer of administration.

  •  A faculty union would have a singular focus rather than considering the university more holistically.

  • A faculty union would result in extra, ongoing costs for the university and for individual faculty members.

  • The university budget has many components. There are systemic budgetary constraints.  Any change in one aspect results in changes in other parts of that budget. That is, the budget is a zero-sum situation. 

  • The pandemic was a once-in-a-century event.  We should not overreact to it. 

I have expanded on each of these reasons here.

Faculty unionization will have unintended and unknown impacts on the university. Such a step should only be taken cautiously and in a well-considered manner. There are other steps that we should consider to produce change first in a more incremental way.  Some possible steps in increasing order of significance include these: 

  1. Bring up issues in University Senate.

  2. Bring up issues in Faculty Assembly.

  3. Hold administrators (chairs, Deans, Provost) responsible in their third and fifth-year evaluations.

  4. Try to modify unresponsive governance structures (for instance, the creation of a faculty senate).

  5. Faculty vote of no-confidence for Deans or Provosts.

  6. Faculty vote of no-confidence for President.  

Although we have not seen the results of the third-year review of our current Provost, I suspect that our faculty made their views known in that assessment. Governance is working.  

It is important to be careful in examining claims about the difference that union negotiation can make. On the Faculty Alliance of Miami web page entitled The Difference A Union Makes, there is a reference to the “8.25% over 3 years” wage increase that the union at the University of Cincinnati negotiated in 2019.  A quick calculation will show that this is a raise of about 2.75% per year. The dues at UC are 1.0%. (See here.) Thus, the net percentage increase from year to year is about 1.72%. For details see the Google sheet on my website. 

Over my 36 years at Miami, the only times that we did not receive a salary increase of at least 2% was during the recent pandemic and the recession of 2008. The relationship between the administration and faculty will be constrained by the legal constraints of a union contract should the unionization go through.  

Our university faculty have long operated in a meritocracy. We get tenure not because of longevity but because of performance, though that is not to say that there are no cases of discrimination on the basis of other inappropriate factors that should be addressed. Unions tend to have a leveling effect as poor performers are protected, and merit cannot as easily be rewarded.  

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Furthermore, the union will have a divisive effect on the faculty, dividing those who think that paying $500 - $1000 each year for dues is worth the result and those who resent having to do that and do not see the added value. The ultimate power of a union lies in a work action, perhaps even a strike.  

We have a tradition at Miami of generally having good leadership. When leadership is not of that high standard, we have mechanisms to deal with that. As such, I believe that unionization would be a step backward for faculty.

— Dr. James Kiper, Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering