Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

Librarians want a union, Miami should let them organize

For the last couple of years, the Faculty Alliance of Miami (FAM) has been working to form a union of faculty and librarians, while Miami University’s administration has thrown up roadblocks at every opportunity. On March 9, Ohio’s State Employment Relations Board (SERB) ruled that tenured and tenure-track (TTT) faculty as well as Teaching, Clinical Professors and Lecturers (TCPLs) are the only groups that are appropriate to include together in a faculty bargaining unit, leaving out Visiting Assistant Professors, librarians, and hybrid faculty-staff whose work constitutes 50% or more of teaching, research and/or service. This decision is a major victory for TTT faculty and TCPLs. However, SERB’s decision to exclude the rest of the contested positions is a slap in the face for those of us who have been working incredibly hard on this important effort. In particular, the reasoning behind exclusion of librarians is difficult to fully absorb, as it hinges on a fundamental misunderstanding of what librarians do and how we fit into the larger faculty community at Miami.

Let me be clear: Library work is faculty work. We teach. We conduct research. We serve on committees to better both the university and our profession. We have seats on University Senate. We vote as part of Faculty Assembly. We are fully integrated into the scholarly and academic community of our institution. We do all of this and more, yet we are excluded in a major way.

A primary part of SERB’s decision to exclude librarians from the collective bargaining unit is based on the fact that we are not technically “faculty.” Instead, we are “unclassified staff,” and as such, we have different terms and conditions of employment than “true” faculty. We have 12-month appointments, meaning we work the entire year; Faculty have nine-month appointments, and many of them spend the summer working on their research instead of teaching. Our year-long appointment makes it difficult to scrape together enough free time to meet our required research obligations. We earn vacation days at the same rate as other unclassified staff with 12-month appointments; Faculty don’t accrue vacation days. We are governed by a separate policy, called the Librarian Appointment, Rank, and Promotion System (LARPS), which is modeled directly from the structure that TTT faculty work within. All of these are real distinctions (although we are not hourly employees, as incorrectly asserted in the SERB decision), but they are surface-level differences that ignore the history of librarians at Miami and obscure the faculty work we engage in daily. 

Let’s go back to the 1980s. All librarians at the time were considered full faculty members and were able to vote and participate in the governance of the university through Faculty Assembly. However, there was no way to be promoted into another rank without changing jobs and, for those at the bottom of the ladder, there were no job protections or expectation of continued employment. We had the faculty title, but not faculty status.

Then, in 1987, the Board of Trustees voted to strip away Faculty Assembly membership from all faculty who were not in a tenured or tenure-track position. Though the nature of our work did not change, most librarians, as well as many full-time faculty, were no longer eligible to participate in the shared governance of the university. 

This disenfranchisement ignited a years-long effort by librarians to reform our terms of employment. The earliest draft of our current LARPS document that I could find in the University Archives was dated 1990, and our current promotion policy was adopted in 2003. It took 13 years for librarians to convince the administration that we should have the rights of faculty through the implementation of LARPS. 

Our current promotion policy, in some cases, uses language that was pulled directly from the Miami Policy Library for TTT faculty. It provides us two opportunities for promotion, just like tenure-track faculty. We have three ranks — Assistant Librarian, Associate Librarian, and Principal Librarian — just like tenure-track faculty. Our policy requires a six-year probationary period, just like tenure-track faculty. We are required to be active participants in research and service, just like tenure-track faculty. It requires that probationary librarians must be promoted in their sixth year, or they will have to leave Miami and find another job elsewhere, just like tenure-track faculty. Once promoted, we gain a continuing contract that affords us protection from being fired except for cause or financial exigency. If you think that sounds remarkably like tenure, you’re correct. Through the implementation of LARPS, we essentially gained faculty status. In exchange, we lost our faculty titles.

The only significant differences between librarians and faculty at Miami is that we are labeled as “staff” and have 12-month contracts, because in the ’80s and ’90s, as now, the university administration did not want to provide us with the rights and respect that we, as now-enfranchised members of the academic community, deserve. 

But librarians are not giving up. On March 17, one week after SERB decided that our surface-level difference was enough to exclude us from the rest of the faculty, Miami librarians filed a petition with SERB to form a collective bargaining unit as part of FAM. In doing so, we are showing the administration that we are not backing down. When we filed our original petition to bring our voices together with FAM, we meant it, and we have the full, enthusiastic support of our colleagues. If the administration is truly interested in supporting its employees, they will let us proceed to a vote without objection. Even better, they could recognize and acknowledge the work that we as librarians do, and give us full faculty status with full tenure, rights and respect.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter