When Sarah Hirsch began teaching as a Spanish lecturer at the University of New Hampshire seven years ago, she looked for a union representative but couldn’t find one.
“I was thinking of course there would be one, but no. I let it drop and thought everything would be fine. But over the years, things haven’t been exactly fine,” said Hirsch.
Currently, there isn’t much structure or definition to the lectureship position, Hirsch said. Depending on the department, some lecturers are allowed to attend departmental meetings and influence decision making, but in other departments lecturers are left out. There is also no language that explains sick day or personal day policies, access to personnel files and paternity or maternity leave. There’s no grievance policy either.
“I started noticing some people having issues in hiring and firing, not having any recourse to defend themselves if they let go without any cause. It just seems like there is no clear policy about hiring and firing for lecturers,” Hirsch said.
Since last July, many UNH lecturers have been working towards gaining union representation with The American Association of University Professors. Hirsch is serving as president of the organizing committee for the effort. In a final step to secure union standing, organizers are holding a vote at UNH Durham and Manchester campuses Feb. 12 and 13. To become an official union, organizers must earn 50 percent plus one votes from lecturers in favor of unionization.
Supporters hoping to gain representation through AAUP think the benefits will trickle throughout the university, Hirsch said. It would benefit to tenure-track faculty because the two groups would be more stable partners. Students would be better represented too, as lecturers tend to teach large, low-level courses and may be more familiar with the interests of a larger amount of the student body than other faculty members.
Fifteen years ago there were about 20 lecturers at UNH; now there are more than 200, Hirsch said. Some departments rely on lecturers to teach more than 50 percent of their courses.
“In any market, especially competitive markets, people come in and try to figure out how to deliver same service at lower costs in order to compete. That’s the model lots of educational institutions are wrestling right now. How far do they go toward lecturers? How far do they go to adopting an online model?” said Dennis Delay, an economist at NH Center for Public Policy.
Traditionally, tenure track and tenured professors add to a university’s credentials, Delay said. Tenure is awarded based on a faculty members’ record of published research, ability to attract grant funding, academic visibility and teaching and administrative services. To lock in the best academics, incentives like higher salaries and protection of academic freedom are offered. But with fewer tenure-track positions available, more academics with outstanding credentials are hired as lecturers.
The Hippo was unable to reach UNH administrators for comment, but in mid-December, UNH provost Lisa MacFarlane and UNH president Mark Huddleston released a joint letter to lecturers, opposing unionization and highlighting some of the progress made toward improving policies and practices that affect lecturers without a union. It was followed with another letter released by Vice President of Finance and Administration Dick Cannon on Jan. 21. That letter warned lecturers that if a bargaining agreement was created, they would lose the ability to speak on their own behalf or on the behalf of colleagues to raise concerns locally in their own departments and to work through them with their dean.
“Direct communication and local, individualized resolutions will no longer be available to you,” Cannon stated. “Instead, collective bargaining and contract will govern our relationship, and we will be prohibited from direct communication on wages and other terms and conditions of employment.”
On Dec. 5 the organizing committee filed a petition with the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The petition was the initial step in obtaining certification of a bargaining unit, and while PELRB requires 30 percent of the organizing unit to be in favor of unionization, more than 70 percent of lecturers at both the Durham and Manchester campuses said they were in favor.
It has also received support from AAUP-UNH, the university’s union organization for tenure-track and tenured professors. AAYP-UNH has come out publicly in favor of a lecturers union and has provided provided guidance and financial support.
“The number of lecturers has been growing rapidly, but the university has not been paying any attention to salaries, rights and grievances and due processes,” said Deanna Wood, president of the Chapter AAUP- UNH.
In addition to the aforementioned protections, the AAUP places a special focus on helping non-tenure track unionizers secure protection of academic freedom traditionally reserved for tenured faculty. John Curtis, AAUP’s director of research and public policy said the trend of increased unionization for contingent faculty positions has been going on for for years, but there’s a new activism both among the faculty and labor organizations looking to achieve protection of academic freedom.
“[Non-unionized faculty] express that they feel reluctant to raise controversial issues or push students to do work they expect at the college level, because if a student complains about anything, really, they could lose their jobs,” he said.
As seen in the February 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.