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What Academic Labor ‘Wants’ - Summit Of Dozens Of Leaders Of Faculty & Staff In Higher Education, Including UUP, ‘Develops An Ambitious Agenda’

Published Tuesday, July 13, 2021
by Scott Jaschik/
What Academic Labor ‘Wants’ - Summit Of Dozens Of Leaders Of Faculty & Staff In Higher Education, Including UUP, ‘Develops An Ambitious Agenda’

Organized Labor in higher education - representing Faculty Members on the tenure track and Adjuncts, Graduate Students and other Employees, recently came together for the first Higher Ed Labor Summit: Building a Movement to Transform U.S. Higher Education.

Those in attendance issued a platform for consideration by the 75 individual Unions Locals, which combined to represent more than 300,000 people in academe.  Those in attendance backed the document, Union Leaders said.

"We envision institutions of higher education that prioritize people and the common good over profit and prestige," says the introduction to the platform. "We envision institutions that redress systemic oppression and pursue equity along lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, indigeneity, age, (dis)ability and immigration status for students and Higher Ed Workers across all job categories.  We envision institutions that honor the right of all workers to organize a Union and collectively bargain."

Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions (UUP), the country’s largest Higher Education Union representing Faculty and Professional Staff in the State University of New York (SUNY) System, acknowledged that the fight for what the platform calls for would be difficult - but he said that it "is vitally important we create the means" to succeed.

Kowal added if Unions only focus on internal issues or marginal change, they will fail.

Unions need "a grander scope," he said.

The tone of the press conference, which came immediately after the closing session of the meeting, was of achieving the goals set out.

There was no mention of politically partisan obstacles such as Republicans in the U.S. Senate or in control of many state legislatures, who traditionally oppose Unions and have been more willing to limit higher education funding in recent decades.

The platform spoke to some of these challenges.

"For decades, our state systems and their institutions, working conditions and learning environments have been compromised by public disinvestment, financialization, corporatization and a transition to debt financing," the platform says. "Higher education has been underfunded.  The majority of faculty (at least 70%) are in Adjunct or contingent appointments.  Their precarity presents a threat to job stability, educational engagement with students, long-term student outcomes and academic freedom."

The platform called for four "commitments" to solve these problems:

Federal Intervention: Specifically, "the right to a quality, debtless, universally accessible, and secure higher education for students, Workers and communities, with intentional mandates to increase access and retention for people historically or presently excluded."  In addition, a Federal Law "to guarantee the right for all Higher Education Workers to organize a Union and bargain collectively in every state."

A National Campaign To "Realign Our Campuses": Some of the measures called for are "collaborative shared governance" for higher education, "align(ing) campus and state budgets with educational priorities" and "reduc(ing) the average ratio of upper-administrator compensation to Faculty and Staff compensation to an equitable standard."  In addition, "improve(ing) the immediate working conditions for all contingent Faculty and Staff via employment standards that include job security, pay equity, health care and retirement benefits."

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