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Why the UW Faculty needs a union: A case where being unionized would have been helpful.

Sharona E. Gordon <seg@uw.edu>

2:22 PM (19 hours ago)

 

When I was negotiating for a position as an assistant professor at UW, I made sure my offer letter described the position as a “state line” position that would be tenure track. About two years after I started, I learned that I was not in fact in a tenure-track position and my chair had no intention of putting me in a tenure track position. This story has a happy ending, as I am now a full Professor (in another department), but it took about three years to resolve the situation. A union would have helped in a number of ways:

  • I had no one to act as my advocate in the process. For example, in the mediation organized by the ombudsman my Dean had a lawyer present but I was not allowed to have a lawyer or anyone else accompany me. Under unionization, I would have had at least a union representative.
  • No one could advise me on whether the administration was truthfully representing the rules. A union could have provided this service and thus help me protect my rights.
  • My chair saw me as powerless and disposable. If I had a union behind me, perhaps he would not have tried to get away with reneging on his offer.
  • During the time it took to resolve the issues I was vulnerable to retaliation for reporting the chair’s violation of his offer. A union could offer some protections against retaliation. In its stead, the Dean appointment a committee with a mandate to protect me from my chair. The Dean acted honorably, but we should not have to rely on anyone’s honor to protect our rights.

Let me stress that my faculty colleagues across campus stood behind me and stuck their necks out to help me. The Dean and his staff also came through. But fairness should not be contingent on individuals’ sense of right and wrong. Fair treatment should be guaranteed by contract, with clear procedures for dealing with potential violations.