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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Letter to the Editor | Support Tulane Workers United, help your professors

Who are your favorite professors? You would hope that they live comfortably, that your tuition is going towards these professors who make your college experience a little less exhausting. Statistically, however, your favorites are not tenured. But, what does this mean for us students, and how can we help?

Recently, an organization called Tulane Workers United formed. It consists of various non-tenured faculty positions. TWU sent a letter to President Fitts last Tuesday April 2, giving him 48 hours to recognize their organization. Fitts did not respond last week. 

The news follows a recent wave of labor victories in academia, notably at high profile universities such as Harvard University and Vanderbilt University. 

That Thursday, April 4, hundreds of non-tenured faculty began the process of uploading their union-authorization cards to the National Labor Relations Board. A vote to certify the union is expected in May. Outsiders looking in, including the undergraduate student body and parents concerned with already burdensome tuition prices, may have doubts. However, a union can only be a good thing. Here’s why. 

In 2021, 71% of all university faculty in the U.S. were on a non-tenure track. Many of these professors are professors of practice. 

Originally, these were intended to be professors whose expertise is not necessarily academic, and, in theory, only work for a few semesters. However, at many universities, including Tulane, professors of practice often work for much, much longer. 

Since they are just below tenured professors in the hierarchy, they earn less, even though these professors teach more classes and see more students each semester. They are also more likely to be exploited based on race and gender. Tenured faculty are nearly equal in salary, but non-tenured white men make nearly 25% more than non-tenured women and people of color.

These professors are just as passionate about their subject, but their salaries do not reflect that. Some might say this is because they are not expected to conduct research. Even then, many professors of practice publish books and continue to work and find success in their fields alongside teaching.

The purpose of tenure is to allow professors to exercise their free speech without endangering their jobs. Non-tenured professors lack this job security. How is that conducive to academic freedom?  

Right now, TWU consists of professors of practice, lecturers, visiting professors and instructors. These faculty members are the highest non-tenure workers in the faculty hierarchy. 

In 2007, after Hurricane Katrina, the American Association of University Professors investigated Tulane, among other universities, in the New Orleans area. For Tulane in particular, the AAUP asserted that the administration used Katrina as an official excuse for violating faculty rights. Even with Tulane’s large endowment — much larger than schools such as University of New Orleans — the administration made various decisions despite faculty opposition, such as cutting engineering programs. The faculty’s voices were not heard, and the university had no motivation to listen to them. And that included tenured faculty. Were there a certified union, Tulane would have had to take their voices seriously. If TWU were certified now, the university would have to hear the entire faculty out, compromise and not make arbitrary decisions. 

One massive benefit of TWU for students would be more transparency about tuition. We pay a fortune — that increases annually — and do not even know where that money goes. Students might be convinced that tuition money funds academics if non-tenured faculty had higher salaries. Tulane has a massive endowment, which amounted to $2.05 billion in 2022. One function of a faculty union would be to bargain with the university for more transparency in how Tulane manages its budget, and potentially even to bargain for less tuition increases.

A union would allow for pedagogical creativity and new ways of learning. There would be better working conditions, and the professors could perform better as the stress of making ends meet is alleviated. True academic freedom would be protected for all professors, as non-tenured faculty would have a collective voice behind them. A union would protect not only the free speech of the faculty, but also the free speech of the students. Our favorite professors could have more stable livelihoods doing what they love, and the entire academic environment would flourish as a result. 

But they will need the support of students to make it possible. After all, what is Tulane if not the professors who cultivate the students’ growth? As the TWU hashtag says, “Tulane works because we do.” 

It’s time for Tulane to practice the equity it preaches, starting with their non-tenured faculty. 

Correction:  A previous version of this story contained claims attributed to an off-the-record conversation. The Hullabaloo deeply regrets these errors, and the article has since been updated to reflect these changes. 

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