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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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Union election date set as faculty demands recognition

Tulane+Workers+United+gathered+at+Gibson+on+Tuesday+morning+in+an+attempt+to+speak+with+President+Mike+Fitts.+
Lindsay Ruhl
Tulane Workers United gathered at Gibson on Tuesday morning in an attempt to speak with President Mike Fitts.

Since Tulane Workers United, a group of non-tenure track faculty at Tulane University, filed for union recognition with the National Labor Relations Board union recognition this month, professors of practice have expressed concerns with clarity, compensation and treatment.

Tulane Workers United says a majority of contingent faculty support unionization. The group sent a letter to the university asking for voluntary recognition on April 2. Tulane did not respond to the request, according to a press release announcing the filing.

But the group said this week Tulane has accepted a “stipulation agreement,” and a mail-in election will begin May 8. 

The election will allow negotiations to begin if the majority votes for a union.

“Tulane could have recognized our union; we have an overwhelming majority of contingent faculty who want a union, that we’ve proved,” said Casey Beck, professor of practice for digital media practices. “When they chose not to, and chose to send it to the labor board, they began their legal right to delay the election. We’re hoping to have as expeditious an election as possible.”

Talks about a union have been going on for almost a year, according to Beck. 

“You start talking to your colleagues about their experiences and when you find commonalities in those experiences and you feel a union could help with that experience, that’s when it starts to gain momentum,” Beck said.

Faculty gathers outside Gibson

On Tuesday morning, faculty gathered outside Gibson Hall in orange Workers United shirts to show solidarity with the union.

“We were gathering to peacefully see if we could speak to President Fitts regarding moving forward with holding an election for our unionization efforts,” visiting assistant English professor Patrick Butler said. “There have been delays that were concerning to us. We feel adamantly it’s in the best interest of Tulane to move forward with this election process to secure better stable employment conditions for contingent faculty across the university.”

When the group walked inside Gibson and knocked on the president’s door, there was no response. The group then walked down to Provost Robin Forman’s office when Tulane University Police Department officers arrived and made faculty present their Splash Card IDs.

“If a group of faculty members showing up wanting to speak to administrators comes with locked doors and armed police presence, that does speak to the way that Tulane as an administration might respond to any organizing voice on campus,” Butler said. “That worries me for an institution that wishes to promote ideals of free discourse, academic freedom and intellectual curiosity.”

University responds

In an email sent to faculty on Wednesday, Forman said the university respects the faculty members rights to vote and wants to inform all faculty of the ongoing process. 

“We are committed to operating in good faith and following all the rules and regulations established by the NLRB,” he said.

“We support and respect the rights of our teaching-focused faculty to cast their confidential ballot on whether they want representation by a union, and we are committed to following all rules and regulations related to their right to choose,” Tulane spokesperson Mike Strecker said in a statement. 

“We deeply appreciate and value the contributions of our faculty. Their voices and the unique perspectives of our teaching faculty are paramount to Tulane’s campus community, mission and shaping a mutually beneficial future.”

Compensation 

Faculty unions are not unique to Tulane. Unions in higher education have been on the rise recently in universities across the country, and compensation is often a primary concern. 

In November, adjunct film professors at the University of Southern California formed a union. In 2022, 350 faculty members at Howard University unionized and planned to strike

“If we’re struggling with the basic cost of life,” Amy George, senior professor of practice in Spanish and Portuguese said, “if I’m having to think about whether or not I can buy groceries the last week of the month, I might not be thinking about the feedback I can give [students] on [their] projects.”

According to Tulane’s faculty hiring process, “successful candidates should have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in a relevant field as well as a record of excellence in teaching and scholarship.” 

“If you want to hire a [professor of practice] for SSE, they’re going to expect you have a Ph.D. They’re going to want you to have publications, a teaching record,” said James Cronin, senior professor of practice in the School of Science and Engineering. “You can make more money at Home Depot. So is the teaching mission what the administration values?”

Some faculty members noted a lack of pay increases over decades.

Cronin said compensation for teaching an extra class was $5,000 in the early 2000s and has not changed since.  

“It would be interesting,” Cronin said, “to ask the administration if their compensation is the same today as it was in 2004.” 

Transparency, treatment

Many professors of practice have voiced issues of transparency from Tulane’s administration.

“When we talk about transparency from the university, it sounds like a big thing, right? There’s so many different ways to interpret it that would improve the quality of lives of all of the contingent faculty,” Beck said. “Transparency around the positions, around what’s expected for positions, around what we’re actually getting paid to do or not, is a big one.”

Tenured Latin American studies associate professor Justin Wolfe has taught at Tulane for 24 years. According to Wolfe, around 130 tenured and tenure-track faculty signed a letter in support of the union. Tenure and tenure-track faculty are not part of Tulane Workers United. 

“If there was greater clarity, there would be both a greater value assigned to tenured track faculty and greater value given to contingent faculty across the board,” Wolfe said. “For me, it’s a question of greater equity. That’s why I support my colleagues. This is their fight. This is their union.”

Some professors noted pay differences for the same classes among different departments.

“Transparency is a huge problem,” Cronin said. “If you teach for the medical school, the exact same class, you will get paid more than if you teach, for example, the School of Science and Engineering. Why? Literally, the exact same class, the exact same students depends on what department is sponsoring it.”

Faculty have also voiced the need for better treatment. 

“Respect comes up a lot; we really want to feel like valued members of the Tulane faculty and the greater Tulane community,” Beck said.  

“Faculty working conditions are students learning conditions, so for students to learn effectively and be able to have access to the professor’s in a way that they want, faculty have to be compensated and treated fairly and respected in the classroom environment and the campus environment,” said Katelyn Black, senior professor of practice in the School of Science and Engineering.

Next steps

The NLRB will mail ballots to all eligible voting faculty starting on May 8 and the election will go until June 5, according to Forman. 

The proposed union would include full-time instructors, lecturers, professors of practice and visiting professors, Forman said. 

Forman also said the agreement made between Tulane and Workers United organizers this week would be available for all faculty to review once it is approved by the NLRB. 

“Tulane’s motto is ‘not for oneself but for one’s own,’ so worker solidarity is entirely consistent with Tulane’s core values,” said Casius Pealer, architecture professor of practice. “It’s literally written all over the campus. I hope that this is seen as a step forward for everybody.”

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