AUD has long covered the struggle for rights among non-tenure track university faculty. In fact, on the next page, you will see coverage of the struggles of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation at the University of Oregon, who recently went on strike to protest what they saw as unfair concessions in their contract.
Last month, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued an important ruling for the rights of non-tenure track university professors. The NLRB rejected the claims made by Pacific Lutheran University, which argued that these full-time faculty members were managerial and therefore ineligible for unionization and collective bargaining.
The 1980 NLRB v. Yeshiva University Supreme Court ruling concluded that full-time university faculty have duties that meet the definition of managerial, even if they are not explicitly defined as managerial. These duties include setting grading policies, scheduling classes, establishing pay scales and deciding who is awarded tenure, promotions, and sabbaticals.
The employees at Pacific Lutheran University, however, are adjunct professors and are not tenure track. While the school claimed that they were covered by the guidelines set out in the Yeshiva ruling, and the NLRB has noted that there are significant disputes in how to determine whether or not a faculty member meets the criteria of “managerial” when they may meet some of the criteria but not others. Also worth noting is that the Yeshiva decision is now 35 years old and the composition of colleges in universities has shifted drastically in that time. Not only are many universities run by professional administrators, rather than tenured faculty, but the use of non-tenure track faculty has increased notably in the intervening years. Both of these shifts have had the effect of centering authority away from faculty and putting it in the hands of non-faculty administrators.
Based on the NLRB’s evaluation of the current university structure, managerial authority should be determined by control of: academic programs, enrollment policies, finances, academic policies, and personnel policies and decisions, with a greater weight being given to the first three. This is significant; faculty are far more likely to now have control over academic policies than admissions or personnel policies.
William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions said in an email to InsideHigherEd that the new framework set forth in the Pacific Lutheran ruling is grounds for a reexamination of any faculty deemed “managerial” under Yeshiva. SEIU, which is seeking to organize the Pacific Lutheran faculty, praised the NLRB ruling, while Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, criticized the decision, stating that there is no need for the Yeshiva decision to be revisited.
Pacific Lutheran’s second claim was to argue that, as a religiously affiliated university, collective bargaining could infringe on their First Amendment rights. Faculty leaders involved in the organizing effort, however, have emphasized that their focus is on pay, benefits, and job security, none of which are related to the religious nature of their employer. These leaders also noted that the faculty involved in the organizing effort primarily teach nonreligious subjects, such as mathematics and composition. The NLRB appeared to agree with this assertion, stating that “faculty members who are not expected to perform a specific role in creating or maintaining the school’s religious educational environment are indistinguishable from faculty at colleges and universities which do not identify themselves as religious institutions.”
This type of NLRB ruling points to a hopeful future for adjunct and other non-tenure track university faculty in having the ability to unionize and bargain collectively for better working situations and security.