The University of Northern Iowa United Faculty, an AAUP collective bargaining chapter, was certified in 1976 as the faculty union at UNI, a comprehensive public university in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Enrollment at UNI is about thirteen thousand; the bargaining unit consists of approximately seven hundred part- and full-time faculty members.
Here, chapter president Cathy DeSoto shares her chapter’s strategies for effectively representing its members.
What is your chapter’s proudest accomplishment?
Winning in arbitration this past spring. After two contracts in which faculty first received raises that failed to keep up with inflation and then took an actual pay cut, several of us determined to try a new approach. We went to the AAUP Summer Institute, where we took workshops on university finances and bargaining training. Over the course of a year, we easily spent a thousand hours learning about the law, our contract, and university finances. The decision to reject the administration’s “best offer” and go to arbitration was a gamble, but we knew that class sizes and enrollment had increased while faculty numbers and salaries had decreased. At the same time, there was money for expensive ad campaigns, athletics, and large deferred-compensation bonuses for upper administrators. We thought the chances were good that a third party who looked at the facts would agree with us, and we were right. We stood our ground and we won—our raise will be 3.5 percent for each of the next two years.
How does your chapter maintain its effectiveness and momentum?
Winning the arbitration was the most visible thing we have done, but we have also made many other changes to strengthen the chapter. We hired new legal counsel and updated our bylaws. We changed the dues structure to make dues a percentage of salary, which makes joining more affordable for new faculty. We had an external audit done, made some changes in our record keeping, and adopted a budget that has allowed us to go to arbitration without dipping into reserves. We conducted systematic online surveys that guide bargaining positions and priorities.
Our communications committee has worked really hard, and this has paid off. Many faculty have commented on our clear informational letters, surveys, revamped newsletter, and web page.
We worked with the administration to resolve long-standing issues about the safety of a building that houses faculty offices. Lead paint was remediated, crumbling asbestos floor tiles were properly dealt with, and the water in all fountains was tested and the results released to faculty. This was a time when both the administration and the faculty were pleased with the outcome.
We have built new relationships with other organized labor in the state.
What is your strategy for recruiting new chapter members and leaders?
We have made membership a priority, and just over a year into my term as president, our chapter has increased membership by 20 percent. We had a great letter-writing campaign and improved communications, and our newly active membership committee hosted a party that got a dozen new members together. I have found that office visits, which I thought I would not like making, are really a highlight of being president. I enjoy seeing what books are in people’s offices, learning about their scholarship, and talking about faculty governance. In a nutshell, make the union visibly effective, and then ask people to join to do their part. It is the personal contact and being asked to join by a colleague that does it.
What is the biggest concern of faculty at your institution right now?
Our administration does not appear to respect shared governance in the way that it has traditionally. This is typified by an administrative decision to use student opinions of teaching efficacy as a primary determinant of salary and tenurability. Although our contract states that most tenured faculty are to be evaluated by students every third year, the administration decided that a clause in the contract allows it to require all faculty to be assessed in every class every year. The student assessments are reduced to a single number, without accounting for class type, size, rigor or grade distribution, or any other relevant factors. Recently, we successfully grieved an administrative rejection of tenure, for a female professor in a male-dominated profession, that was apparently based solely on the student evaluations. The rejection came despite the strong endorsement of colleagues who had visited her class, reviewed her teaching, and knew her to be an accomplished scholar and committed teacher with high standards.
What is the biggest challenge facing higher education now?
Threats to academic freedom, broadly defined.
What is the best event the chapter ever hosted?
Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress, came to campus to educate faculty, the public, and the media about the realities of university finances. We worked with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents some campus workers, and the AFSCME state president also spoke. This is what unions ought to be doing: sharing resources and working together to make sure that people who are most fundamental to the core mission of an institution are not ignored by those up the ladder.
What is the worst idea the administration or trustees had in recent years?
Launching an expensive new public-relations campaign while raising student tuition and cutting faculty salaries. Although the administration claimed that the university was in a “financial emergency,” it somehow had the money to pay an external advertising firm, spend $400,000 on television ads, and buy new electronic and print ads.
What is the best thing done by the administration or trustees in recent years?
The administration recently fought hard to keep funding for faculty development semester leaves because it understands that faculty are more than teachers, and it understands that this type of faculty development is an investment that more than pays for itself. The administration used its excellent press control and media connections to get this message out, and the program was not cut.
What advice would you pass on to other chapters?
The facts do not always win, but they sure help. If you are disputing the administration party line, take the time to do your homework and document your assertions. Give your message in detail, but also have a main message that is repeated. Go to the AAUP Summer Institute. You can meet great people who are also out there fighting for higher education. Reach out to the AAUP and let the Association help you help all of us.
What projects would you like to undertake if you had more funds?
We need to challenge the administration’s attempts to undermine our contract. This is so important, but unfortunately, taking violations to an arbitrator requires money. Although it should not work this way, we can never match the funding resources of the university. Despite its claims of financial crisis, the university administration has plenty of money for legal fees.
What other elected faculty bodies exist on campus—for example, a faculty senate or faculty council—and how does the chapter work with them or how does the chapter’s work differ?
The faculty senate is the central body of faculty governance. It is especially important in curricular issues and issues that are not appropriate for bargaining but in which faculty still need and want a voice. However, only the master agreement negotiated with UF-AAUP is legally binding. Both bodies want to see higher education work: we want college classes where real learning takes place, we want the faculty able to engage in scholarship for the betterment of society. These are the university’s raisons d’être.
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