Campus Clout, Statewide Strength: Improving Shared Governance through Unionization

By Bill Lyne

In 2002, the Washington State Legislature passed legislation allowing faculty at four-year state universities to unionize. The administration at my university, Western Washington University, took a dim view of the idea of a unionized faculty and launched an energetic, if fairly bumbling, campaign to convince faculty not to vote for the union. In one of their messages, administrators ominously suggested that by unionizing we would be moving from an academic and collegial shared governance model to a corporate and confrontational labor-management model.

This proved to be genuinely clarifying. As Faculty Senate president at the time, I knew better than anyone that the model we were operating under was governance of some sort, but it was definitely not shared. We had the usual array of committees, subcommittees, task forces, and endless meetings. We made recommendations that were routinely ignored and gave advice to deans and vice provosts who never hesitated to do whatever they wanted. All real decisions, especially those concerning budget and the deployment of resources, were made behind closed administrative doors and delivered to faculty as foregone conclusions. Faculty who found themselves subjected to arbitrary and capricious decisions by administrators only had access to a grievance process that ended at the president’s door. As senate president, I would meet with the provost every two weeks, and I usually arrived with a list of the ten ways that various deans had recently violated the faculty handbook. He would chuckle and say something along the lines of deans will be deans and that would be that.

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