How Managerial are Faculty?

By Gwendolyn Bradley

The AAUP submitted an amicus brief to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in March, urging the board to consider the full context when determining whether faculty at private colleges are managerial. The brief describes the significant changes in university hierarchical and decision-making models since the US Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that faculty at Yeshiva University were managerial employees and thus ineligible to unionize. That ruling has seriously hampered the ability of private-college faculties to engage in collective bargaining. 

The AAUP brief explained that during the three decades since NLRB v. Yeshiva University, the context in universities has changed in fundamental ways. Administrators have become more top-down in managing the university, which undermines faculty control over academic matters. A pattern has emerged of university administrators making unilateral decisions, without the approval of faculty governance bodies, on matters central to academic work. These changes in the distribution and exercise of authority in the university reveal a changed relationship between the administration and the faculty, one in which their interests are not aligned. 

The AAUP brief urges the NLRB to consider, when determining the managerial status of faculty, factors such as the extent of university administration hierarchy, the extent to which the administration makes academic decisions based on market considerations, the degree of consultation by the administration with faculty governance bodies, whether the administration treats faculty recommendations as advisory rather than as effective recommendations, whether the administration routinely approves nearly all faculty recommendations without independent administrative review, and whether conflict between the administration and the faculty reflects a lack of alignment of administration and faculty interests. 

The brief was submitted in a case involving an attempt by fulltime non-tenure-track instructors at Pacific Lutheran University to unionize. Pacific Lutheran has cited the Yeshiva ruling to try to block the unionization and is asking the NLRB to overturn a regional director’s ruling that the faculty members in question do not have enough managerial authority to be precluded from unionizing under Yeshiva.