One Faculty, Organizing for a Stronger Voice

Working for the power of many.
By Jamie Owen Daniel

Fall Semester, 2014: Faculty voices on our campuses are publicly and vigorously under attack. Among other aggressive new strategies, administrators across the country have introduced policies intended to limit freedom of speech on campus in the name of “civility.” These policies are intended to threaten faculty and students, directly and indirectly. They are aimed at those who express views that are politically charged, or that are contrary to the opinions of legislators or powerful private funders, people whose influence on our campuses has once again begun to dominate.

At the same time, faculty governance rights as traditionally understood, whether as meaningful participation in decision making through faculty senates or an academic department’s primary responsibility for filling faculty positions—are under fire. The faculty is declining in influence and administrators now seem more likely to turn to funders than to faculty when decisions must be made.

None of this is new. It is simply made more powerful daily as we continue to deal with the impact of shrinking public resources, administrators’ random introduction of “creative disruption” agendas, the increasing possibility that state legislators will push for more right-to-work legislation, and all of the other pernicious practices that have been referred to in these pages and elsewhere as the corporatization of higher education. 

Only aggressive and unified faculties organized to speak together will provide an effective counter to this trend.

It has become increasingly difficult for the faculty voice to be heard. In the face of all these destructive trends, it sometimes seems impossible. It certainly might seem today that faculty no longer have effective ways to counter the growing forces aligned against the traditions of American higher education.

We at the AAUP do not believe that. We believe in the faculty and in its strength. We have seen the power that can be exercised when faculty speak. Today, we push for all faculty to speak with one voice, across constituencies, and with a common interest in improving the working conditions and protecting the rights to academic freedom and involvement in shared governance of all faculty, not only those on the tenure track. To help our members organize to make this a reality, we have developed the One Faculty campaign, about which more can be found on our website at

We’ve all seen the statistics that have been so much in the news recently. They confirm what anyone teaching in the United States during the last twenty or so years has already realized. Faculties are no longer dominated by tenured and tenure-track professors; indeed, as the AAUP has documented, fewer than half of the faculty at any kind of institution, from research university to community college, are in tenured or tenure-track appointments. A full 76 percent of faculty jobs are full- or part-time nontenure-track positions. The voices of the faculty working in these positions are, obviously, as important to education today as the voices of their tenured peers.

Increasingly, funding that once might have gone to hiring full-time tenure-track faculty is being used to hire several non-tenure-track full timers, or numerous adjuncts who are kept in part-time positions whether they prefer that or not. And administrators have done a fine job of keeping these categories of employment separate and unequal, regardless of the qualifications of those hired into them. This balkanization serves to keep faculty constituencies out of balance and at odds, serving the needs of administrators who would rather see faculty fighting among themselves than struggling against new administrative power grabs.

In this way, administrations have too often been able to take advantage of what, in an earlier article for Academe on faculty support for graduate student organizing (“Learning from Wisconsin,” July–August 2011), I referred to as “status anxiety.”

As I wrote then, tenure-track faculty do themselves no favors by hanging onto the “structures of hierarchization and stratification that too often prevent faculty members from understanding themselves as part of a departmental community or a campus community—let alone a broader community.” This investment in hierarchy has too often encouraged faculty to self-isolate by rank and to invent rationalizations for the divisions among those whose work is often similar and interdependent. 

Now as then, the administration is the only constituency that benefits when we faculty see each other in terms of these increasingly arbitrary divisions, instead of as faculty, pure and simple. Tenured and tenure-track faculty who still see their non-tenure-track colleagues as “supplements” to, rather than part of, their departments, or who view these colleagues as academic service labor, doing the faculty’s work but not included as faculty, do so at their own peril.

One Faculty, One Voice (And Why to Organize it)

Faculty members, no matter their job title, sometimes think they can’t exercise a meaningful voice on campus unless they do so through a contract. This, the AAUP discovered generations ago, is definitely not the case. The collective bargaining agreement is the evidence of a group of colleagues’ insistence on exercising their collective voice and having a say in determining and ensuring their rights on the job. As anyone who has organized a collective bargaining unit and a first contract with the administration can confirm, a contract is the result, not the cause, of an engaged faculty voice on campus.

And it should be noted that having a collective bargaining agreement does not necessarily mean that those covered by it are automatically going to be represented by a strong union organization. Only continued involvement and engagement by those the contract covers can keep its language strong and ensure that that language will be implemented. Furthermore, only a contract that includes language applying to as many faculty constituencies as possible (or parallel contracts that do so) will prevent any one constituency’s voice from being ignored.

Again, it’s not the collective-bargaining agreement as such that gives people an effective voice where they work. It’s the concerted and continuing effort and the unity, the engagement, and the solidarity of the folks behind the contract that make it a strong document and guarantor of rights on the job.

Given that we live in a country governed, in part, by a patchwork of federal and state laws, faculty across the nation have different rights and options in terms of organizing. However, the fact that one group of faculty does not or, because of local legislation or the current state of private sector labor law, cannot have a collective bargaining agreement does not mean that they cannot come together on their campus to exercise a unified and effective collective voice.

Whether organizing for a first contract, supporting an already existing one, or organizing the collective voice into a strong and vibrant advocacy chapter, that collective voice isn’t really collective if it doesn’t include everyone doing faculty work, regardless of how the administration may choose to categorize them.

Jamie Owen Daniel is organizing director at the AAUP. Before joining the AAUP staff in June 2014, Daniel taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago and worked as an organizer and contract negotiator for a local union representing seven public university campuses in Illinois.