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Faculty Removes a Union at Davenport

June 1, 2005

Six years ago, full-time professors at Davenport University found themselves in numerous disputes with administrators and voted to bring in the United Auto Workers to represent them.

This month, the UAW will leave the campus, following a unanimous vote by the professors to end collective bargaining. The 16 full-time faculty members decided that the issues that led them to want a union had "worked themselves out" and so a union was no longer needed, said Ron Draayer, an associate professor in the School of Technology who was chairman of the union's bargaining committee.

Davenport is a private, nonprofit university in Michigan with some things in common with for-profit higher education. Most faculty jobs are part-time (and non-unionized), there is no tenure, there are 20 campuses, academic programs focus on business and technology and online education is a growth area.

Draayer said that professors felt alienated from the administration when they voted to bring in the UAW six years ago. Communication was poor, he said, and faculty members didn't like the way the university was starting distance programs. Draayer said that professors who created distance courses didn't feel that they were given sufficient control over them, and he said that there were disputes over how teaching online should affect faculty workloads.

Now, he said, professors feel that the distance education rules are fair, and that the administration is generally responsive. The university is also building a new main campus, outside of Grand Rapids, and that led "us to think it was time for a fresh start," Draayer said. "The administration has made clear that they respect what we do."

Allen Wetherell, executive vice president for operations at Davenport, said that officials there made a concerted effort to win over faculty members. For example, he said that professors were involved in all decisions about the new campus, such as the design of classroom buildings and the creation of a new library. He also said that raises have been at least 3 percent in recent years.

And he said that officials decided that they needed to do a better job of reaching out to professors and so committed that the president and other senior administrators would attend any faculty meeting when they were wanted, and would answer questions promptly. "A lot of this is really about honest communication," he said. "If you listen and are honest, people will respect you even when you have to say No."

Dave Veneklase, senior vice president for human resources at Davenport, said he was "very pleased and gratified" by the faculty vote. Veneklase said that discussions between administrators and the faculty had "become a real two-way street," with both sides compromising to get things done. He said that the administration's efforts to work collaboratively with professors would continue "and should be even stronger now that there is no third party we have to talk through."

A spokesman for the UAW did not return calls.

 

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