UMass Dartmouth Wants to Boot Chairs From Union

June 12, 2018

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union is fighting an administrative attempt to remove department chairs from the bargaining unit. “It should not go unnoticed that by removing the 39 department chairs from the Faculty Federation, the federation is weakened and a new department chairs unit would be a very weak unit lacking significant influence,” Catharine Curran, union president and chair of management and marketing, said in a statement this week, issued in response to the university’s petition to a state labor board seeking the removal of chairs and library division heads from the faculty union.

Mohammad Karim, provost, argued to the board that chairs and library division heads are “incontestably supervisors” who do not belong in the same bargaining units with those “rank and file faculty and librarians whom they supervise” and evaluate. “Their continued inclusion in the faculty union creates virtually insuperable barriers to the university’s ability to realize its full potential as a nationally recognized doctoral research university,” he said, according to legal documents.

Karim and Robert E. Johnson, campus chancellor, said in a campus memo Monday that the university recently tried to engage chairs and library division heads in negotiations about such issues as decreased teaching load and increased stipends, in “recognition of the differences in working conditions and potential conflicts with the faculty within their department.” But the chairs did not want to form a new bargaining unit, they said. A university spokesperson said removal of chairs from the unit would bring the Dartmouth campus in line with two other UMass campuses, Boston and Amherst. The Dartmouth campus's administration has stressed that it is not seeking to strip chairs of their right to unionize outright, just their position within the general faculty union.

Curran said that the faculty union at Dartmouth is 50 years old and that chairs, who teach two courses per semester and do other faculty work, always have been part of it. The university’s move is therefore a clear “attempt to gain more control over the faculty, to limit accountability for administrative decision making and justify the existence of a cadre of very highly paid administrators.” The chairs “are some of the most influential, and often outspoken, faculty on campus,” she said. “This legal action cannot be viewed as anything other than an action to chill the faculty voice and faculty influence, and to weaken the Faculty Federation.”

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