Non-tenure-track faculty members at the University of Chicago voted 96 to 22 to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Wednesday. More than 10,000 faculty members at dozens of colleges and universities have voted to form SEIU-affiliated unions in the past three years, and the Chicago union is one of several to include full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members, in addition to part-time faculty members.
A university spokesman said the university would begin collective bargaining proceedings with the new unit. Eric D. Isaacs, provost at Chicago, said in a statement, “I greatly value the contributions of every member of our community to our shared mission of intellectual engagement, teaching and research, and I thank you for your dedication to our students and to the University of Chicago community.”
A growing number of institutions are seeking to require background checks for employees, but a policy for the California State University System has the faculty asking to put it on hold, according to the Los Angeles Times. The policy for all new hires took effect in August and requires criminal records checks as well as verification of past employment, education and references. Credit checks also could be part of the deal for some candidates. While current employees are generally exempt from the new policy, some who change jobs within the system could be subjected to it, along with student workers and consultants.
In a resolution last month, the systemwide Academic Senate asked Chancellor Timothy P. White to suspend the new policy and establish a task force to examine how background checks are to be used in hiring decisions across the 23 campuses. In light of faculty concerns about privacy and fears that the policy could drive away qualified candidates, administrators have said they'll monitor how the policy is working. But they haven't suspended it. They're also pointing out that the policy already has uncovered one faculty applicant’s past conviction of a lewd conduct involving a minor.
Lori Lamb, vice chancellor for human resources, told the Times, "This is exactly the reason we have this policy. … I would hate to be in my job and have something negative happen to a student or visitor and then learn a person had a conviction for that.” Lamb said the policy was developed over a two-year period with the input of the faculty union, but that they the Academic Senate is invited to participate in the monitoring process. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania court blocked the State System of Higher Education's attempts to begin background checks for all employees as a policy that must go through collective bargaining with the faculty union, pending review by a state labor board. (Note: This story has been corrected from a previous version to note that the background check policy was not put on hold, despite the Academic Senate's request.)
Bluffton University, a Mennonite institution in Ohio, has become the latest Christian college to announce that it will hire gay and lesbian people. The university recently amended its antibias rules to state that they apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Bluffton characterizes this as a clarification, not a change in policy. In a related move, Bluffton announced that it would end its membership in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.
In September, two other Mennonite colleges -- Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College -- left the CCCU several months after they changed policies to permit the hiring of some gay and lesbian people. Some CCCU members had said that they would not remain in the organization if other members recognized same-sex marriages and hired gay people. The CCCU said it was forming a task force to consider how to handle future situations related to these issues, and that members moving to allow the hiring of gay faculty members would have their status reviewed by the task force. A spokesperson for Bluffton said that the university did not want to have its status reviewed or altered in this way, and so opted to leave. The decision was voluntary, the Bluffton official said.
The CCCU issued this statement: "The CCCU and Bluffton have been in collegial conversations during the fall. The CCCU is a voluntary association. Bluffton knew that clarifications in their nondiscrimination statement would result in a change of membership status while the CCCU task force on membership finished their work. Bluffton preferred not to accept a change of membership status in the interim and so withdrew. We wish Bluffton the best as they offer their excellent educational opportunities to the world."
Jesuit colleges and universities are increasingly reliant on part-time faculty members who earn relatively low pay for a growing workload, and even tenured faculty members at such institutions feel overworked and undervalued, according to a new report from Faculty Forward Network, a partner organization with and supported by Service Employees International Union. The report comes ahead of protests over faculty working conditions on numerous Jesuit college and university campuses, planned for Dec. 10. Findings include that the percentage of Jesuit institution faculty members working as adjuncts has grown from 47 percent to 57 percent over 10 years, outpacing the rate of part-time faculty growth on four-year campuses generally. Some 15 percent of non-tenure-track faculty respondents to the Faculty Forward Network survey on which the study is based said they’ve earned so little while working at a Jesuit institution that they’ve received public assistance of some kind. And 44 percent of respondents said their workload had increased over the past five years -- in many cases due to increased administrative responsibilities; some 58 percent of tenured faculty members are so overloaded with work that they worry they cannot sufficiently support students.
Over all, one in three faculty members at Jesuit institutions do not feel supported or valued by their college or university, according to the report. The Faculty Forward Network obtained 353 responses to its survey from Jesuit institution professors over the summer, representing 89 percent of all Jesuit institutions. Some 40 percent of respondents were tenured or tenure track. SEIU is seeking to organize adjunct faculty unions on a number of Catholic college and university campuses, some of which have fought that union’s and others’ efforts in light of legal precedents against collective bargaining at religiously affiliated institutions. The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities has stayed neutral on the issue of adjunct unions on its member campuses, and Paula Moore, a spokeswoman for the organization, said it had no immediate comment on the report.
English professors at the University of Akron are complaining to senior administrators about why one of their colleagues, found by the university to have engaged in multiple forms of inappropriate conduct with students, is still allowed to teach, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. The university has found that William Thelin, after drinking with students, took a female student home, where she alleged he tried to kiss her. Further, the university found that he took students to a bar and, while in class, encouraged students to drink. A report by the university was particularly critical of Thelin for taking a student to his home after they were together drinking at a bar. “Dr. Thelin made a choice to not only endanger his own life, by driving after consuming several alcoholic beverages … but he put the student’s life in danger,” said a university's investigator's report. “Parents trust the University of Akron administrators to protect their children while they are away at college.”
Thelin, in a statement to the newspaper, said, “While I acknowledge and regret one isolated instance of poor judgment on my part, the report also includes distortions, hearsay, exaggerations, innuendo and out-and-out fabrications …. Therefore, I dispute the conclusions drawn by EEO. I wish, though, to put this incident behind me and move forward in a positive direction. I have done all that was asked of me and more in response to recommendations made in light of the judgment against me and feel I have learned.”
A university spokesperson told the newspaper that Akron followed the recommendations of its investigators in the case, and that Thelin was required to meet with administrators, and to retake sexual harassment training.
Over faculty opposition, the board of Western Carolina University on Friday approved the creation of a new academic center on free enterprise, The News & Observerreported. Faculty leaders have opposed the center because of questions about its independence after funding that is expected from the Charles Koch Foundation, part of the philanthropic world of the Koch brothers. Professors have also noted that the University of North Carolina System has been weeding out academic centers that focus on such issues as poverty, raising questions about why now is a good time to start a center focused on ideas supported by conservatives. University officials have pledged that the center will be independent.