University of Minnesota to appeal state faculty union ruling

Advocates of the union called the move “obstructive.”

by Eliana Schreiber

The University of Minnesota will appeal a state decision from last month that grouped tenure code and non-tenure track faculty together in a potential faculty union at the school.

On Monday, the school announced it would challenge a Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The contested ruling — part of the University’s long-running legal battle with union organizers — included some faculty positions, such as teaching specialists and lecturers, in a union vote.

In an email to faculty, Patti Dion, director of employee and labor relations in the Office of Human Resources, said faculty said the University disagrees with the BMS decision to place faculty members like lecturers and teaching specialists members in the school’s instructional unit — Unit 11 — with tenure code faculty.

“The Bureau’s recent decision diminishes tenure, overlooks our dedication to research, and undervalues service,” she said in an email to University employees.

An emailed statement from Douglas Peterson in the University’s Office of the General Counsel said the University’s lecturers and teaching specialists have a “distinctly different” focus than faculty covered by the tenure code.

“It is important for Minnesota’s judiciary to address that difference before a union vote is taken,” he said in the statement.

Minnesota Academics United, the group organizing the faculty union push, called the move by the University an “obstructive court action,” in an emailed statement.

Dion’s email said the University recognizes the value in contingent faculty, but the state’s decision undervalues the service of tenure-track faculty.

“I really appreciate, quite deeply, what Patty Dion said in her email that she recognizes the contributions that non-tenured track faculty make,” said University Spanish and Portuguese senior teaching specialist Mary Pogatshnik. “I also appreciate that she said we contribute in different ways than tenure-track faculty do.”

Pogatashnik said coningent faculty want to keep their classification with customized contracts.

“Just because we’re in a union does not mean we’re going to have one contract imposed on us,” she said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do.” 

Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the faculty member classifications. Faculty members like teaching specialists and lecturers are currently in Unit 11, while faculty covered by the tenure code are in unit 8.