Professors head to the polls today

by Jennifer Niemela

Voting begins today in faculty union elections that will determine whether the University will become the nation’s largest unionized institution of higher learning.
University faculty members will be able to cast their ballots today and Wednesday between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
About 1,600 professors will be eligible to vote; that number includes all Twin Cities faculty members except those in the Academic Health Center and the Law School. A simple majority of 50 percent plus one of those casting ballots will decide whether the University Faculty Alliance will become the faculty collective bargaining unit.
Last fall, faculty at the Law School failed to file enough union cards to join the collective bargaining push, and the AHC voted not to join any potential union.
Faculty will vote at various polling locations around the Twin Cities campus. Where they vote is determined by their departments, and polling locations correspond loosely to the location of each department. For example, departments located on the St. Paul campus will vote at McNeal Hall.
The ballot contains only one question: Do you want the University Faculty Alliance as your exclusive representative for the purpose of collective bargaining with the employer regarding terms and conditions of employment? Professors are asked to mark “yes” or “no” on their ballots.
The votes will be tallied Wednesday and the American Association of University Professors will hold a press conference that evening to announce the results.
The union drive is being jointly spearheaded by the UFA and the AAUP. Although the alliance is the only group on the ballot, the AAUP hopes to become the bargaining agent for faculty members if they vote to unionize. To accomplish this, the faculty alliance would have to transfer its exclusive bargaining status to the AAUP, a process that could take more than a year and would require a vote of the union membership.
Whether or not they eventually become the representatives of a unionized faculty, the AAUP promises to remain a presence on campus.
“Win or lose, the AAUP presence will still be strong on campus,” said association president and geography professor V. Rama Murthy. “The faculty will go back to teaching, but their antennae will be up to mobilize quickly (if tenure is again threatened).”
The union drive began last year in response to attempts to change the current tenure system. Tenure, a guarantee of academic employment, has been threatened in past years by tighter budgets and legislative demands to change a system in which faculty can’t ordinarily be fired.
The Board of Regents proposed tenure reform in September that called for layoffs in event of program termination or fiscal stringency. Many professors were alarmed by the perceived threat to the academic freedom, and the nascent union drive gathered enough support to force elections.
After the union drive failed at the Law School and professors voted down unions in Morris, Crookston and the AHC in November, the board passed the compromise Sullivan II tenure codes for those faculty. Sullivan II included portions of earlier faculty tenure suggestions without the more radical layoff powers of the regents’ September proposal.
The AAUP has shifted to salary issues in recent weeks in its campaign for a union. Union advocates cite statistics that place Minnesota at the bottom of the top 30 research institutions in faculty pay. The AAUP supports merit pay increases and automatic cost-of-living raises.
This is the third University union vote in 20 years. The first two, in 1978 and 1981, failed.