Higher education unions – representing incumbent faculty and auxiliaries, graduate students and other employees – gathered last week for the first Higher Education Work Summit: Building a movement to transform American higher education.
And on Friday evening, those in attendance released a platform for consideration by the individual unions represented at the conference. Over 75 locals attended the meeting, representing over 300,000 people in academia. Those present support the document, union leaders said.
“We envision higher education institutions that prioritize people and the common good over profit and prestige,” says the platform’s introduction. “We envision institutions that correct systemic oppression and seek equity based on race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, indigeneity, age, (disability) and immigration status for students and workers in higher education in all job categories. honor the right of all workers to organize a union and to bargain collectively.
Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, the nation’s largest higher education union, representing faculty and professional staff in the State University of New York system, acknowledged that the struggle for the plate -form calls would be difficult. But he said it “is vitally important that we create the means” to be successful.
He said if the unions only focus on internal issues or marginal changes, they will fail. Unions need “a bigger reach,” he said.
The tone of the press conference, which immediately followed the closing session of the meeting, was to achieve the stated objectives. There was no mention of politically partisan obstacles such as Republicans in the US Senate or the control of many state legislatures, which traditionally oppose unions and have been more willing to limit funding for higher education. over the past decades.
The platform addresses some of these challenges.
“For decades, our state systems and their institutions, working conditions and learning environments have been compromised by public disinvestment, financialization, corporatization and a transition to debt financing,” the platform says. “Higher education has been underfunded.”
“The majority of professors (at least 70 percent) occupy auxiliary or contingent positions. Their precariousness poses a threat to job stability, educational engagement with students, students’ long-term outcomes and academic freedom.
The platform calls for four “commitments” to address these issues:
- Federal intervention. Specifically, “the right to quality, debt-free, universally accessible and safe higher education for students, workers and communities, with intentional mandates to increase access and retention for those historically or currently excluded” . In addition, a federal law “guarantees the right of all workers in higher education to organize in trade unions and to bargain collectively in each state”.
- A national campaign to “realign our campuses”. Some of the actions requested are “shared and collaborative governance” for higher education; “align[ing] campus and state budgets with educational priorities “and” reduce[ing] the average ratio of senior administrator compensation to faculty and staff compensation to an equitable standard.[ing] immediate working conditions for all faculty and casual staff through employment standards that include job security, pay equity, health care and pension benefits.
- A national campaign to be organized for the first two engagements. Key elements of the campaign include support for the College for All Act, a bill that would make most public colleges and universities tuition-free and reduce student debt, and “organiz[ing] obtain federal legislation to tie labor provisions to existing federal funding mechanisms (e.g. National Endowment for the Humanities, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Pell Grants, etc.) and collectively negotiate sincerity.
- Unit. “We are committed to working and building solidarity together to fight in our communities and across the country and its territories as a true coordinated higher education trade union movement to transform our systems and our lives.”