Then And Now:  A Compendium of Berklee Faculty Union Achievements

by Mike Scott

August 8, 2015


The opportunity to radically change an institution seldom arises. 

Seizing that opportunity and actually implementing those changes is even more rare. 

In 1986, against monumental odds, the faculty at Berklee College of Music accomplished that very feat.

On Monday, April 22, 1986, then college president, Lee Berk, and I signed the first Berklee Faculty Union Contract Agreement, ending a 14-day strike.  A strike brought about by a full year of fruitless negotiations. During the two weeks of the strike 150 faculty members (96% of the total faculty) sacrificed their pay and put their jobs on the line. 

Often joined by hundreds of students, they hit the bricks during the damp, chilly early spring days, demanding improved wages, hours and working conditions.

In the nearly thirty years since, here is what those determined men and women, with a little help from their students, achieved:


THEN:  Average full-time salary, $16,000; average hourly rate, $7.50

NOW:  Average full-time salary, $81,000; average hourly rate $80.00.


THEN:  Full-time faculty taught thirty contact hours in the fall semester, thirty more in the spring and an additional twenty during the 12-week summer session.  That’s right, 80 required teaching hours over 12 months with no additional compensation for the summer term.

NOW:  Full-time faculty teach fourteen to eighteen contact hours in the fall semester, the same in the spring and summer teaching is no longer required.  This represents a nearly 60% reduction in teaching load.  And now, should faculty members choose to teach the summer session, they receive additional compensation.


THEN:  One-year contracts for all faculty; whimsical non-reappointment and dismissal standards; no procedure for airing grievances.

NOW:  Three-to-five-year contracts for all full-time faculty; “just cause” (the best possible) standard for non reappointment of full-time faculty and many part-time faculty and “just cause” standard for dismissal for all faculty; established grievance procedure with rights to impartial third party arbitration.


THEN:  Teaching schedules/courses taught not made available until the first day of classes each semester (imagine the chaos that created).  Academic Year schedule not posted at all.

NOW:  Teaching schedules/courses taught made available 3 – 6 months in advance of each semester.  Academic Year schedule posted at least 1 year in advance.


THEN:  Full-time faculty expected to retire at 60% salary, including social security benefit.

NOW:  Full-time faculty expected to retire at 85% to 90% salary (or more), including social security.


THEN:  No ranks; no promotion process.

NOW:  Traditional academic ranks; established promotion process.


THEN:  No opportunity to address individual compensation concerns.

NOW:  All faculty may attempt to renegotiate compensation once every three years.


THEN:  Part-time faculty not paid for department meetings or office hours.

NOW:  Part-time faculty paid for department meetings and office hours.


THEN:  No health, dental, disability or life insurance benefits for part-time faculty.

NOW:  90% of part-time faculty qualify for health, disability, dental and life insurance benefits.


THEN:  No retirement plan for part-time faculty.

NOW:  403b employer co-contribution plan for part-time faculty.


THEN:  As needed contracts with no guaranteed hours for part-time faculty.

NOW:  Three-year contracts with guaranteed hours for qualifying part-time faculty.


THEN:  No paid parental leave for anyone.

NOW:  Paid parental leave for all faculty.


The list goes on—tuition reimbursement, tuition reduction, recording grants, education grants, paid leaves, scheduling considerations, equity adjustments—all available now; all unheard of in 1986.  Interesting what time and a strong union can do.

The overall impact of these improvements for faculty both then and now has been unarguably positive.  Their rights and responsibilities are clearly set forth in the Faculty Contract Agreement, their jobs are secure and teaching at Berklee can rightly be thought of as a long-term career option, something that was not possible before the1986 strike.  Going forward, these vastly improved working conditions should make it even easier for college to attract the kind of creative, talented faculty it always has.  

Since 1986 Berklee’s administration has changed considerably, yet many faculty issues still need addressing—full-time faculty classroom teaching load, a fair and equitable process for part-time faculty to achieve promotion to full-time status, compensation at the rank of professor.  Correcting these and other inequities will not be easy.  It will take time.  But if the gifted and diligent teachers at Berklee College of Music continue to stand together and support their faculty union, time will always be on their side.

Mike Scott served as president of the Berklee Faculty Union from its recognition by the National Labor Relations Board in 1985 until his retirement from the position in 2011.  He continues to teach at Berklee in the harmony department.  He may be contacted at