Faculty Working Conditions = Student Learning Conditions

Members of the Berklee Faculty Union attended a conference on collective bargaining in higher ed. Here are some nuggets they brought back...

Your correspondent

Your correspondent

By David Scott, Councilor-at-large

On March 26, I attended the national conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Educations, sponsored by Hunter College and held at the City University of New York Graduate Center in New York City.

They need a snappy nickname, right? The acronym would be NCSCBHE, which is not exactly an improvement.

Some of the more experienced members of the Berklee Faculty Union Executive Committee had been to this conference before, and even presented. It was my first time and I didn’t know what to expect.

One session I attended was on “Interest-Based” bargaining. The traditional type of bargain is referred to as “Positional” bargaining, where each side takes a position and attempts to meet somewhere in the middle. The idea of interest-based bargaining is that each side identifies interests and then collectively tries to generate solutions that address the interests. The presenters had used this type of bargaining following a total meltdown at their institution that resulted in a strike. They emphasized that though this approach sounds like a lot of singing Kum By Yah and holding hands, it can only work if both sides are committed to it from start to finish and they hire a mediator to attend all the meetings. They also said the bargain can take a year. 

While I don’t see Berklee attempting this type of structure any time soon, my takeaway was that it is important for our side to identify interests before staking positions. An interest might be addressed through different positions. There is more than one way to skin a cat, right? Not that I foresee any cat-skinning in our future…

I also attended a workshop on the use of social media in higher education. One step I’d like to take as a result of that workshop is to form a social media task force to help shape an on-line community of our members. Are you active in social media? If you’d like to be involved in spreading the Berklee Faculty Union word, please contact me at dscott@berkleefacultyunion.org.

Hank Reichman, the VP of the American Association of University Professors, gave an inspiring talk about the corporatization of higher education. He facetiously said, “If colleges are so concerned with graduation rates, then simply have students pay their entire tuition up front and give them the degree before they ever come to class!”. He also took issue with the idea that students are the “customers” of the school. “No they’re not,” he said. “The customer is always right, but the student is always wrong — because learning requires mistakes.”

Also checked out a panel led by Adrianna Kezar, founder of the Delphi Project and author of The Professoriate Reconsidered. She is hoping to improve working conditions for part-time and non-tenure-track faculty by examining the faculty model itself. One series of questions I felt was particularly cogent was: What percent of students’ credit hours are taught by part-time faculty? How much money has been saved by shifting to PT? Where did that money go?

Another great issue she raised regarding workload: “I can only teach so many students competently!”

The workshop on Overtime and Pay Equity brought up the question of how one can count faculty hours. Between teaching, research, and service, the number of hours can vary. One guideline might be the one drawn up by the US Department of the Treasury in the formation of the Affordable Care Act. They were tasked with determining how many hours a teacher works per credit hour taught. The colleges testified that they felt each hour in the classroom meant another hour outside of it. The AFT and the NEA said that the ratio was more like two hours outside for each hour inside. The Treasury department landed on the number of 1.25 hours of outside of the classroom work for each hour spent in the class room. In other words, 1 credit hour = 2.25 hours of work.

Did you know there is an app for tracking your working hours? Might be instructive to figure out how much time you REALLY put in.

Maria Maisto of New Faculty Majority had my favorite rallying cry of the conference: “Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions!”

The highest profile presentation was by Philip Miscimarra, the acting National Labor Relations Board Chairman and Mark G. Pearce, member of the National Labor Relations Board. I am embarrassed to admit that most of what they said went whistling way above my head.

High-ranking members of the NLRB, saying words I don't understand

High-ranking members of the NLRB, saying words I don't understand

I hope to go to this conference again! It made my head spin, but in a good way. There are a lot of different schools going through collective bargaining and it is fascinating to see the wide range of issues and approaches. Also fascinating are the things we all have in common.

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