Last Tuesday, 64 percent of the University’s non-tenure-track faculty voted by for union representation in the Lecturers Employees Organization. As a union, this group of faculty members, including lecturers, adjunct faculty and visiting faculty on the University’s three campuses, has new leverage in negotiating with the University.
Previously, the working conditions of lecturers have been shaky at best – job security, pay and poor healthcare were at the forefront of lecturers’ concerns. Individually, lecturers could often be overlooked or dismissed. But unionized, the protection of their livelihood as well as their financial and physical well-being can be strongly voiced and reinforced by their numbers.
LEO’s formation can have immense positive effects on undergraduates’ education as well. If paid fairly, lecturers will no longer have to work part-time at multiple universities to make a living, as some are currently forced to do. As a result, they will be able to pay more attention to and spend more time on the education of their students at the University.
The University should pay special attention to the formation of LEO. If the University does not comply with the group’s needs, it is a direct threat to the education of University students. In recent years, full-time professors have been steadily replaced with part-time lecturers. Considering this ever-increasing dependency on lecturers, their satisfaction with the University is key to the quality of education that students receive.
As recent experiences with the Graduates Employees Organization that took place in the winter of 2002 show, when unionized educators’ needs are not met, they have the power to University activity. With LEO’s new power, the University can choose between fair pay and benefits or sacrificing its main objective, educating.
But due to recent budgetary setbacks, the new advancements for lecturers may provoke the University into cutting corners concerning these non-tenured staff. As a way of cutting costs, the University might attempt to implement a hiring freeze or eliminate non-tenure positions. Putting a halt on the hiring of new lecturers would jeopardize the quality of a University education. As lecturers move up the hierarchy of academia, the number of University lecturers is bound to decrease. Were this to happen, class sizes would increase while students’ opportunities for direct interaction with their instructors would decrease. Already, many departments do not offer enough sections for all of the students who want to take certain classes. Reducing the number of lecturers will only exacerbate this problem.
Though the unionization of LEO will likely translate into more expenses for the University, this is no time for the University to be skimpy. The Ann Arbor News reported on Thursday that in the face of the state-imposed financial crisis, the University will likely admit more students in order to create more tuition revenue. This projected combination of fewer instructors and a larger student body bodes poorly for the individual student’s education.
LEO should be applauded for the success of its formation. But, more importantly, the University community must continue to stand behind LEO and support these unionized educators in their future efforts to obtain just treatment, job security, fair pay and appropriate benefits.