Non-tenure-track staff deserve fair contract

This article appeared in the News-Gazette on April 17, 2016.

By Susan G. Davis and Richard S. Laugesen

Members of the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition Local 6546 (the union for non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois) voted on April 6 to authorize a strike. For 14 months these faculty members tried to negotiate a first contract with the administration, to no avail. Even the presence of a federal mediator has not helped. A strike is the last resort. The Campus Faculty Association strongly supports our non-tenure-track colleagues in this difficult period. Here’s why:

More than 500 non-tenure-track faculty members teach, perform research and run labs on campus. They are paid just a fraction of the salary of tenure-stream faculty, while teaching about 40 percent of undergraduate classes. But the dispute is not about money — it is about job security and educational quality.

Multiyear contracts for long-serving faculty members are the central issue. Non-tenure-track faculty members are asking for two-year contracts after five years of service, and three-year contracts after 10 years of service. This basic guarantee would help faculty members prepare new courses effectively, and assure students of continuity and quality in instruction.

The university claims it has procedures in place already for multiyear contracts, but refuses to write those procedures into a binding contract.

Meanwhile, the provost’s own staff admit that fewer than 4 percent of non-tenure-track faculty members across campus (only 19 of them) currently have multiyear contracts.

Working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty are learning conditions for students, and students deserve to know their instructors have the stability needed to do their best job. Faculty members on short contracts must turn their attention to searching and applying for jobs each spring, because they do not know whether they will have a job in the fall. This time and effort could otherwise be devoted to students. Further, if non-tenure-track faculty knew they had a future at the university, then they could commit to improving courses and advising students over a period of years. And to keep up with their disciplines, and develop the highest quality classroom materials, teaching faculty need professional support and development opportunities — these requests too are being resisted by the university. Our non-tenure-track colleagues are first-rate teachers and scholars, and they want to maintain that standard. The University of Illinois cannot profess to offer a top-tier education if it treats a large segment of its faculty as disposable.

A strike by these faculty members would be inconvenient for everyone, no doubt, but non-tenure-track faculty have run out of other ways to get their concerns taken seriously. These faculty members devote their careers to teaching undergraduates at the university, and will find it difficult to walk away from that commitment, even for a day. But at some point enough is enough, and they know they must stand up for their profession now, to insure a good education for future students at our university.

As tenure-track faculty, we whole-heartedly support our non-tenure-track colleagues. We urge the administration to give these faculty members fair treatment, and agree now to a fair contract.

Susan G. Davis, a professor emerita of communication, is a member of the Campus Faculty Association executive committee. Richard S. Laugesen, a mathematics professor, is vice president of the CFA.

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