Union considers incorporating distinguished faculty

by Gabriella Leonel / Beacon Correspondent • October 26, 2017

Emerson’s faculty without tenure joined a college union previously reserved for professors with or seeking tenure, and the distinguished faculty may do the same.

Faculty without tenure—known as term faculty—are professors who teach under contracts with set time limits. Distinguished faculty are well-established professionals in their respective fields who teach under similar contracts.

On Oct. 2, the term faculty at Emerson joined the Emerson College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors through a unanimous vote conducted through a National Labor Relations Board election on Sept. 26 and 27.

“Over the years there have been benefits that have fallen over to the tenure faculty that the term faculty did not receive,” Robert Colby, performing arts professor and president of the ECCAAUP said. “Though the current administration has gone a long way to ensure that access to travel funds, research funds, and so forth, are now available to term faculty.”

The Emerson College Term Advisory Chapter was a group of term faculty members who joined together to discuss working conditions to request changes from the administration.

The difference between ECTAC and a formal union is that they can’t collectively bargain their contracts, nor do they have the protection of national labor laws, Colby said.  

ECTAC worked for three years before they decided they wanted the status and protection of a union, Colby said. The ECCAAUP supported the term faculty joining their organization.

“It seemed that way we could work together for the betterment of all of us which in the end we felt was a better situation for students, and for the overall interest of the college to speak as one,” Colby said.

The ECCAAUP also wishes to introduce the distinguished faculty into their organization, Colby said.

The distinguished faculty is comprised of 11 faculty members who are professionals in their industry but do not work full time.

As of now, the college has not agreed to allow the distinguished faculty to join the ECCAAUP.  

Michaele Whelan, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the distinguished faculty contracts are individualized. The college’s relationship with those faculty members are more one-on-one, compared to their relationship with the term and tenure faculty, where the college negotiates with them as a group through the union.

Because of these individualized relationships, she said she doesn’t see the sense behind their addition to the union. She said the college needs to have flexibility with the distinguished faculty.

“The distinguished faculty have really illustrious careers and are often fully immersed in the work that they’re doing whether that’s creative work or scholarly work, and so that’s a focus and a premise of their appointment, whereas the term faculty are focused on teaching and service,” Whelan said.

Several distinguished faculty members could not be reached for comment and Whelan declined to provide the names of all 11 professors.

If the college decides not to allow this advancement, the NLRB would hold a meeting involving a mediator to help figure out the next steps.

“We’re hoping to get settled soon,” Colby said.