This Inside Higher Education story, “Has Faculty’s Role Eroded?” is about a current case at the National Labor Relations Board that could determine if faculty at private universities can unionize. Why can’t they? The 1980 Supreme Court ruling (NLRB v. Yeshiva University) said they could not because faculty, under the traditions of shared governance, are in effect managers and so can’t be represented by a collective bargaining agreement. Right.
The faculty at Park Point University want to unionize and so filed a petition with the NLRB arguing that since shared governance is no longer practiced faculty are no longer managers and should be able to organize. “There have been no significant developments,” the American Council on Education‘s brief argues opposing unionization, “in private universities’ decision-making models since Yeshiva.” That’s nonsense of a very high order.
Shared governance was never that much more than an administrative slogan– after all, the administration always controlled the purse strings– but it did make a certain amount of sense as long as the tenure system was intact. That’s no longer true, especially at universities that rely heavily on part-time adjuncts with no benefits much less academic freedom of speech protections or job security or control over the curriculum or classes.
Administrations (and others) have argued for decades that universities must emulate the market and the corporate practices that arise from it. The old system, we were told, of secure full-time jobs and professors creating their own courses and curriculum was archaic. They destroyed it–and shared governance–in the name of a free-market future that was supposed to be modern, cheaper, more efficient, better.
This ought to be very clear by now: the so-called free market does not do everything well and if there are no democratic checks on it– via regulations and unions, at the very least– it will inevitably run itself right into the ground, like a car without a driver. That’s the lesson of the recession here and around the world, and in every sector, from education to medicine to housing to finance. The private sector needs unions to stay healthy.