Duke University gets in the union-busting game | Triangulator | Indy Week
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Duke University gets in the union-busting game 

Duke University recently launched a new website, Duke One-to-One, that bills itself as a "repository for timely, factual information regarding the effort by the Service Employees International Union to organize/unionize 'non-tenure track faculty.'"

It all sounds helpful and friendly—protective, even. But if the purpose is really to piss off faculty, alumni, students and labor groups, then let's hear a slow clap for university administrators. Mission accomplished, guys.

To recap: For the last several months, a faculty group called Duke Teaching First, in conjunction with the SEIU outfit Faculty Forward, has been attempting to organize Duke's adjunct professors, who oftentimes work for low pay with no benefits and no guarantee that their employment will continue beyond their short-term contract. Faculty Forward has already organized adjuncts at several private northeastern schools. Duke's adjuncts can vote to follow suit if 30 percent of them sign authorization cards.

Duke, quite obviously, does not want that to happen. Hence, the website.

One page displays an Oct. 8 letter to the faculty from provost Sally Kornbluth, in which she says that pay issues for non-tenure-track professors are best resolved "in an open and direct dialogue between administration and faculty." Unionizing, she continues, would change "the essential nature of that direct relationship." (Kornbluth could not be reached for comment last week.)

There site also features some not-very-subtle fear mongering: "This [authorization] card asks faculty members to provide home address, email and phone number. We do not know why the union is asking for this personal information, but we know unions often attempt to visit targeted employees at home as part of the organizing campaign."

Some alumni vented their disappointment on Facebook, blasting Duke for circulating "anti-union propaganda."

"It's really clear that they're scared of contingent faculty unionizing," says Jillian Johnson, a candidate for Durham City Council and Duke alum. "And I think that they're reacting in a way that's not reflective of the progressive values that they try to put out in public."

Matteo Gilebbi, an adjunct and co-organizer of Duke Teaching First, says he's encouraged by the response he's received thus far. A majority of teachers at Duke are working under short-term contracts, he says, although he can't provide a hard percentage. These teachers feel cut off from the Duke community. Addressing job security and benefits would go a long way toward rectifying that.

"By fixing these two issues, I think we can fix the general problem—that fact that many contingent faculty feel isolated," he says. "They feel their work is not valued."

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

  • The school’s efforts to keep adjunct professors from organizing raise ire

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