Published DatePLYMOUTH — The faculty of Plymouth State University (PSU), the only tenure-track teachers in the University System of New Hampshire not represented by a labor union, have filed to form a collective bargaining unit under the aegis of the State Employees' Association of New Hampshire (SEA).
Brad Asbury of the SEA said that "well more" than the necessary 30-percent of those who would become members of the bargaining unit filed with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) on Monday, asking for an election to unionize. The PELRB will determine the number of eligible members of the bargaining unit, who would vote in an election this spring.
The adjunct faculty at PSU joined the SEA in 2011.
Timothy Kershner, chief public relations officer of PSU, said that the administration takes the view that "the faculty is entitled to choose their own form of governance."
Grace Fraser, associate professor of anthropology, said that she favors unionizing in order to provide the facility a formal role in the governance of the university. She stressed that the current administration has encouraged and welcomed the advice of faculty, but there is nothing to ensure that future administrations will follow suit.
Fraser believes that the faculty has an especially important part to play in shaping curriculum and maintaining academic standards.
Gary McCool, coordinator of reference services at the Lamson Library, agreed, noting that Julie Bernier, the provost and vice-president of academic affairs, anticipates a significant expansion of on-line courses. "The union would enable the faculty to play a significant role in defining the quality of on-line education," he said. He characterized the current relationship between the administration and faculty as somewhat "unclear and ambiguous" and said both would benefit from "mutually negotiated and legally binding arrangements."
While emphasizing "it is not just about money," Fraser acknowledged that "there are economic issues."
Cathie LeBlanc, who chairs the communications and and media studies department, said that traditionally the faculty at PSU receive compensation and benefits comparable to those negotiated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the National Education Association (NEA) on behalf of their counterparts at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and Keene State University (KSU).
"We used to be told that as the only non-unionized institution in the system, we would be assured of parity, but we're no longer told that," she said.
Both LeBlanc and Fraser said that although the administration of PSU has "gone to bat for the faculty," compensation and benefits have not kept pace with those at sister institutions. McCool noted that without a union, the faculty at PSU has been something of a "free-loader. KSU and UNH negotiate collective bargaining agreements and we benefit," he explained. "It's time for us to step up and accept our share of the responsibilities."
At the same time, McCool said that "we want to to be strong voice alongside the administration before the Legislature in securing funding for PSU, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the administration as full partners in the university system."
The timing of the initiative, McCool remarked, is especially opportune. "The administration and faculty share common values. The president and provost enjoy widespread confidence, trust and support from the faculty," he continued, stressing that the effort to unionize is not intended to correct an adverse relationship but to sustain a sound one.
"This is not a strange, unusual radical step," he said. "We're the outlier."