Non-tenured Duke faculty vote to unionize

Duke University ranks 8th in national universities on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges.
Duke University ranks 8th in national universities on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges.

Non-tenure track faculty at Duke University have voted 174 to 29 to unionize, according to a tally of ballots Friday by the National Labor Relations Board.

Those who voted yes were a majority of the 296 people eligible to vote, an NLRB spokeswoman said.

Part-time and full-time non-tenured faculty had filed a petition with the labor board in February to hold an election. A group called Duke Teaching First led the effort to join the Service Employees International Union in hopes of better pay, benefits and job security.

The Duke vote is the first union election in decades at a private university in the South, according to SEIU. But the Duke faculty join a national movement of unionization of college instructors. Some 10,000 have chosen to unionize in the past three years, SEIU said, at places such as the University of Chicago, Tufts and Georgetown universities.

“We’re all excited, ecstatic,” said Eileen Anderson, a Duke senior lecturing fellow in Spanish. “We can’t wait to start the next phase of bargaining. ... We really feel like everybody came together. I think the numbers say it, really, that this was a good idea.”

Anderson and her colleagues traveled to Winston-Salem, where the votes were counted at a branch office of the labor board.

“A real big issue has been transparency,” she said of faculty issues at Duke. “We’re really hoping to figure out how promotions work, how people can advance in their careers.”

As the Duke campaign gained steam, the administration launched a website warning about tactics of union organizers. “You are your own best representative,” the site said.

On Friday, a Duke official issued a conciliatory statement about the vote.

“We respect the decision of Duke’s adjunct faculty to form a union and remain committed to their success as valuable contributors to the university’s academic mission,” said an emailed statement from Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations.

In December, more than 80 faculty sent an open letter to Duke President Richard Brodhead saying that contingent faculty had increased dramatically in the past decade. The SEIU said 41 percent of faculty at Duke do not have access to tenure, mirroring a national trend.

Schoenfeld said Duke has 3,500 faculty members, 80 percent of whom are tenured, tenure track or on multiyear contracts.

Faculty who signed an ad in the Duke student newspaper, the Chronicle, said Duke had the resources to improve compensation for adjuncts.

“While Duke makes significant investments in building projects and a new campus overseas, the university spent only 9.5 percent of its total expenditures on salaries for teachers in 2013,” the ad said. “Duke relies on non-tenure track faculty to teach a steadily increasing percentage of its courses. It is time to offer our ‘contingent’ colleagues fair working conditions.”

The North Carolina State AFL-CIO congratulated adjunct faculty.

“By standing up and standing together, faculty now can use their collective voice to improve working and learning conditions on campus,” said a statement from MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill