09 February 2007

Montana Tech faculty: a Union of Professionals

This is truly an historic moment. Montana Tech is more than a century old, and recently the faculty formed a union. In a vote held yesterday, we have now agreed upon a tentative bargaining agreement with management. The vote was favorable by a margin of more than three to one, and nearly all members voted. Furthermore, there was a flurry of faculty joining the union in order to vote, and that rush to join indicates how popular and sorely needed is our union.

Increasingly in recent years, many college and university faculties have unionized. Oftentimes this unionization movement has been prompted by the growing corporatization of academe. But colleges and universities are not and should not be operated like corporations. Through democratic governance, intelligent and dedicated professionals can make decisions in the best interest of their institution.

The unionization of university faculty is a major step forward, comparable to that great nineteenth century invention of tenure and academic freedom by faculty at German universities. Unionization helps protect the foundations of higher education. Of equal importance, it democratizes academe through faculty self-governance. In many ways, universities have been the last bastion of feudalism in the modern world—a place where administrative officials sometimes have an unreasonable degree of control over the activities of professional faculty.

There are also, of course, financial considerations. When I first joined Montana Tech seventeen years ago, full professors at Tech made about the same salary as University of Montana-Missoula faculty. Since that time, our salaries have fallen behind on average more than ten thousand dollars. I hope that this bargaining agreement is a first step in rectifying that problem.

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