This is a guest post by Ernst Benjamin, a contributor to the January-February issue of Academe. Benjamin served as AAUP general secretary from 1984 to 1994 and 2006 to 2008. He also has served as AAUP director of research, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, and president of the Wayne State University AAUP chapter. He is coeditor of Academic Collective Bargaining.
The December decision of the NLRB to restore a protected right to bargain to some faculty in private institutions has special significance for the AAUP in the light of my historical observations in the current issue of Academe, firstly that: “The 1970 decision of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to take jurisdiction over collective bargaining of employees of private, nonprofit employers was especially important to the AAUP because of the organization’s relative strength at single-campus, four-year independent colleges and universities” and secondly that the Supreme Court’s 1980 “decision in NLRB v. Yeshiva (that) denied faculty a protected right to bargain in private universities . . . was inimical to not only faculty bargaining but also the core principles of the Association. In the words of Justice William Brennan’s dissent, ‘The notion that a faculty member’s professional competence could depend on his undivided loyalty to management is antithetical to the whole concept of academic freedom.’” Moreover, I wrote, the Yeshiva decision “disproportionately impaired the development of AAUP bargaining because the AAUP was more competitive at private than at public universities owing to the concern of many faculty members at the latter institutions for the political support of organized labor and the difficulty of organizing statewide systems. The consequent need to focus on public-sector organizing reinforced the argument in favor of joint ventures with AFT and NEA, with their attendant difficulties.”
The partial reversal of Yeshiva may therefore to some extent restore the opportunity for AAUP to draw again on our unique advantages in organizing full-time, private university faculty. But, because these advantages derive from our role in establishing professional standards and shared governance, and because the December NLRB decision partially reversing the Yeshiva decision is specifically limited to situations in which the faculty do not have demonstrable and effective decision-making with respect to academic policy, the decision also re-opens the tension between faculty governance and collective bargaining that, as my historical essay documents, long delayed AAUP entry into collective bargaining.
The historical debate turned especially on the issue of exclusive representation: “Clyde Summers argued that collective bargaining and exclusive representation were not essential to the establishment of appropriate rules and reiterated the long-standing view that exclusive representation would undercut effective shared governance. Jack Barbash countered that exclusive representation would not preempt individual faculty speech and that exclusive representation and bargaining would provide the basis for written contractual rights for the faculty. Further, he argued, “the very administrators who are attacking union methods are themselves actively contributing to making a factory-type operation out of the university.”
My essay argues that we have, in the public sector, been able to overcome this unnecessary dichotomy and combine shared governance regarding academic policy with collective bargaining regarding employment policy. The December NLRB decision, however, though affording private sector faculty expanded opportunities and choices, may still by requiring a demonstrated lack of effective faculty governance as a condition of the right to bargain impose some difficult choices between governance and bargaining including the subordination to management on academic matters that Justice Brennan decried. It may, therefore, be helpful to review more closely how we have managed to combine shared governance and bargaining in the public sector to see if we can find ways around the unacceptable choice with which private sector faculty may be confronted.
Note: A fuller discussion of this topic may be found in the January-February issue of Academe in “How Did We Get Here?”, an essay by Ernst Benjamin.