CHESTERTOWN — Less than a week after Washington College announced that its course correction to offset a "period of financial stress" would include furloughs and layoffs, faculty members in a news release on Tuesday said they have submitted a petition for voluntary union recognition to college administration and the Board of Visitors and Governors.
The unionization measure is supported by an overwhelming majority of tenured, tenure-track and contingent faculty, according to the Oct. 13 news release.
Faculty would be organized under the Washington College chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-WC).
AAUP-WC is defined as an advocacy organization dedicated to improving classroom conditions for faculty and their students, defending academic freedom, encouraging faculty participation in shared governance, and protecting and advancing the professional status and interests of all faculty at Washington College.
"The push for unionization comes on the heels of a turbulent few years for the College, which has included instability in leadership, the marginalization of faculty voices in strategic decisions, decreases in compensation and benefits, and most recently, the announcement that the College will terminate some faculty members this semester and begin a process of program change meant to terminate more faculty over course of the next two years," according to the news release.
There is no denying it has been a tough few years for the college, financially, said Professor Ken Schweitzer, president of AAUP-WC.
“The faculty are not the College’s fiscal stewards, yet we bear the burden of the decisions of those who are. Salaries have been stagnant for years, out-of-pocket insurance costs increased, cost of living adjustments ended in 2017, and this year the College completely cut retirement contributions — all while increasing faculty workload," Schweitzer said in the news release.
At the same time, according to Schweitzer, some senior staff salaries have gone up and faculty have been shut out of decisions that immediately and substantially affect their conditions of employment.
The situation is "untenable," he said.
According to the news release, college faculty have been discussing the idea of unionization since May with a focus on three main pillars: stability in fulfilling the college’s educational mission; financial transparency and accountability; and equitable and humane compensation and working conditions.
Some faculty who believe that the college is at a critical juncture say that unionization will ensure that all voices are equal partners in its transformation.
"We want to work with College leaders, which is why we’re asking them to sit down with us voluntarily and move forward together," Professor Clayton Black, a member of the faculty-appointed group exploring unionization, said in the news release.
Professor Rachel Durso, AAUP-WC vice president, said it is untrue that unions divide workplaces.
In the news release, Durso said, "Unions provide critical, long-term structures to ensure all voices are heard and all members of our community are valued equally. Faculty know that; we’re confident College administration will understand that the overwhelming majority of faculty support a mandate to work together for the good of the future for our College.”
When asked about the potential role of the union on campus, Durso said in the news release: “Not only will we work for faculty, but we are exploring ways to help staff as well. Staff on campus, often some of the lowest paid members of our community, have been disproportionately impacted by the College’s financial situation. It’s totally unfair, and AAUP-WC is committed to supporting them and working to help in any way we can.”