Faculty Union, a Rarity at HBCUs, Is Poised to Emerge at Howard U.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Adjunct instructors at Howard University appear to be on the verge of unionizing, marking an unusual victory for faculty labor organizers at a historically black higher-education institution.

Leaders of the effort to organize Howard’s roughly 130 part-time instructors expressed confidence this week in prevailing when ballots are counted, on Wednesday. The Service Employees International Union, which has mounted the unionization drive at Howard, has already organized at three of this city’s largest universities, accounting for about 70 percent of its adjunct work force.

Howard’s leadership has done nothing to oppose the union election. In a statement issued on Monday through Kerry-Ann Hamilton, a spokeswoman, Howard’s administration said, "We greatly appreciate the invaluable contributions of our faculty, both adjunct and full time," and "will continue to negotiate in good faith with all represented employees to meet our mission."

The SEIU similarly is seeking to unionize more than 200 part-time faculty members at another historically black institution here, the University of the District of Columbia.

Although the UDC’s tenure-track faculty members already are represented by an affiliate of the National Education Association, faculty collective-bargaining units, for the most part, are much less likely to exist at historically black colleges and universities than elsewhere in higher education. They have been established at fewer than a tenth of the nation’s 105 historically black colleges and universities, compared with well over a third of all nonprofit public and private colleges in the United States.

 The relative scarcity of faculty unions at HBCUs partly reflects such colleges’ concentration in Southern states with laws unfriendly to organized labor. In addition, some experts on HBCUs say, the distinct cultures of such institutions often generate opposition to faculty unions.

 Marybeth Gasman, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied HBCUs extensively, said last week in an interview that the formation of such a union at Howard would be "very, very meaningful" for other such institutions because "people in general really look up to Howard and see it as being a leader."

 "Some HBCUs," Ms. Gasman said, "might get a little afraid that that is going happen on their campus."

 Family Affairs

Most HBCUs with unionized faculty members are public institutions in Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, where the collective-bargaining units were established in the 1970s or 1980s, often as part of a broader unionization of public colleges.

An exception is Harris-Stowe State University, in St. Louis, where nearly 80 percent of full-time faculty members voted last fall to establish the first faculty collective-bargaining unit at any of Missouri’s public universities. Contract negotiations between the union chapter, an affiliate of the NEA. and the administration have been contentious.

Gregory S. Carr, an assistant professor of speech, theater, and English at Harris-Stowe and vice president of its faculty union, said in an interview on Tuesday that the unionization effort there had been met by "a great deal of anger, and some people felt betrayed."

"HBCUs tend to be ‘family,’" Mr. Carr said. "When someone in the family disagrees, often it is taken personally and not objectively."

Elizabeth K. Davenport, a professor of educational leadership at Florida A&M University who is researching unionization and shared governance at historically black colleges, said in an interview that the presidents of such institutions tend to be heavily supported by alumni and less tolerant of dissent on their faculties than those at other colleges.

Ms. Davenport, the president of her historically black university’s faculty union, an affiliate of the United Faculty of Florida, said, "Unionizing—finding a voice—rests with the faculty. It doesn’t come from outside forces."

 Outside Pressures

The challenges involved in unionizing faculty members at HBCUs were the focus of a panel discussion in New York this month, at the annual conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.

Derryn Moten, an associate professor of humanities at Alabama State University and co-president of his institution’s Faculty-Staff Alliance, which lacks collective-bargaining power, attributed much of historically black colleges’ resistance to unionization to the political interference and neglect many have experienced.

"These schools," he said, "have always been left to wither on the vine."

Zillah Fluker, associate vice president for development at Alabama State, argued that many people at such institutions view labor unions as hostile to their colleges, as relics of the past, or as agents of past discrimination against black workers. She discussed the need for faculty members and administrators to work together and avoid being divided by such "haters."

Penn’s Ms. Gasman said such institutions had been shaped by a time when the surrounding local community opposed the education of black people, and "the president really did have to protect the institution from the outside."

Such sensitivities appear to have played little role at Howard, where the SEIU has sought to unionize adjunct instructors as part of a broader campaign to organize such faculty members throughout entire metropolitan areas.

Monique A. Peters, an adjunct professor of mathematics at Howard who has aided the union drive there, said not only has the administration offered no resistance, but tenured faculty members, for the most part, "have all shared encouragement toward the effort."

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