Punished for Winning?

From Inside Higher Ed:

Some colleges actively oppose union drives for their adjuncts or other faculty members, and sometimes the fights get ugly. None of that happened at Mills College last year. By all accounts, adjunct faculty members’ campaign to form a union associated with the Service Employees International Union was civil, as was the college’s response: it pledged to remain neutral, and did so.

So what’s happened since the union announced a 78 percent “yes” vote in May is puzzling to some at Mills. Various adjunct faculty union members and tenure-line professors who are not part of the bargaining unit say that recent personnel actions and program changes feel retaliatory toward adjuncts, and out of line with the college’s social justice mission. Several adjunct faculty and staff members involved in the union drive have had their workloads reduced or have been laid off, and the college recently announced that it is enforcing a longstanding but rarely followed policy of canceling classes that enroll fewer than 10 students. Adjunct faculty members and their tenure-line supporters say that’s bumped adjuncts out of their assignments at the last minute, at an institution that charges high tuition -- some $41,000 before room and board -- in exchange for unusually low student-faculty ratios: an average of 10 to 1, according to Mills.

Union members and tenure-line faculty and student supporters are protesting these actions today on campus, and plan to deliver a petition condemning them to Mills's top administrators. Beyond immediate concerns about Mills, SEIU leaders say they fear that such late-in-the-game opposition to unions -- in which common contract negotiation items are changed before collective bargaining can begin -- could become a new strategy for colleges dealing with a recent crop of adjunct unions. Many of those unions are associated with SEIU's Adjunct Action campaign, which is organizing across the greater San Francisco area and in other cities nationwide. Mills is in Oakland.

The college, meanwhile, denies any retaliatory action against its employees but won't comment on specifics. In the backdrop looms Mills’s $5.5 million budget deficit for this fiscal year. That's a significant portion of the college's budget, which was about $85 million in 2013.

Stephanie Young, an adjunct professor of English who was a vocal supporter of the union bid, can’t say for sure that she lost the half-time English graduate program director position she’d held for 10 years due to her activism. But it feels that way, she said.

“Everything that happened after I was fired and the ways in which the department fought for my position, even offering a budget-neutral position to bring me back, makes me feel like a symbol in certain kind of struggle,” she said.

Read the full story here.