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Summit of academic unions envisions broad changes in higher education


Organized labor in higher education — representing faculty members on the tenure track and adjuncts, graduate students and other employees — came together last week for the first Higher Ed Labor Summit: Building a Movement to Transform U.S. Higher Education.

And on Friday evening, those in attendance issued a platform for consideration by the individual unions represented at the conference. More than 75 union locals were present at the meeting, and they represent more than 300,000 people in academe. Those in attendance back the document, union leaders said.

“We envision institutions of higher education that prioritize people and the common good over profit and prestige,” says the introduction to the platform. “We envision institutions that redress systemic oppression and pursue equity along lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, indigeneity, age, (dis)ability and immigration status for students and higher ed workers across all job categories. We envision institutions that honor the right of all workers to organize a union and collectively bargain.”

Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, the country’s largest higher education union, representing faculty and professional staff in the State University of New York system, acknowledged that the fight for what the platform calls for would be difficult. But he said that it “is vitally important we create the means” to succeed.

He said that if unions only focus on internal issues or marginal change, they will fail. Unions need “a grander scope,” he said.

The tone of the press conference, which came immediately after the closing session of the meeting, was of achieving the goals set out. There was no mention of politically partisan obstacles such as Republicans in the U.S. Senate or in control of many state legislatures, who traditionally oppose unions and have been more willing to limit higher education funding in recent decades.

The platform speaks to some of these challenges.

“For decades, our state systems and their institutions, working conditions and learning environments have been compromised by public disinvestment, financialization, corporatization and a transition to debt financing,” the platform says. “Higher education has been underfunded.”

“The majority of faculty (at least 70 percent) are in adjunct or contingent appointments. Their precarity presents a threat to job stability, educational engagement with students, long-term student outcomes and academic freedom.”

The platform calls for four “commitments” to solve these problems:

This content was originally published here.

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