Vanderbilt's Non-Tenured Faculty Push To Unionize By Requesting A Formal Vote

Feb 16, 2017

Updated at 5:00 p.m. with statement from Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt's lecturers and adjunct professors are trying to organize a union on campus. It would be the first faculty union at a private university in Tennessee, following a recent trend of organizing at elite schools.

The school to which Vanderbilt so often measures itself — Duke University — had its non-tenure-track faculty vote to unionize last year. They were trying to get better pay and benefits.

At Vanderbilt, union organizers say there are roughly 500 non-tenure-track faculty. Philosophy PhD Matt Congdon says he enjoys teaching on campus, but he feels lecturers tend to get dumped on — asked to take on unpaid roles and handle the largest, general courses.

"We want to do service and we want to teach these classes," he says. "It's just a question of the power that we have to make sure that we're not being overburdened and underpaid."

Another 61-year-old part-time professor says he feels like Vanderbilt is better than most schools about not leaning too heavily on adjunct faculty. But still, Bruce Rogers-Vaughn says there are people — like himself — who will never get on a tenure track and need more job security. He graduated with his PhD from Vanderbilt in 1991.

"It's just not the case that adjuncts are moving up and getting tenured," he says. "We have career-long adjuncts."

Supporters filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board Thursday for an election, though no date has been set. If successful, faculty would get to vote on whether to establish a local chapter of the SEIU which would have collective bargaining power with the university.

The Office of the Provost at Vanderbilt released a statement, saying the school "respects and honors all members of its faculty," pointing out that non-tenure track faculty hold key leadership positions.

"For faculty who are eligible to unionize, we respect their right to consider whether to unionize," the statement said. "As this process unfolds, we think it is critical that eligible faculty be fully informed about the choice they face concerning unionization. The University is, therefore, committed to ensuring that the members of a potential appropriate bargaining unit have factual information that will enable them to make informed decisions."