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Duke Faculty Union representative to speak at Appalachian Sept. 29

By Michael Behrent

BOONE—A member of a labor union representing Duke University’s contingent or non-tenure-track faculty will speak on how and why the group started at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 in Room 114 of Appalachian State University’s Belk Library and Information Commons.

Dr. Eileen M. Anderson of the Duke Faculty Union will present a talk titled “Starting a Union at Duke: Faculty Power in an Age of Corporatization. A Conversation with Members of the Duke Faculty Union.” Her talk has been organized by Appalachian’s chapter of the Association of University Professors (AAUP). Anderson, a lecturing fellow in Duke’s Department of Romance Studies, holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Duke’s contingent faculty began a campaign to form a union in September 2015. Faculty at the university voted by a 6-to-1 margin to form a union in an election administered this past March by the National Labor Relations Board.

According the AAUP, more than 50 percent of all university appointments in the United States are now on contingent contracts. The decision to create the Duke Faculty Union reflects broader concerns in higher education concerning the shift away from tenured positions to contingent appointments. Specifically, contingent faculty receive lower pay (usually on a per-class basis) and inconsistent health and retirement benefits. They face considerable uncertainty as to when and whether their (usually short-term) contracts are renewed. And they are generally excluded from shared governance.

AAUP maintains that the shift to contingent appointments “damages student learning, faculty governance, and academic freedom.” It further notes that “[c]ontingent faculty are typically paid only for the hours they spend in the classroom” and that the “high turnover among contingent faculty members mean that some students may never have the same teacher twice, or may be unable to find an instructor who knows them well enough to write a letter of recommendation.”

The unionization of contingent faculty at Duke comes in the wake of similar efforts at several schools across the nation, including Tufts, Boston University, Georgetown and George Washington University. The Duke Faculty Union organized under the banner of Faculty Forward, a campaign launched by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents approximately 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU includes 120,000 members in public and private higher education.

“Starting a Union at Duke” is free and open to the public. For more information about the talk or Appalachian’s AAUP chapter, contact Dr. Michael C. Behrent, AAUP chapter president and associate professor of history, at behrentmc@appstate.edu or 828-719-5759.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low faculty-to-student ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.

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