SARATOGA SPRINGS — A group of Skidmore College instructors is trying to unionize non-tenure-track faculty members in hopes of gaining higher salaries, better job security, and a greater voice on campus.
After months of discussion and organization, the group went public Wednesday with an open letter to the college community, saying they had better than 60% support among faculty for representation by SEIU Local 200United.
The union called on the college to voluntarily recognize the bid to organize and avoid the need for a union vote. It said it would submit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board next week.
The college administration did not directly comment when asked later Wednesday about the call for recognition of the union.
A spokeswoman said:
“Skidmore College has received the open letter from non-tenure-track faculty and will be reviewing the issues it raises. The College values the contributions of our non-tenure-track faculty and is committed to taking the time to give the letter proper and careful consideration.”
Diana Barnes, a senior teaching professor in world languages and literature who is part of the organizing committee, said the biggest issue for her is job security. The non-tenure-track faculty members work on non-renewing contracts of one to three years, she said, and the college can decide not to renew an expiring contract for any reason or none at all.
“I, like my colleagues, work under an influence of precarity because our contracts are short-term, non-renewable. We can be let go on a whim after we’ve been here for decades. And we have no recourse.”
Barnes said she hasn’t felt mistreated by the school due to her non-tenure status.
“Skidmore has always supported my scholarly and teaching endeavors, so no, I have never felt bullied,” she said.
But neither does she feel the same level of respect as her tenured colleagues, even though she does the same things as they do.
“I advise, I write curriculum, I sit on committees,” she said. “I am totally dedicated to my students. I love what I do.”
Ruth McAdams, a teaching professor of English and a member of the organizing committee, said the arrangement has a spillover effect on students, who face the prospect of an ever-changing faculty.
Skidmore is meeting long-term curriculum needs with short-term staffing, she said. “The college’s labor practices really need improvement. They’re not serving the college’s values, the needs of the students, the wider community.”
Everyone teaching at Skidmore has their own experiences and draws their own opinions from them, McAdams said, but for her, the situation has made her feel excluded from governance of the campus and unable to speak honestly to the administration or senior colleagues.
SEIU Local 200United represents non-tenure-track faculty and other employees at more than 30 colleges and universities, including Siena College, The College of Saint Rose and SUNY-Schenectady County.
(Tenured and tenure-track faculty at private colleges are barred from unionizing under a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision that classified their duties as managerial.)
Sean Collins, a staff organizer at Local 200United, said the roughly 170 non-tenure-track instructors at Skidmore make up nearly half of the faculty but are paid less despite doing much of the same work.
The scenario at Skidmore is seen at other colleges and universities, he said, and is part of a larger trend in which institutions of higher learning shift instructional work to lower-paid employees with fewer rights and protections — even though they are working full-time in similar roles.
The effort at Skidmore is part of Faculty Forward, the union’s nationwide effort to organize campuses in response.
Skidmore faculty organizers plan a news conference on campus Friday, May 6.