Why a UW Faculty Union will be good for our students

"It may not seem obvious at first glance, but one reason UW faculty wants to unionize is to benefit students. The faculty union will address several issues directly affecting students: strengthening the voice of faculty at UW and in Olympia; reversing the financial crisis in Washington State’s higher education; and pushing back the corporatization of higher education."

By

Elizabeth “Libi” Sundermann, Full-Time Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Tacoma; Michael Goldberg, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell; Carrie Matthews, Full-Time Lecturer, English, UW Seattle

“Last spring, the UW American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter launched an effort with SEIU Local 925 to form a faculty union at UW. It may not seem obvious at first glance, but one reason UW faculty wants to unionize is to benefit students. The faculty union will address several issues directly affecting students: strengthening the voice of faculty at UW and in Olympia; reversing the financial crisis in Washington State’s higher education; and pushing back the corporatization of higher education.

Students know how bad the financial situation has been because tuition went up as a stopgap measure. Twenty years ago, Washington state provided 82 percent of funding per UW undergraduate student; in 2013 the state gave only 30 percent due to “the crises in higher ed.” As unionized faculty we will work to reverse this trend. We feel your pain. We watch in dismay as students struggle to pay tuition and bemoan the 50 percent leaving with an average debt of over $20,000. No one should have that kind of debt as a result of their university education. Although the good news is that tuition is going down this year and next, a faculty union will work with administration and SEIU to insist on increased state funding for our students’ welfare.

Tuition hikes over the past few decades are linked to the “corporatization of higher education” across the United States. Corporatization of higher education — making public higher education a money-making scheme rather than a provision of education for the common good — goes against the UW’s primary mission: “the preservation, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge.” Faculty believe in academic freedom, which should include the “preservation, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge” without corporate costs. Corporatization hurts students by raising their fees and dumbing down their education to support increased administration of flashy facilities at the cost of teaching and learning. These trends have turned many of your “professors” into what are known as the “fast food workers of higher ed.”

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