Why Join UW Faculty Forward?

UW Faculty Forward (UWFF) is a faculty union representing faculty of all ranks at all three campuses of the University of Washington that is broadly committed to protecting access to and quality of higher education at UW.

We are opposed to the austerity economics that simultaneously saddle college students with crushing loads of debt (or price them out of higher education altogether) and create a race to the bottom for faculty working conditions.

We support ample state funding of public higher education using progressive and equitable funding strategies, the commitment of university funds to student instruction (rather than administration, or non-essential capital projects),  job security and pay commensurate to the cost of living in the Puget Sound region for faculty at all ranks, and our right to a democratic, participatory workplace.

UWFF is committed to advancing opportunity and creating equity for all faculty and students, especially those marginalized or at risk by reason of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, nationality, or immigration status.

But what does this mean, in practice?  And why join us?

Combatting Austerity to Protect Our Core Academic and Service Mission

·         The defunding of public higher education and the resulting austerity economics is a huge issue – but it routinely manifests in ‘small’ ways: hires not renewed or approved; the consolidation of multiple departments into a single unit; the often last-minute erosion of budgets (e.g., vanishing teaching assistantships); increases in teaching loads or class sizes; the privatization of degree programs through Professional and Continuing Education, moving more faculty to “WOT” (without tenure) status; and so forth.

 

UWFF is committed to combatting austerity measures at UW, tackling the issue from the top down (for example, by partnering with United Faculty of Washington to press for higher education funding in Olympia) but also, and equally important, from the bottom up:  by supporting member faculty as they push back against austerity measures that erode the quality of teaching and of research, while continually raising faculty workloads.  Individual or small groups of faculty protesting to administration about austerity measures rarely carry weight.  If that protest is backed by the power of a strong faculty union representing hundreds of faculty, it becomes much more difficult for administration to dismiss. 

For example, during the 2016–17 academic year, faculty in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UW Tacoma recommended competitive searches for multiyear lecturer lines to replace a pair of one-year lines scheduled to expire, only to have administrators reject the faculty’s recommendation. When the administration refused to reconsider its decision, members of UWFF drafted a letter addressed to UW President Ana Mari Cauce and UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark Pagano highlighting the refusal to honor precedent for making hiring decisions through shared governance, along with other workplace inequities; the letter garnered signatures from upwards of 40 union members on the Tacoma campus, along with all members of the UWFF Steering Committee. After administrators received the UWFF letter, the administration reversed its original decision and approved the lecturer searches, so incumbent lecturers now have the opportunity to apply for long-term positions this academic year.

·         One of the most significant challenges in organizing against austerity is the considerable difficulty in understanding university budgets in the first place.  Because austerity often makes itself felt in ‘small’ ways, as described above, it is frequently hard to identify larger patterns in budget decisions or to see beyond our own departmental or structural silos – faculty on one campus are unfamiliar with situations on the other campuses; faculty in one unit might see funding for a new degree, complete with the approval of brand-new faculty lines, while faculty in another unit are asked to justify their existence, fearful of the specter of cuts or consolidation.  If we are only ever able to make local sense, at best, of the UW’s budget decisions, how can we possibly piece together a more comprehensive vision of the UW’s resources and financial decisions system-wide in order to support colleagues in other divisions, departments, schools, or campuses?  In order to combat administrative opacity on budget information, overcome the sorts of fragmentation and isolation that make real system-wide solidarity difficult, and publicize the various impacts of austerity measures, UWFF has established UW B-WaRS (UW Budget Watch Reporting System), an “austerity blog” through which members can share information and experiences.  UWFF is committed to bringing crucial budget information into the daylight so that faculty – and the tax-paying public of Washington State – can hold the UW accountable to its public education and research missions.

 

A Faculty Voice in Governance

·         Why not simply use existing structures of faculty governance to protect faculty interests? While UWFF seeks to partner with the Faculty Senate whenever possible, it is important to note that the function of faculty governance bodies in the present moment is overwhelmingly advisory:  they are informed of administrative decisions and given opportunity to comment, but do not generally have power to do more than express concern about austerity policies which administration alone has the power to implement.  Where faculty governance bodies take initiative (the recent effort at crafting a salary policy is a good example), those policies are, essentially, hostage to the consent and cooperation of administrators.  It is also important to note that not all ranks of faculty are represented in the Senate:  “permanent” full-time lecturers are, but part-time and so-called “temporary” lecturers are not.  So faculty governance is vital but not sufficient to protecting our faculty voice – and its capacity to do so is also strengthened by the existence of a faculty union.

·         Since 2015, UWFF has been working hard to lobby lawmakers in Olympia to pass legislation that would create a faculty position on the Board of Regents. This hard work is in process of paying off: HB 1437, which would create faculty positions on the Boards of Regents at UW and Washington State University, has passed the state House of Representatives and—with continued help from our membership—has very good odds of passing the Senate and becoming law.

 

Political Power

·         In the wake of the 2016 elections, federal policies deeply threatening to undocumented students and faculty and to many international students and faculty, as well as an emboldened, overtly racist Right seeking a platform on college campuses, have spurred many faculty to come together in small, sometimes ad hoc groups to organize around anti-racist platforms and consider what can be done to protect vulnerable campus communities.  Small groups can issue statements, or ask for meetings with administrators, to be sure – but in an institution of the size of UW, these small-scale efforts can never be as effective in pressing specific demands as a coordinated effort – and UWFF exists precisely to enable such coordination. 

If faculty want a voice on these issues – if, for example, we want more university resources committed to providing resources and legal support to students and faculty threatened with deportation or nonrenewal of visas; if we want civilian review of campus police –- we need to assemble a coalition pressing for these results.  But which one of us, as individual or small groups, has the time or means to do that?  UWFF gives us a structure (including crucial staff support) to organize broad coalitions

If we are concerned about the present political climate and how the university will respond, we need a union to make our concerns stick and to be able to actually influence policy – on campus and at all levels of our government.  Otherwise, we will issue a lot of well-written, well-intentioned statements that amount to exactly nothing.   

 

A Faculty Union

Any kind of faculty activism can feel risky:  after all, administrators make decisions about reappointments, promotions, retentions, sabbaticals, and many other aspects of faculty careers, which produces a structural disincentive for faculty to be too outspoken or persistent.  But while faculty organizing (“acting in concert”) is not a protected activity – if we choose to be active in pressing our chairs or deans or other administrators on particular issues of concern, we are, in fact, vulnerable to incurring their displeasure – union organizing is a protected activity for public employees.  Simply put, when we claim our voice as members of a union, we do have legal protection from retaliation

One of the effects of a culture of austerity is to make us feel that our situation is precarious – even for those of us with the luxury of tenure – that we simply can’t afford to take risks with the few benefits we retain.  UWFF is building a collective voice for faculty but it is also, crucially, doing so in a way that protects us from the threat that we will lose what we have if we ask for anything better.   That alone makes a faculty union indispensable.