Two opposing forces in the debate to allow contingent faculty at Pacfic Lutheran University to unionize met on Tuesday evening to inform students and share their sides of the story.
The ASPLU Senate invited Lecturer of Classics Michael Ng and Provost Steven Starkovich to present their positions on whether or not contingent faculty will have the right to vote, including the right to vote on whether or not to join the Services Employees International Union (SEIU).
Ng is a part-time contingent faculty member at PLU who also teaches at two other universities and has been vocal in expressing his support for better treatment of contingent faculty through unionization. Starkovich has openly expressed doubts about whether the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has jurisdiction over PLU, a private religious institution, and has been instrumental in bringing the issue to court.
The Facebook page for the event encouraged students to come and learn more about the issue and express support for faculty members. About 40 people, including this year’s ASPLU Senate as well as concerned students and faculty members, attended the meeting. Several students and some faculty members wore SEIU pins, marking them as supporters of the unionization.
Both parties were first given a chance to state their positions. Ng’s presentation was full of barely-contained emotion, spouting classicisms and British slang as he accused PLU’s administration of not improving conditions for contingent faculty despite strong pressure for them to do so and talking about how that went against PLU’s values and conventional wisdom.
“I don’t want you guys [the administration] to do your best. I want you to fix it,” Ng said.
Starkovich began his platform by stating that he, himself, was a contingent faculty member from 1992-97. He said his philosophy was to make himself indispensible to his department “without expecting a darn thing from them,” and claimed that hard work and impressing the right people got him to where he is today.
“Sometimes the wheel turns in your direction and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
Both speakers answered students’ questions with an almost political adeptness with premeditated points that effectively shifted the answers away from the original question. They responded to each other’s comments with counterarguments as well.
Starkovich pointed out that full-time contingent faculty have the power to vote in the faculty assembly. Ng pointed out that only 16 percent of contingent faculty at PLU teach full-time. Students had previously brought up that the Evangelical Lutheran Church Association (ELCA) supports unions. Starkovich said that the ELCA’s statement about unions had been taken out of context and that the administration was already adequately addressing faculty concerns, making a union unnecessary.
Neither was able to answer how unionization could potentially affect tuition or when the legal process would be over, although the administration had made it clear during court hearings that if the court ruled in favor of the contingent faculty, PLU would appeal.
A student asked under what basis was there resistance for unionization – what was the worst that could happen or what did PLU have to lose? Starkovich did not give a direct answer, instead making a hypothetical statement about how a union would create an “overlapping structure of governance for students” and citing three previous court decisions as a basis for his claim that the NLRB did not have jurisdiction over PLU.
Starkovich described creating a contingent faculty task force as “extra work” for him but pointed out how the task force had two deans, one contingent faculty member and one tenured “ally” faculty member on it.
He did not talk about his resistance to allow the task force to be created in the first place, or mention how he had threatened to get rid of the task force altogether when members lobbied that there be allowed to be a contingent faculty member on it – something faculty members were quick to point out in the hallway after the meeting adjourned.
As the question and answer session ended, more than two-thirds of the crowd departed from the meeting, leaving little more than the ASPLU Senate in attendance. Starkovich left immediately as well, but contingent faculty and students stuck around for several minutes talking about what they’d just heard.
At the end of the meeting, ASPLU passed Resolution 20 expressing its support to allow contingent faculty to vote on unionization.