University seeks appropriate bargaining unit for non-tenured track faculty

The Service Employees International Union Local 205 filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 16 seeking an election to represent a disparate group of non-tenure track faculty at Vanderbilt. This group includes adjunct, part-time and full-time non-tenure track faculty, as well as a few postdoctoral fellows, in the College of Arts and Science, the Blair School, the Divinity School, the Graduate School and Peabody College who currently teach at least one class and who hold no administrative roles. A hearing on the petition began Feb. 27 and is ongoing.

“Vanderbilt fully supports the right of adjunct and part-time non-tenure track faculty to vote on whether they wish to be represented by the SEIU. The university is not anti-union. However, we have significant concerns with the proposed bargaining unit,” Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said. “Our goal in this process is to provide affected faculty with the information they need to make an informed choice and to ensure an appropriate bargaining unit is certified. We do not want to create artificial and unproductive distinctions within our community.”

The university has created a website to provide full and complete information and to ensure open dialogue on this important issue.

The university believes the proposed bargaining unit is inappropriate because of Vanderbilt’s robust shared governance model, in which all full-time faculty, including non-tenure track faculty, have the opportunity to participate in shaping university policy and strategic planning. Vanderbilt’s full-time faculty have the opportunity to participate and to share in university governance through their schools and colleges, the Faculty Senate, and/or through appointment to key committees and leadership roles. Through this model, the university believes that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, its full-time faculty are “managerial” and it would be inappropriate to include them in a bargaining unit.

There are also concerns that the proposed group, which includes adjunct and part-time faculty and some postdoctoral fellows, does not reflect an appropriate “community of interest.” Unlike adjuncts and part-time faculty, full-time non-tenure track faculty receive full employee benefits, are appointed to renewable terms of one, three, five or seven years, are routinely reappointed, and participate actively in the university’s shared governance. In addition, the proposed bargaining unit includes faculty from four unique schools that each have distinctive procedures, policies, cultures and degree-granting programs: Arts and Science, Divinity, Peabody, and Blair.

The union’s proposal to exclude full-time non-tenure track faculty members who hold administrative titles and those not currently teaching one course may also have negative impacts for Vanderbilt faculty. For example, given the cyclical nature of administrative appointments and teaching, the proposed bargaining unit will disenfranchise many faculty members who would be directly affected in the future.

Vanderbilt tried to resolve these issues with the union prior to the hearing but was unable to do so. Without such a resolution, both the university and the SEIU are using outside legal counsel to provide representation during the hearings and to advise on the respective rights and obligations of the parties.

“Throughout this process, the university has sought to keep the lines of communication open and to work with non-tenure track faculty on providing information,” Wente said.

“We respect the rights of our faculty members to decide on whether to seek union representation or not. Moreover, we will continue to be mindful of the core values of our university as we work through this process. Our commitment to our faculty and to freedom of expression remains undeterred,” Wente said.

Read the faculty unionization information on the provost’s website >