University professors, like schoolteachers, enjoy considerable public admiration. Union leaders, on the other hand, are viewed as opportunists. Gallup polls in 2008-09 found that 54 percent of the population believe college teachers have high ethical standards whereas only 16 percent think union leaders do.
Given this large disparity in public respect, it is not surprising that unions want to ride on the coattails of professors. Unfortunately, professors have no say when it comes to union representation.
Many professors are refugees from compulsory unionism. A colleague of mine at the University of Cincinnati writes, “I do not want to be part of any organization that looks and feels like a labor union. I left such organizations behind in Romania 32 years ago and the last thing I expected was to be forced to be part of one now in the U.S. … For people like me (who grew up under communism where I had to pay labor union dues) this is very, very hard to swallow.”
The AAUP receives roughly $800 a year from each faculty member based on a contract between the union and the university. Although the university is a public institution, neither the taxpayers nor the faculty was present at the contract negotiations. The faculty never approved the contract. This shakedown is called “fair share.”
Fair share? Compulsory contributions to an organization whose agenda one does not approve are hardly fair. Such manipulation is the natural language of the radical left. Another example is “collective bargaining.” The AAUP bargains on its own behalf with the university administration. Neither the faculty nor its elected leadership, the Faculty Senate, is part of the process.
In 2007, when AAUP negotiated fair share with the University of Cincinnati, AAUP membership nationwide had declined by 53 percent from its 1971 peak. Only 44,000 of the 675,000 U.S. professors were members. AAUP imposed compulsory dues because it could not survive as a voluntary organization.
The AAUP is flooding campus with inflated claims of supposed benefits it secured on behalf of the faculty. The facts are contrary. Our professors are the second-lowest paid in the Big East Conference. Under compulsory unionism, Cincinnati professors have actually lost ground. Deborah Herman, executive director of the local AAUP, admits that “by just about any measure, [University of Cincinnati faculty has] fallen behind market salaries in the U.S. for institutions of our [sic] type.”
Workloads have increased dramatically under compulsory union representation. In my college, the number of professors has decreased by 25 percent while the number of students has increased by 60 percent. Workloads also increased because the AAUP protects professors who are derelict in their duties.
University faculty may not have to swallow union poison much longer. Gov. John Kasich just signed Ohio Senate Bill 5. SB-5 strips unions of the power to extort dues from some, but not all, faculty members.
The AAUP hates SB-5. John McNay, local AAUP president, explains why: “This is an effort to undermine the unions in Ohio and elsewhere so that they will no longer be able to support one of the parties … it’s about political power.” So the faculty is forced to contribute to one political party based on a contract to which it is not a party, negotiated by a union it never elected. According to Mr. McNay, this scheme represents “social justice.”
SB-5 does not assure educational reform. Reform depends on how universities respond to SB-5. Faculties need to step into a position of shared governance, displacing entrenched union competitors. University presidents need to learn to work with their faculties, whose goals are likely to be less predictable than the AAUP’s goal of political power.
Unions represent the past, not the future. Universities are facing a crisis similar to that faced by American industry in the 1970s when it became apparent that the United States was not competing successfully in the global market. American industry reformed and survived. Private-sector unions all but disappeared. Universities must also reform to survive.
Dale W. Schaefer is an engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati. He is a member of the Faculty Senate and is the elected faculty representative to the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees.