Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board received briefs from advocates for and against academic labor unions while it waits to rule on Point Park University professors being allowed to unionize. The briefs posed sharply different assessments of how much power faculty members have over the governance of private colleges as the board reconsiders its standards for determining which faculty members are employees who can unionize and which are managers legally ineligible to do so. In their brief, the American Council on Education argued that the NLRB v. Yeshiva University ruling — which found that faculty members there were effectively managerial employees, ineligible for collective bargaining, because of their role in shared governance — should stand and should continue to bar private college faculty unions.
Back in 1980, during the Yeshiva case, a shared governance policy was the norm for many private universities, where adjunct faculty had some shared administrative authority as well as power to write their own curriculum and shape their courses. The brief argues that the influence of faculty members has been so drastically weakened at many private colleges that it no longer makes sense to see them as managerial employees, thus they would be able to unionize.
The Yeshiva decision, which can only be changed by being revisited by the Supreme Court, does not apply to public colleges such as the University of Minnesota or its faculty members, whose collective-bargaining rights are set by state law. Here we too could see such rights change, as a result of state-level elections in November. Academic unions are a highly controversial subject here at the University, where graduate assistants and other educators voted down a union in March.
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