Despite pushback from their administration, faculty members at the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly for a union. In a ballot count yesterday, November 24, 356 adjunct and full-time faculty (99% of the votes) supported joining the United Academics of Philadelphia (UAP), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
The art professors first announced their intention to form a union on Labor Day, September 7, calling for “accountability, transparency, and shared decision making.” Some of them rallied outside the school’s Hamilton Hall, asking the university to voluntarily recognize their union.
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They were soon disappointed when David Yager, UArts’s president and CEO, declined to voluntarily recognize the union on September 10. Instead, Yager called for a “fair and transparent” union election and expressed his confidence in the faculty’s “ability to do thorough research and make a quality decision about what they want for their future.”
A day after the university’s refusal to voluntarily recognize the union, the faculty members filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.
The majority of faculty at UArts are contingent labor. In the fall of 2018, 76% of institution’s professors were adjuncts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These teachers are hired on a semester basis with no access to health insurance and no benefits, the union said in an online petition launched in September.
John Woodin, an adjunct professor at UArts, has taught at the schools’ photography program for 30 years.
“Five years ago, the UArts administration claimed that university-sponsored healthcare violated the Affordable Care Act and discontinued the benefit for adjunct faculty,” Woodin claimed in a press release. “While serving as the representative for part-time faculty on the Faculty Council, I raised the healthcare issue repeatedly and through the proper channels, but it was like talking to a brick wall.”
Laura Frazure, an assistant professor and coordinator of sculpture at the Fine Arts Department, was an adjunct professor at UArts and several other institutions for 18 years — at times teaching at five different colleges — before securing a full-time job at the school.
“I am excited to win a union at UArts to give faculty a meaningful voice in university governance and a central role in defining the culture of the institution,” Frazure said in a statement. “A unionized faculty will help us reestablish a meaningful role in university governance in partnership with university leadership.”
“UArts faculty love teaching, ” said Woodin. “We want our students to succeed, and we have issues that will only be addressed if a strong faculty union represents us.”
Editor’s note 11/25/2020: An earlier version of this article stated that the UArts faculty members will join 15,000 adjunct and non-tenure-track professors represented by UAP. This is incorrect; 15,000 professors are eligible for representation by UAP, but are not all unionized. We regret the error.