UW is becoming an institution with a small cohort of competitively-paid elites and an overwhelming majority of faculty struggling to reconcile escalating teaching and service loads with shrinking resources.

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DRIVEN by a deep commitment to quality and affordable public higher education, a diverse group of faculty at the University of Washington’s three campuses are working to form a union.

Those of us spearheading the unionization effort see an institution at risk caused by decreasing state support and increasing reliance on corporate financing models for public higher education that negatively impact a range of stakeholders: current and prospective UW students and their families, faculty, staff members and regional employers.

We strongly feel unionization offers the best prospect to ensure UW remains a top-tier research university within reach for our state’s top high-school graduates.

Read the other view

To read Paul B. Hopkins’ and Ed Lazowska’s Op-Ed about why the University of Washington doesn’t need to unionize its entire faculty, go to: bit.ly/UW-union

A few relevant facts and figures: From 2007-13, state higher-education funding dropped by 25.5 percent. Recent improvements in state funding offer some relief but don’t compensate for years of sustained losses. Over a 10-year period ending in 2012-13, the percentage of tenure-line faculty dropped from 43 percent to 30 percent. This means a significant portion of instruction at the UW is not done by research faculty, even though this is what attracts many students to the UW in the first place.

Instead, an underclass of lecturers is pigeonholed as workhorse instructors with lower pay and higher turnover. And a third of these lecturers are part-time, barely able to afford the high cost of living in Greater Seattle.

Meanwhile, funding of the university is derived more and more from unsustainably high rates of student tuition and from private donors, whose donations are (unsurprisingly) earmarked for research or teaching projects of particular interest to them. The decrease in federal (NIH) funding for work in the sciences further reduces the means to support across-the-board faculty innovation and achievement at all ranks and in all fields.

UW is on track to become an institution with a small cohort of competitively-paid elites in a few select fields and an overwhelming majority of faculty struggling to reconcile ever-escalating teaching and service loads with shrinking resources. In short, we are moving toward a two-tier system, in which only a small handful of faculty work under optimum conditions for first-class teaching and research, while undergraduate students spend less and less time in the classroom with the research faculty with whom the reputation of the UW largely rests.

Some have wondered whether collective bargaining could work at such a diverse institution as the UW, which encompasses multiple campuses, hundreds of departments and schools, and faculty at every rank. But our enormous diversity is an argument for collective bargaining, rather than against it.

In a recent Seattle Times Op-Ed, two anti-union UW faculty members, Paul Hopkins and Ed Lazowska, admitted that they can understand why contingent faculty might wish to unionize, though they argued against unionizing faculty across the ranks. In so doing, they implicitly acknowledge the creation of this two-tier system. Yet they also charge that unionization is the thing that would somehow “jeopardize unity” at UW. How can there be unity under current conditions, when diverse groups of faculty are pitted in competition for ever-smaller wedges of a shrinking pie?

Collective bargaining would offer faculty the opportunity to collaborate across departments and ranks to negotiate conditions appropriate to their specific needs and disciplines. It would also ensure that faculty in all ranks and programs get the resources they need to pursue their academic careers and enjoy equitable working conditions.

Collective bargaining does not mean that everyone’s working conditions are standardized. It means a contract that supports diverse forms of research, teaching and mentoring while also ensuring excellence for the whole university. And unlike promises and good intentions, union contracts are legally binding and enforceable.

While an ever-diminishing number of faculty are sheltered from its effects, a culture of austerity has taken root at UW. It imperils our excellence, our accessibility to Washington state students and our sense of shared mission. The welcomed selection of Ana Mari Cauce as UW’s new president does not change these basic economic and structural challenges.

Unionization of UW faculty means working across the ranks, collectively, and in partnership with the administration to support the whole of UW as a pre-eminent and accessible institution of public higher education.