Thank you for your continued coverage of the efforts to unionize adjunct faculty at Seattle University. This is an important matter regardless of the outcome of the vote because it highlights the difficulties of the faculty who do not have the protection and benefits available to tenure track professors.
In 1975, I was on the faculty at Seton Hill, a Catholic women’s college in Pennsylvania, when we voted on whether we would unionize. The majority voted against collective bargaining. There were many reasons for this (the vote was reasonably close), but I believe three factors were especially significant. The faculty had been losing ground financially because annual increases were not keeping up with inflation. However, when representatives forming the Faculty Association presented this problem to the Board of Trustees, the trustees listened very carefully; most importantly, our salaries were increased significantly when we received our next contracts even though it was a stretch for the college to do this. Second, our chief academic officer, Sr. Colette Toler (a truly amazing woman), was more mindful, in action as well as in words, of the wellbeing of faculty than even the faculty who represented us on the Faculty Association. Finally, the Sisters of Charity who ran the college were very discrete in anything they said about unionization. We assumed that privately they prayed we would not unionize because it would make their lives more complicated, but in public they said virtually nothing. Of course this was a long time ago and our situation here is quite different. Yet there may still be some lessons to be taken from this particular incident.