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MSU professors are organizing a new faculty union

Michigan State University

Hundreds of professors at Michigan State University are organizing a campaign to form a new collective bargaining unit.

The proposed union would represent close to 2,000 faculty in the tenure system at MSU. Organizers with the Union of Tenure System Faculty say the effort would allow them to negotiate with administrators for better pay, benefits and school policy.

NiCole Buchanan, a professor in the psychology department, is recruiting faculty to join the effort. She said a union would make school leadership more responsive to the university’s community.

“We are the ones that are on the front lines, working with students working to get grants and to publish papers," Buchanan said. "Given that we are central to the functioning of the university, we should have a say in how the university works. We should have a say in the policies and the procedures that end up impacting the lives of not only faculty, but of everyone on campus.”

The union would not represent professors who aren't in the tenure system as they are already represented in the Union for Non-Tenured Track Faculty.

To form a collective bargaining unit, more than 50% of MSU’s tenure-track faculty would need to sign on to the effort. Buchanan said over 44% have already committed their support and she expects the group will have enough support by the end of the semester.

The professors have several priorities that they say would improve conditions for faculty at MSU. Buchanan said those include removing salary caps, giving professors more academic freedom to choose what they teach and protecting tenured positions.

“We want to see... that tenure is maintained and not eroded, that our faculty receive adequate pay so that we can recruit the best and brightest minds, but also that once we have them here, they want to stay,” Buchanan said.

MSU professors currently can lobby the administration to make policy changes through the Faculty Senate. But Buchanan noted the organization only plays an advisory role and doesn't have a mechanism to force the university to negotiate or consider its recommendations. She added a faculty union would be able to force officials to come to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith.

If professors meet the majority support required to form a union, an external third-party would go through a few verification steps before they can establish a collective bargaining unit. The group would then move into arbitration with the university and possibly begin negotiations on a contract for union members.

Administrators have made a commitment that they won't interfere with unionization efforts. A 2021 resolution from the Board of Trustees requires that officials remain neutral toward collective bargaining campaigns.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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