Faculty Senate Looks To Unionize


On Feb. 22, the Faculty Senate for the first time voted to explore unionization, a move the Fordham administration opposes.

The vote came about as a result of what some senators say is several years of failures in regard to good faith salary and benefits bargaining between faculty and administration.

“This has been going on for a number of years now,” Andrew Clark, associate professor of modern languages and literature at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) and one of the two senators to formally make the resolution, said. “There have been protracted salary negotiations, particularly last year, and a growing feeling among faculty of a lack of transparency and a lack of input on issues of faculty governance.”

The Faculty Senate is composed of 25 members, with senators from undergraduate colleges at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center, as well as from Fordham’s graduate, business and law schools. According to the Faculty Sen­ate’s constitution, the Senate “shall have the right and duty to advise the president and trustees of the university and to initiate recommendations in all areas of university activity.” These roles are supposed to be carried out at monthly meetings that take place during the academic year.

Leonard Nissim, an associate professor of mathematics said that the negotiations stalled when the administration refused to give the faculty the amount of money necessary for “an across the board increase [in salary] equal to the rising consumer price index (CPI) in the New York area, plus $1,200 merit pay for half of the faculty.” In order to secure an increase in salary consistent with the rise in the CPI for every faculty member, the half  of the faculty requesting an increase of $1,200 in merit pay had to settle for an $800 increase instead. According to faculty arguments, the amount of money being fought over was $56,000.

“So, in and of itself, that was not pleasant,” Nissim said, “but what was even worse was that the university had an operating surplus well into the billions,” and that all of that money was “siphoned off into funds that the administration controls instead of being used in part to give the faculty a decent salary increase.”

“We’ve put forth countless motions in the last two or three years that have been completely ignored by the administration,” Clark said. He also noted that “if the faculty had true managerial authority,” there would be more of a “good faith response from the administration.”

The “managerial authority” Clark spoke of is from a 1980 Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, often referenced when the faculty of a private university considers unionization.

In the Yeshiva decision, the Court held that, because the Faculty Senate at Yeshiva had “extensive control” over academic, personnel and policy decisions, they had a managerial role and were excluded from the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 as a result.

Simply put, the Faculty Senate at Yeshiva had so much control over the university that for all intents and purposes, they were considered to be the university—and a body can’t collectively bargain with itself.

In an official statement provided to The Observer by John Lordan, Fordham’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, Fordham also has managerial authority on its mind.

“Fordham is committed to the model of shared governance under which the university has grown and prospered over the last 40 years. Fordham has been well-served by this model, in which faculty are partners in managing the university. Given faculty’s management role at Fordham, the administration believes it is not in the university’s best interest to support the creation of a faculty collective bargaining unit,” the statement said.

It is clear that both the administration and the Senate are aware of the importance of determining whether or not Fordham’s faculty has managerial authority. What is less clear is the answer to that question.

Thomas DeLuca, a professor of political science at FCLC and the senator who made the resolution with Clark, said that there are many questions that still need to be answered about this issue.

“The first is the legal interpretation of the [Yeshiva] ruling” and other important cases concerning unionization and how these can be applied to Fordham’s situation.

In some cases, like National Labor Relations Board v. Florida Memorial College, courts have determined that other factors, such as whether the university actually listening to the Senate’s recommendations, should be used to determine whether a faculty truly has managerial authority.

“Based on the expert legal presentation we had at the last Faculty Senate meeting,” DeLuca said, “a clear majority of senators were persuaded that it was certainly possible that Fordham professors would have a right to collective bargaining.”

For many, that right is still merely a means to an end.

“I think what the faculty desires is to have more input over faculty governance, that they’re paid and given benefits that are commensurate to the work that they do and that are in line with the past profits of the institution and that there’s just a greater sense of collective community and action among all faculty,” Clark said.

“I think that there are some people who hope perhaps that when we say we’re collective bargaining or exploring collective bargaining, somehow the administration will become more responsible and listen to us and then we can all forget about it,” Clark said.

“My sense is that this threat has been made before and that there has been response before by the administration. But I think at a certain point, you can only cry wolf so many times. It is time to act and assess whether unionization is the best option for the faculty and the institution.”