Education

Duke faculty members win big raises in historic union agreement

Under the tentative union contract, average pay increases would be 14 percent for faculty paid on a per-course basis; nearly 12 percent for salaried faculty; and 46 percent for faculty in Applied Music, who are the lowest-paid faculty.
Under the tentative union contract, average pay increases would be 14 percent for faculty paid on a per-course basis; nearly 12 percent for salaried faculty; and 46 percent for faculty in Applied Music, who are the lowest-paid faculty. N&O file photo

Duke University’s non-tenured faculty have reached a tentative agreement in their first union contract, which includes higher pay and longer-term teaching appointments.

The three-year negotiated contract would cover about 275 part-time and full-time contingent faculty, according to Service Employees International Union, which the Duke faculty joined last year.

Average pay increases during the contract would be: 14 percent for faculty paid on a per-course basis; nearly 12 percent for salaried faculty; and 46 percent for faculty in Applied Music, who are the lowest-paid faculty. Roughly half to two-thirds of faculty in those categories would receive higher-than-average raises, according to SEIU.

The agreement includes multi-year teaching appointments, the same benefits as other Duke employees and pay protections for canceled courses. A new fund would be set up for professional development.

The deal makes history. It would be the first faculty union contract at a major private university in the South, SEIU said. Faculty in other Southern states such as Florida and Tennessee are currently working to form unions.

Negotiations at Duke have been under way for months. In April, faculty rallied outside Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, where administrators were holding a celebration of the university’s recently concluded $3.25 billion fund-raising campaign.

Duke officials declined to comment until after the vote is ratified by the union’s bargaining unit. Members will continue to vote on ratification through the end of the month.

Faculty said they were pleased with the deal, which gives them better pay and job security, but also a new feeling of belonging at Duke.

“I’m very happy, I’m very pleased,” said Eileen Anderson, a lecturing fellow in Romance Studies, who teaches six Spanish classes to nearly 100 students a year. “I didn’t think it would happen.”

Anderson, a member of the bargaining team, said the effort built better communication with the administration on everyday issues important to non-tenure track faculty, such as having office space, university computers and a voice in decisions.

Having more job stability is key and a big stress reducer, she said. “I’ll still be accountable, but I won’t be wondering if I’ll have a job,” she said.

Mike Dimpfl, lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, said the deal would help him realize his dream of teaching, without constantly worrying about being on the job market. He’ll now have the option of a renewable contract.

“For me, it’s giving me the freedom to teach in the way I hope to grow into being a better teacher,” he said. “One of the main benefits of this contract is the elements that provide greater job security.”

Dimpfl said there are intangible benefits.

“It’s an enormous relief to not have to consider myself to be a kind of contingent figure in a community that I have a growing investment in,” he said. “It’s like finally being welcomed to the table.”

Part-time and full-time non-tenured faculty at Duke voted in March 2016 to unionize. A group called Duke Teaching First led the effort to join the Service Employees International Union in hopes of better pay and benefits.

It was the first union election at a private university in the South in decades. Other private universities around the country have seen an uptick in union activity by contract faculty workers, who are an increasingly large part of the teaching force in higher education.

Anderson said the Duke faculty’s success might bode well for others. “Duke is a place that a lot of people look toward to where trends in education are going,” she said.

Early this year, a unionization vote by Duke graduate students failed after many votes were challenged by the university and the union.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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