LOS ANGELES ― Professors not eligible for tenure at two of three departments at the University of Southern California voted to unionize, an effort they hope will result in improved salaries, health benefits and job stability.
Professors at the Roski School of Art and Design and the USC International Academy voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to join Service Employees International Union Local 721. The art school vote was 31-to-6, and the academy vote was 32-to-3.
However, the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, which has more professors than the other two departments combined, narrowly voted not to unionize. The vote was 113 in favor and 127 against.
Katie Levin, a writing professor who advocated for unionization, said teachers felt “triumphant, because in the face of aggressive anti-union tactics by the USC administration, two key schools managed to rise above the fear.”
The university objects to unionizing the art school because non-tenured teachers have a significant voice in academic affairs via their role in the academic senate, faculty council and various committees, USC Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael W. Quick said.
Quick called the art school vote “personally disappointing” and said the university will appeal the unionization to federal labor regulators and courts if necessary.
But the vote at the International Academy is valid, Quick said, and USC will recognize and begin “bargaining in good faith with the union” because those lecturers do not have a voice in making policy.
The provost said about the vote in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences that he does not take lightly the number of faculty members voicing dissatisfaction and said he’ll try to earn the trust placed in him by the votes against unionizing.
Of all teaching appointments nationwide, 76 percent are for non-tenure-track positions, according to the American Association of University Professors.
Close to 70 percent of USC’s faculty is not on the track for tenure, according to SEIU. Professors began organizing in January.
Levin said faculty members are concerned about instructor working and living conditions, with some working multiple jobs aside from teaching to make ends meet.
Over the last year, non-tenure faculty at institutions including the University of Chicago and Tufts also voted to unionize.