Saturday, March 2, 2024

MSU board says it will voluntarily recognize Union of Tenure Stream Faculty before April board meeting

February 2, 2024
MSU Interm President Teresa Woodruff, center left, speaks during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel.
MSU Interm President Teresa Woodruff, center left, speaks during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel. —
Photo by Brendan Mullin | The State News

Michigan State University Trustee Brianna Scott affirmed the board's willingness to voluntarily recognize the Union of Tenure Stream Faculty, saying the majority of the board is "pro-union."

Organizers of the Union of Tenure Stream Faculty called on Michigan State University to voluntarily recognize the union "as soon as possible," during public comments at Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting. The union first launched its campaign in November hoping to gain more power in administrative decision making.

"Most of us here — I'm looking at you Trustee Kelly — are pro-union," Scott said, referencing the lone Republican trustee, drawing laughs from the crowd and a smirk from Kelly. "We will support you all. I don't think you're going to get any pushback at least from seven of us." 

During media availability following the board meeting, board chair Rema Vassar said Kelly will not push back on the efforts. She said the board plans to voluntarily recognize the union before the next board meeting, scheduled for April 12. 

Scott said any delays on the board's part are because it wants to ensure the process is "fair" and that there is "no confusion." 

During public comments, union organizers praised the board’s passing of a controversial board policy governing unionization in 2021, which allows for the university to voluntarily recognize unions as long as the proposed bargaining unit is "reasonable." They argued it puts the university in a unique position to recognize the union swiftly. 

That resolution passed along party lines at the time, with all three Republican board members voting against it, including Dan Kelly. Republican trustees told the Lansing State Journal at the time that the administration would be "muzzled" by the resolution because it banned expressing opinions — either for or against the unionization efforts — to the faculty. 

NiCole Buchanan, a member of the union’s organizing committee and tenured professor in the psychology department, was one of the public commenters who praised the resolution and called on the university to voluntarily recognize the union. 

"In my conversations with our faculty, I've had the pleasure of being able to emphasize the wonderful, unique and forward thinking of this board and the neutrality agreement that you put in place back in December 2021," Buchanan said. 

"Faculty have been impressed with the position of this board to proactively agree that if a majority of our faculty want and support a union, that you would voluntarily recognize our union," she said. "Today, we’ve surpassed the majority."

UTSF first requested formal recognition on Dec. 26, 2023, saying they had received 54% support among tenure-stream faculty. 

Ning Hsieh, an associate professor in the department of sociology, said "I hope that you will take this opportunity route for you to rebuild a trustworthy relationship with faculty."

While organizers are hopeful the union will be voluntarily recognized, they have been skeptical of the university throughout the process.

Andaluna Borcila, a UTSF member and associate professor in James Madison College, said she hopes the university won’t stall the process. 

"We know that our administration could choose to invest in lawyers and firms to push back to try to stall the legal recognition of our union," Borcila said. "However, I believe we all share the conviction that our university's resources are best invested in education and in the well being of our community."

Organizers have previously expressed concerns over delays in the process.

"Moving swiftly and in collaboration with faculty is the right choice," Borcila said. "It is an opportunity to start rebuilding trust, an opportunity that will benefit us all."

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