Open Letter to my Adjunct Colleagues

Note: ballots went out Thursday night; they’ll be counted on June 20th.

An Open Letter to my Adjunct Colleagues
David R. Weiss / Adjunct Faculty – Religion
June 6, 2014

Dear friends:

Like me, you probably received one more impassioned entreaty from the Provost yesterday. He wants to use our efforts at unionization as a “wake-up call” that he can turn into a “win-win” situation for everyone at Hamline … without a union. He asks us to “vote ‘no’ for now,” and give him the chance to show us that life can become a whole lot better without bringing a union into the picture. He even reminds us we can always vote to unionize next year if we aren’t pleased with his efforts by then.

It all sounds way more comfortable than venturing into the unknown territory of a union. But this is NOT the moment to lose your resolve – and not just because we are so close to winning this election (and we are).

So why not give the Provost one more chance?

Because this is how power always responds to the real threat that it may lose power. Sometimes it lashes out brutally – thankfully, we haven’t experienced that (at least not yet). Sometimes, as now, it tries to bargain for continued power by offering a whole parade of hopes. But power’s #1 objective is NOT to help us; it’s to hold on to power. And it will play on our fears and leverage our hopes however it can to keep us from laying claim to a share of power.

This isn’t really about the Provost. I respect him. I have no reason to mistrust him personally. But this isn’t personal. This is power talking in that letter. His words are fashioned within a system that knows only that a union – which gives us a collective voice to play an active and empowered role in our own destiny at Hamline – is a threat to the ways things are.

The other option is that the Provost is being intentionally disingenuous – employing half-truths and actively hoping to mislead you into voting against your own best interest (and, in truth, against Hamline’s long-term best interest as well). I choose NOT to think the Provost is doing that. I believe instead that his words are the best he can muster when tethered to a system of power that willfully misshapes things in order to preserve itself.

He says he’d rather negotiate with us one-on-one than bargain with an “intermediary.” But hardly any of us stands a chance at negotiating a real gain one-on-one. That’s a sure-fire plan to disempower us one … by … one. And the administration will not be bargaining with an “intermediary.” They’ll be bargaining with us – united, collective, empowered: US. In fact, a union is not a “restrictive barrier” which will get in the way of real progress. It is rather our collective voice, and it can insure that our hopes are named and heard and bargained for.

He highlights the decision by Macalester contingent faculty to delay their vote, as though that decision is a road map for us. It isn’t. Never was. And shouldn’t be. Without going into everything, the conditions among Mac faculty are quite different than ours and incredibly diverse among themselves, from fulltime contingents at full salary with benefits across multi-year contracts (but no option for tenure) to course-by-course adjuncts with no benefits at all. We are far from a homogeneous group ourselves, but we are ALL part-time, without benefits. Overall our conditions are significantly different than at Macalester, and we gain far more by standing together now than we will by letting the Provost delay any progress for a year or more.

He says that the key to a making progress on the “important issues affecting adjunct faculty” is “working directly together.” But this is exactly what a union gives us the power to do. Without a union our “working together” will be entirely on the administration’s terms and exactly to the extent they deem convenient or practical. There is nothing that prevents the administration from working directly with us on the far side of a successful union vote. In fact, that is exactly what will happen: once we are unionized, the administration will work directly with us – collectively. But having a union insures that when we (because the union is US) sit down at the table to discuss these important issues, there is an undeniable measure of partnership at the table.

Every attempt to cajole us into waiting for a year (which honestly hopes to make us wait forever) has one primary purpose: to preserve power for the administration. Remember that.

The most telling part of the Provost’s letter is the tone – which comes very close to a threat without ever actually making one. But he suggests repeatedly that we will be “happy” with how the administration treats us IF WE VOTE ‘NO’, all the while implying that, if we vote ‘yes,’ the administration cannot imagine cooperation, collaboration, or a sincere desire to improve our circumstances among its repertoire of responses to a union. How disappointing is that!

However, that insinuation – that implied threat – far from being a reason to rethink our course of action is the clearest signal that only this course of action will really shift the balance of power in our interest.

Again, this is not a personal attack on the Provost, but rather a statement of deep conviction about the dynamics of power: how it is held and how that is changed. Frederick Douglass put it this way: “There is no progress without struggle. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.” Put that on your mirror to greet you in the morning.

This vote is our struggle. It has untold value not only for ourselves, but for our students, our faculty colleagues, and for Hamline as a whole. It is a vote to claim our place and our voice in Hamline’s community, not as oppositional to the administration but as for our students and for Hamline’s best future.

I urge you, vote YES, not just for now, but for a better tomorrow – for all of us (including, although he may not yet be able to see it, the Provost!).

David Weiss / Adjunct Faculty – Religion



2 thoughts on “Open Letter to my Adjunct Colleagues

  1. David, your talents and skills as a wordsmith shine through. May God continue to bless your efforts.

  2. Pingback: Union Update: Getting to ZERO. | To the Tune of a Welcoming God

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