Why I Paid My Dues: An open letter to my colleagues

This is the text of a letter provided to us by a colleague, now retired from The University of Akron, immediately after Akron-AAUP was certified as the faculty representative in collective bargaining.  We post it here as we can find nothing that doesn’t still apply.

Dear Colleagues,

This is my 16th and final year at the University of Akron.  Even though I am leaving and will not personally benefit from Akron-AAUP representation, I’ve opted to pay my full year’s union dues. For what it may be worth, I wanted to explain why I did this.  Since coming to the university, I have been a participant in making our dietetics program one of the best in the state (we were recognized by UA administration in its television and print Akron Advantage advertisements).  I want to see all our programs remain strong at the university.  I paid all my dues because:

  • I want to see the University of Akron remain an integral and valuable part of this community, the community where I reside.

  • I want the faculty who have given their professional careers to the institution to have a say in the decisions that profoundly impact our mission, faculty, and students.

  • I want to safeguard the union’s effectiveness in negotiations and give power to our faculty voice.

  • I want to support my colleagues of years who remain at the university and will continue to advocate for quality programs and the best education for our students.

  • I don’t want my 16 year investment in our university to go unprotected after I’m gone.

  • Like so many of you, I’ve seen multiple administrators come and go, and have come to understand that the faculty is the “glue” that holds the institution together. Faculty and staff are the only constant factor we can count on.

Because of our administrators’ short time here at UA (they seem to be always looking for a position at a “better” university), faculty always seem to be playing catch-up to our sister schools. The faculty provides the knowledge, loyalty and institutional memory that make excellent programs possible.  We also become the advocates for the students we work with one-on-one in our classes, through student organizations, and as our advisees.  We are the links the university has to the community and have secured the internships and other placements for our students (and long before this administration decided it was something the university should do). We, the faculty, are the avenues of transmission for the delivery of the university’s mission. And yet we are considered only in passing when important decisions are made.

The University of Akron is an urban university where most of our students are non-residential and almost all pay to finance some or all of their education.  We provide an excellent educational opportunity to many students who might not otherwise afford a college education.  But, with each successive administration, we have been asked to adopt additional or alternative roles for our university, depleting our energies in the process.  Meanwhile valuable, increasingly limited resources have been used to pay for visions of what we should be – visions that often fade as soon as the current administrator departs for a new position. We’ve all seen this happen with each new administration – a new mission for the institution, a new budget plan, a new way of distributing resources – always different from the previous version with one striking similarity – implementation of such a short duration as to make little real difference in the long run.

By distracting us (and our resources) for each new plan to reinvent the university, our transient administrations have made working conditions for the faculty – who were here before and continue to be here after each administrative change – much more difficult.  We have seen our salaries fall in comparison to other institutions in the state and we’ve found little administrative interest or planning to address faculty concerns.  We have seen top down decisions that have greatly impacted our workloads as administrative tasks done by support areas have been transferred to faculty.  And, we have seen faculty positions go unfilled with no real plan to decide in any objective way to return them to productive units.

The frustration of the faculty at these worsening conditions ultimately led to the vote to bring collective bargaining to our campus.  Having our own means to negotiate will ensure us a forum to air our concerns with the administration – a means that cannot be ignored and will, I am certain, get results.  Interestingly enough, there have already been results – even the threat of unionization was enough to make the administration suddenly aware of our needs.  We were given a 3-4% raise, the highest in years, and additional monies in some areas to help rectify compression and unusually low salaries in some areas as compared to other institutions.

Will such a dramatic change in the way we operate fix everything? Not likely – and most certainly it will require long hours and hard work to realize benefit.  Fortunately, we have a faculty that has never turned away from difficult tasks.  I paid my dues because the union has the promise of consistency of leadership that our university community needs.

Cordially, Isabelle Stombaugh, Ph.D.

Nutrition and Dietetics

The School of Family and Consumer Sciences