The end of second semester is always a busy time of year. Between studying for exams, finishing up final projects and getting ready for LDOC, everyone on campus is bustling about in preparation for the summer. For professors in the non-regular rank faculty union that formed last spring, the end of the term also represents one of the final rounds of bargaining on contract negotiations for this year. Although the unionization vote got a fair amount of press coverage, most undergraduates still fail to understand what exactly these negotiations represent. The ongoing discussions have been about numerous things, but at the core, they have been centered around better wages and job security.
The current employment terms for non-regular rank faculty can leave them working practically as temps for up to a decade. A considerable number have contracts that are renewed on a year to year basis, some are even working semester to semester, making their livelihoods precarious and unstable. Union members have expressed trouble making ends meet and supporting their families as well. These conditions impact day to day life even more than we might think. For example, when Duke students first move off campus, they will most likely need a parent to act as a guarantor because their income is not secure enough to pass the credit check of a landlord or bank. Current work terms for these faculty often leave them in a similar situation in which their job insecurity makes them ineligible for things like home loans and mortgages.
Non-regular rank faculty take many forms at Duke and it’s almost certain that every student knows at least one. Many of these professors are responsible for much of the day to day research our university is renowned for. Poor working conditions creates a self-selecting system in which only those with the financial support of their spouse or family can accept teaching positions here. This means a negative impact on the quality and content of the work being done here. As a university and a national research institution, Duke has an obligation to society to ensure that the best and brightest can conduct research here, regardless of their socioeconomic status. As students, we also need to recognize the influence these people have on our education. They teach our language classes, grade our papers and write our letters of recommendation. Their influence on our education is undeniable and their impacts can last a lifetime.
So what can students do about this? For starters, undergraduates can make public stands to support these faculty members. The influence of students at Duke is clear and this type of support could be vital to their cause. Furthermore, there needs to be an effort to get to know our faculty members not just as instruments of our career development, but as people who live and work in our community. The more we know about the professors teaching us, the more connected we will feel connected to their struggles. Ultimately, the bottom line for us is clear: faculty are working for better working conditions and, as students, we owe our support to them.