Tuesday, May 25, 2010

AFT organizes Art Institute of Seattle

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Instructors at the Art Institute of Seattle on Friday filed signatures with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a union election with the goal of affiliating with the American Federation of Teachers.(The Art Institute of Seattle and other art institute campuses including one planned for Milwaukee's Third Ward are owned by the Education Management Corporation, a major player in for-profit higher ed, which also operates Argosy University, Brown Mackie College, and South University.)

The move could be significant for several reasons. The major unions that organize faculty members in the United States (the AFT, the American Association of University Professors and the National Education Association) have largely stayed away from the growing for-profit sector. Officials of both the AAUP and NEA said that they have no organizing drives going on in for-profit higher ed. If the AFT is successful, some labor experts believe that academic unions could find fertile ground in for-profit higher education (and plenty of academics in nonprofit higher education would like to see that happen).

Also of note are the issues that union organizers are stressing. There is little talk of wages and benefits. Rather, the campaign is being built around allegations that faculty members are not being permitted to uphold academic quality. Faculty members say that they are pressured to give (undeserved) high grades and to pass some students who should fail. These charges come at a time of increasing scrutiny of for-profit higher education and mirror themes from a much-discussed "Frontline" documentary and from advocates for tougher federal regulation of the for-profit sector, suggesting that some for-profit colleges encourage students to enroll not because they are qualified or will benefit, but for their student aid dollars...

The "universal concerns" of faculty members...are "student-related issues." ... "the students are being treated like cattle," and that the institute's "focus is to get the numbers in, get them on financial aid, and to get the money back to shareholders ... and to do this, they want to make sure that regardless of what happens in the classroom, the student passes."

Faculty members have been going to open houses that the art institute holds to listen to what recruiters say, and ...students are being promised that the courses will be easy and will lead to good jobs. As a result, students have "weird expectations" and faculty members are caught in the middle when they try to enforce academic standards that the students aren't prepared for. "What the faculty have said that they hate so much is that they feel that the school is stealing from the students and we are in the middle of that..."

"I think this could be a test case for a whole class of institutions," said Richard Boris, director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, at the City University of New York’s Hunter College. For-profit higher education is booming, Boris noted, but faculties are heavily part time, without protections of tenure or unions. "You have this cohort of the academic dispossessed," he said.

The entire Higher Ed article is linked here.


Peter said...

What is most important about this is the historical contextualization:

When American manufacturing started and accelerated its runaway shop trends in the 1980s, too many unions and too many workers blamed workers in other countries and didn't organize the workers where they were.

Today, the AFT gets that the market fundamentalists want to get rid of public education just like they wanted to get rid of family-supporting working class jobs in the 1970s and 1980s; and so AFT is organizing the education workers where we are: K12 charters are getting organized; grad student workers, faculty and academic staff are getting organized in public and private universities -- and not just the not-for-profits, but also the for-profits.

The labor movement shouldn't care what the institution is: we just need to organize people wherever, however, whenever.

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