As Duke University alumni, we strongly support Duke contingent faculty as they democratically form a union and strive for respect, fairness, and representation at our alma mater. We also write to express our deep disappointment with the university’s decision to spend university resources, which may include our alumni donations and tuition dollars, on an anti-union campaign against these faculty.
Many of us were taught by and have worked alongside contingent faculty as students and as alumni. Time and time again, our contingent faculty have gone above and beyond the call of teaching, supporting our growth as students and as working adults. Some of these faculty are even themselves Duke alumni, with longstanding intellectual ties to the campus community; most are Durham residents, residing in the areas covered by the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. Without contingent faculty, Duke could not function.
Despite their exceptional dedication and hard work, contingent faculty at Duke are undervalued and unrecognized members of our community. This reality has led to stagnant wages, inconsistent benefits, unstable jobs, and inadequate representation in decisions that affect the quality of education for students across campus. These conditions cannot continue to exist for such vital members of our community. We support contingent faculty’s initiative in reversing these trends by organizing to form a union with SEIU Faculty Forward.
We are mindful of Duke’s history of leadership on labor rights, exemplified by the decision to be the first university to place an order with the socially responsible Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic. As the Chronicle reported on February 8, 2012, over 400 universities have followed Duke’s lead in this action that provided a living wage and fair conditions for those who make Duke apparel overseas. Surely our contingent faculty deserve the same support.
Until the Duke administration publicly commits to not interfere practically or rhetorically with our contingent faculty’s campaign to form a union, we pledge to withhold our donations to Duke. We do not take this decision lightly, but we cannot, in good faith, contribute to the university until its leadership respects the rights of contingent faculty to democratically organize their union.
Duke’s core mission calls on us “to attain and maintain a place of real leadership in all that we do.” We alumni challenge our beloved alma mater to live that mission, and to lead by showing others how to make responsible improvements. In turn, we follow the mission by supporting contingent faculty’s choice to advocate for themselves through the formation of a union.