President Connie Book has released an official video announcement addressing the Elon Faculty Forward movement to form a union for non-tenure-track faculty members at Elon University.
The movement went public during its first event on Nov. 29. The "Elon Faculty Forward Speak Out" had more than 80 participants and ended in front of Book's office in Powell Building.
"Our goal, as always, is to continue building a better stronger Elon for everyone. I simply do not believe a labor union will effectively support that goal," Book said in the video. "We have had tremendous success working together to create our own destiny. Let's give that proven system a chance at these issues as well."
For Book, that "proven system" is Academic Council, a committee of faculty members tasked to formulate policies regarding different faculty issues for approval or disapproval of the general faculty. The council consists of 25 faculty representatives from a variety of undergraduate departments and offices on campus.
"We need to use and trust the system we know have advanced excellence at Elon," Book said in the video. "We do not want to undermine our shared governance with a system in which outside lawyers negotiate our future and the ways we related to one another."
Prudence Layne, chair of Academic Council, was unaware of the movement to unionize prior to the events on Nov. 29.
"It has not been an issue that has been brought formally by any of our representatives or any faculty member to Academic Council," Layne said. "This is my third year and final year on council and in those three years, there has not been an agenda item that has been focused on this."
Despite the topic not being brought up yet, according to Layne "it will definitely be an issue for discussion."
Like Layne, university administrators were unaware of Elon Faculty Forward's plans to host their first event. The day after the event on Nov. 30, Provost Steven House emailed the entire faculty and staff at Elon addressing the topic.
"Many members of our community were surprised by a union action at Elon by organizers of Service Employees International Union (SEIU)," House wrote in the email. "We had heard reports that some outside members of the union were approaching faculty in hallways and at their homes, but we had no advance notice of a campus demonstration or their intention to file a union election petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday."
In a second email sent on Dec. 4, House updated faculty and staff with more information regarding the Elon Faculty Forward's actions and condemned the formation of the union.
"As a person with many years of investment in Elon, I want to say clearly and without hesitation that I believe a union is not in the best interest of faculty, our students or the future of our university," House wrote.
It was earlier that day that Book's video announcement was released. In the video she also addressed the Elon Faculty Forward event that ended in front of her office.
"At Elon, we have never started meaningful discussions using bull horns and carrying signs," Book said in the video. "Unfortunately, issues this group is concerned with had not been raised through Academic Council, where all faculty — including adjuncts — have a voice."
But Catherine Bush, assistant professor of biology and member of the Organizing Committee of Elon Faculty Forward, doesn't believe Academic Council is the right way to go for non-tenure-track faculty members because of the lack of representation within the council.
"We want the best for our students, but to do that we need our own representation," Bush said. "We don't get paid to go to Academic Council meetings. So, should I spend my time with my daughter, when I don't get paid very much at all or should I come to a meeting where I'm not fairly represented?"
A union is how Bush believes she and other non-tenure-track faculty members will receive "fair representation." A process she has asked administration to keep from hindering.
During Elon Faculty Forward's first event, Bush brought a letter of neutrality to Book's office for her and House to sign by the end of the day, requesting they agree not to attempt to delay the vote.
Neither Book or House signed the agreement.
"We are disappointed about the neutrality agreement, just let us make our decisions — let us speak," Bush said. "They should not be scared of the vote. If it is what they say, that this is not the Elon way and this is not right, than we won't vote for it, but let the vote go forward."
Updated at 1:43 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2018 to include photos, additional information on Academic Council and statements from Prudence Layne and Catherine Bush.