I write from a place of love — a deep, complicated love for my alma mater. Elon University is a tight-knit community of scholars, leaders and innovators. As a graduate student pursuing my doctorate in philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, I often think about and appreciate all the ways my Elon experience prepared me to be a thoughtful, diligent, community-minded scholar. But my appreciation and my love are difficult for me to hold in my heart as I read about the administration’s response to adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty filing for their union election.
Today, my love is tinged with anger for two reasons. First, I am angry that you, the members of the administration, have failed to remain neutral as the faculty members decide whether to vote “yes” for forming a union. You are circulating “information” about the union election that blatantly attempts to mislead faculty — indeed, all members of the Elon community – about the role of a union. Notably, you have tried to suggest that unions are outsiders to the Elon family when, in fact, an adjunct union would be made up only of Elon’s adjunct faculty.
And second, I am angry that you have chosen the law firm Ogletree Deakins to represent you throughout the union election process. Ogletree Deakins has a long history of representing anti-union employers, and so they seem like a fitting choice for a university that wants to resist unionization efforts of their adjunct and contingent faculty. But what is even more appalling to me is that you have decided to hire this firm despite their history of defending North Carolina’s voter ID law and its redistricting plans — both of which have been widely condemned as voter-suppression tactics that disproportionately affect people of color.
Your willingness to have Ogletree Deakins represent your interests reveals your willingness to engage in practices that go directly against Elon’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and social justice. How can students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni feel welcome at Elon knowing that Elon will not only fight to avoid treating its employees fairly, but also that the administration allies itself with legal representation that actively works against racial and economic justice?
As I write from my own position of academic precocity, I am disappointed to know that Elon takes my rights as an employee no more seriously than my current university. Loyola University-Chicago has — in the nearly-two years since graduate workers unionized — continually obstructed our rights as workers. But I know that my alma mater cares deeply about its students, faculty, staff and alumni, and so I write to encourage you to express that care by changing the way you approach and frame the upcoming union election.
I call on you, the university administration, to stop interfering with the election process. Recognize that though Elon is unique in so many ways, the university is not exempt from employment injustices that make unions so crucial for the survival of higher education in the United States.
I, along with more than 150 other Elon alumni, have signed a letter expressing support for the university’s adjunct faculty (bit.ly/ElonAlumniLetter). In this letter, we pledged to withhold our donations to Elon University until the administration publicly commits to not interfere practically or rhetorically with the non-tenure-track faculty’s campaign to form a union. We know Elon can do better than this, and because we know this, we cannot, in good faith, give to the university until its leadership respects the rights of faculty to democratically organize their union.
I call on you, furthermore, to recognize this union election as an opportunity for Elon to talk about what just employment looks like and to show other universities across the nation how faculty members deserve to be treated. I am hopeful because it is not too late for Elon to make a different choice. It would mean so much to me to see my alma mater supporting adjunct faculty by respecting them enough to let them vote without further interference. I would feel encouraged that Elon has lived up to its own aspirations as a leader in higher education; I would feel energized to continue using my Elon education as I organize for change in my own community; and I would feel like my fellow alums, the adjunct faculty and I are truly part of the Elon family.
As a student, I was part of a coalition called the “Student-Led Alliance for an Inclusive Community.” We encouraged one another, and our fellow Elon students, to love our school enough to change it. By filing for a union election, adjunct faculty are performing the very act of love that has been, in my experience, the most effective force for positive change at Elon: caring about the university enough to hold it accountable to its commitments. I demand that you, the university administration, recognize this love and take it seriously.
Claire Lockard, Class of 2016 -- Philosophy BA, Lumen Scholar, Honors Fellow, Phi Beta Kappa, current PhD student at Loyola University Chicago