Union background information


When SEIU filed for an election in January 2016, it petitioned that instructors with job titles of teaching specialist and lecturer as well as six titles from Extension be included in the Instructional Unit. These job titles had been placed by the University in the Professional & Administrative Unit, a unit that includes approximately 120 job titles (including, incidentally, the president of the university). After 8 months of deliberation on this point, the BMS ruled that the titles of lecturer, senior lecturer, teaching specialist, and senior teaching specialist should be included in the instructional unit, though it ruled that the extension titles should remain in the P&A unit. This decision was based on the ruling that faculty in the instructional unit and instructors with these contested titles share a community of interest as instructional employees, meaning that while some of the parameters of these jobs differ, they share enough conditions and practices in the workplace to be benefited by representation as a group.

The university administration, supported by a group of faculty called MNExcellence, who oppose unionization, appealed this decision and on July 7, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard the case of the University administration, represented by Fredrikson & Byron, and the case of faculty, represented by SEIU. At this hearing, university administration again claimed that the work of teaching specialists and lecturers does not fulfill the tripartite mission of the University, insisting on a separation of research and teaching that erases the wealth of research and service work performed by instructors with these titles.

Why Is the University Administration Pushing So Hard to Keep Teaching Specialists and Lecturers Out of the Faculty Unit?

This question should concern every instructional faculty person at the U, tenure-line or non-tenure-line, because it signals the University administration’s investment in maintaining a division between its faculty. While the University administration’s legal case has been built on the idea that the instructional unit, of about 1800 people, is governed by the tenure code, this is also not true. Of these 1800 faculty, over 200 are not in tenure-line jobs. We also know that in almost every department across the U, teaching specialists and/or lecturers teach alongside faculty in the instructional unit. Furthermore, in contrast to what the University administration has testified about in these hearings, faculty with these contested titles not only teach courses that tenure-line faculty also teach, but also engage in scholarly research in their fields, publish academic articles and books, and contribute to service in their departments.

What has emerged in the course of these legal proceedings, which the University administration has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on, is that there is a lot at stake in the division of tenure-line and contingent faculty. Our conversations with contingent faculty across the University in the past years have revealed that in addition to the job insecurity of a semester- or 9-month contract, contingent faculty struggle for respect and representation in their own departments. The persistent devaluing of these positions by the University makes them increasingly unsustainable for those who hold them, many of whom have spent their careers teaching at the University of Minnesota. In arguing to keep this tiered classification of its faculty in place, the university not only devalues the work of its contingent faculty, which across the colleges in AY 2016–17 totaled roughly 1200 individuals, but places the education of tuition-paying students in the hands of instructors it is determined to prevent from assuming the title of faculty.