Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights

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Fall, 2020

As we all adjust to the rapidly changing climate of higher education during a global pandemic and the associated economic duress, we, as academic workers, demand the strongest possible democratic process in system- and campus-wide decision making. Security in our positions, safety in the work environment, autonomy over instruction, and faith in the administration to support academic workers and engage in democratic decision-making permit us to better serve students so they can be put front and center in our work and service rather than fighting for our livelihoods. The principles set forth in this Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights align with the calls for a radically welcoming campus and the values of equity and social justice that have been set forth by UWM administrators.

Academic workers include tenured and probationary faculty, contingent faculty, teaching academic staff, lecturers, librarians, support staff, and graduate students. Longstanding AAUP policy holds that anyone who has worked at the same institution, or within the same University System, at 50% or more for 6 years should have job security analogous to tenure. 

Decisions affecting academic workers should be made with the maximum amount of input possible. We need to go beyond the rhetoric of town halls and ritualistic consultation with governance leaders to a democratic process that elevates and equalizes the diverse voices of campus. All academic workers need direct engagement in any decision making process resulting in furloughs, layoffs, and other related quality of life issues.

It is in this spirit that we put forward this Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights:   

  1. Prioritize Protecting Faculty, Academic Staff, and Graduate Students:

At a time of furloughs and fiscal austerity, we assert the need to protect the most vulnerable members of the university community from pay cuts and layoffs. Tenured and tenure-track faculty have a stake in protecting those who labor without the benefit of tenure and its protections; these colleagues teach classes and perform service that allows our academic units to function.

Precarious faculty and graduate students are the most likely to suffer the consequences of immediate austerity measures.In anticipation that GA/TA positions may not be renewed due to budgetary constraints, precarious faculty and graduate students shall not be asked to carry the burden of work resulting from non-renewed positions without compensation, including uncompensated teaching, research, or service work; we are particularly concerned that graduate students who have lost appointment due to funding cuts not be forced to continue the work uncompensated.

We oppose layoffs and additional furloughs that respond to austerity by penalizing the least compensated members of the university community.

Flexibility: We seek maximal flexibility for academic programs/units/organization to be creative in how they protect academic faculty, staff and graduate students; this will allow individuals and units to strive, for instance, for cooperation and shared sacrifice as a way to resolve budgetary needs

  1. Right to Choose Individual and Public Health Without Penalty:

Many academic workers and students are particularly vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions, family, and/or age. Everyone should be able to choose to protect their health; no one should have to choose between risking their health and being employed or engaged in study. Moreover, workers have the right to make this choice without threat of penalty or punishment, including negative impact on performance and merit evaluations, progress toward degree (for graduate student workers), and so forth. They should be able to make their decisions without having to justify them on the basis of age or pre-existing condition. This is particularly true for uniquely vulnerable classes of workers, such as graduate students who have the right to decline supervisor requests for in-person work that may put their health at risk without negative impact on their academic standing.

  1. Right to Respect for Academic Freedom:
    • Instructors, along with their departments and programs, must be entrusted to make the right decisions for their courses and their students, in dialogue with established curricular governance channels.  
    • Academic workers maintain the right to make decisions about course content and class procedures as long as expectations for accreditation can be fulfilled and student rights remain protected.
  1. Right to Respect for Academic Labor and Time: While the mandated furloughs reduce work days and hours, the workload required of staff and faculty remains the same regardless of furlough days. We therefore propose modifications to expectations for administrative duties, university service, teaching, and research for the duration of the furlough period.
    • Certain time-consuming administrative and bureaucratic duties, such as required trainings,the post-tenure review process, and staff/academic staff annual evaluations be suspended for the duration of the furlough period.
    • Faculty may bank furlough time toward a course release after the furlough period ends or toward accumulated sick leave. 
    • Research expectations during the furlough period should be lightened.  Tenure-track faculty must be able to choose to slow their tenure clocks for as long as the pandemic lasts.  
  1. Right to Respect for Knowledge Production: 
    • Academic workers should retain intellectual property rights for courses that are put online.
  1. Right to Earn a Living Wage Even in a Time of Austerity:

Current UWM policy protects certain categories of academic labor (graduate students, non-FTE employees, post-docs) from the furlough, and stipulates that furloughs will not be applied to those making below $15/hr, or $30,000 a year if the appointment is full-time. This is a step in the right direction. The floor should be higher, exempting those who make less than $50,000/year from furloughs.Under the current policy, upper administration will take a 10% pay cut. Again, this is a step in the right direction but needs to go further. Furloughs for UWM’s most well-compensated faculty and administrators should be imposed to the maximum allowed by law to minimize layoffs to the institution’s most vulnerable employees.  

  1. Right to Health Insurance Coverage for All Workers: 
    • Health insurance should continue for all employees, regardless of furlough status, for at least the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Graduate employees who may have lost their appointments due to declining enrollment should retain their health insurance and eligibility for tuition waivers.
    • In the event of a layoff, expanded workplace-based healthcare coverage must include a commitment of 6 months beyond the end of employment or until the employee has secured alternative insurance coverage, whichever comes first. This would involve the university providing a layoff package that includes sufficient payment for 6 months of premium payments for COBRA continuation coverage (or an alternative health insurance plan of the employee’s choosing).