Eye on Education

Why Private Universities Don’t Have Faculty Unions

Billy V. / Flickr

Miami University is a public university without a faculty union.

Faculty unions at Ohio’s public universities have a lot at stake on November 8, since Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining law on the ballot as Issue 2, would re-define most full-time faculty as management. That would prevent faculty members from participating in collective bargaining.

Faculty unions are vehemently opposing Issue 2.

But supporters of Issue 2 say the new collective bargaining law would just extend a 1980 federal ruling – NRLB v. Yeshiva University – which determined that faculty at private universities should be considered “management.”

“Federal law that applies to private universities all across the country is that faculty are members of management on university campuses so it’s relatively common sense that you would apply that same standard in Ohio,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the InterUniversity Council, a coalition of Ohio’s 14 public universities.

The InterUniversity Council supports Senate Bill 5, and wrote some of the language around the reclassification of higher education faculty as management.

The way Johnson sees it, the duties of faculty at private and public universities are essentially the same so they should have the same designation: management.

Technically, the Yeshiva ruling never made a decision about the right of faculty at Yeshiva University to unionize. The question put before the court was whether or not faculty count as management. The university argued that since professors participate in determining curricula, grading systems and admissions standards, as well as hiring and recommending faculty for tenure, faculty were participating in the management of the university. The court agreed with the university, leading to the end of the faculty union at Yeshiva University and private universities across the county.

Supporters of Issue 2 say private universities and many public universities that do not have unions do just fine. In Ohio, The Ohio State University and Miami University (full disclosure, that’s my alma mater) do not have unions. The faculty at Bowling Green State University recently formed a union, an effort that was opposed by the administration there and even a student group.

Higher education faculty unions aren’t particularly widespread among American universities. According to the American Association of University Professors, 21 percent of all universities have faculty unions. Among public universities, 35 percent of universities have unions.

If Ohioans vote to approve Issue 2 on November 8th, Ohio will join Wisconsin in effectively banning all higher education faculty unions. But, polls consistently show voters plan on rejecting Issue 2, so the debate around higher education unions is likely to continue.


Note: A previous version of this story had the headline “Why Private Universities Don’t Have Unions.” “Faculty” was later added, since Issue 2 and the language inspired by the Yeshiva ruling would only affect faculty unions, and many private universities do have other, non-faculty unions. Also, this story noted that OU and CWRU do not have faculty unions, when in fact both do.


  • VoteNo

    Mr. Johnson is surprisingly unaware about the faculty at state universities. His statements illustrate that he is unaware that there are thousands of full time faculty at state universities that are not part of the tenure system thus they will never have the protections of tenure. These educators also have no decision making role nor even an advisory role regarding curricula, or grading systems or admission standards or hiring and on and on. Yet SB 5 still declares these faculty members as management, even though they have no management rights or responsibilities at all, thus eliminating any and all rights to collective bargaining.
    By the way, the InterUniversity Council is not a coalition of Ohio’s 14 public universities, it is a coalition of the presidents of the 14 public universities. They do not represent, in any manner, the faculty or staff or students or parents of students or anyone else associated with the 14 public universities, only the 14 presidents.

    • Mediate1st

      Involvement in the “management” varies from university to university. My wife has been asked to participate at a first year adjunct level. Making others with more time question this. Why? If you have someone that is young, smart and has the time and energy to give back, why not?. Why is treating people the same a bad thing? Vote yes on issue 2!

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