University Faculty Unions

Wisconsin-Madison political scientist John F. Witte argues that “Faculty Unions Could Destroy Our Universities.”  While he’s an ardent supporter of blue collar unions, he thinks following the same patterns would be a disaster for the academy.

As they developed, teachers and other professional unions, such as those in the health field, followed these practices. The result for white-collar, professional unions has been the almost complete elimination of merit pay or promotion, in favor of a salary grid based on seniority and extra credentialing that has rarely been associated with productive and quality work. For teachers the record of merit pay, career ladders, or tying rewards to how well students learn, has been abysmal


The case gets much worse at the university level. The reason is that there are three realities about American universities that are not often admitted or discussed, but may well be among the reasons that our universities remain the envy of the world, certainly at the research level. Those realities are: 1) colleges and universities are built on inequalities between campuses, within campuses, and within departments; 2) teaching is considerably less demanding than K-12 teaching, even at non-research universities; and 3) at research universities we currently fire about half of faculty hires because they fail to get tenure.


Faculty unions will dramatically affect all of these characteristics. The variety of campuses in most state systems makes sense based on limited resources and the need to concentrate research talents. Market differences between schools and within departments – even if they do not make sense – are the reality. If you want a business school, you pay the required faculty price or the best, if not all, will leave. Unions, built on common purpose, tolerate inequities poorly and, have never successfully accepted merit or performance pay. There is no indication that faculty unions would be any different.

He develops these ideas much further at the link but that’s the gist.  It strikes me quite plausible that unionization across a state’s public higher education institutions would indeed have the effects that they’ve had in K-12, which is scary, indeed.

via Glenn Reynolds

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Education, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James,

    I’ve heard some dumb ideas in my time, but this one takes the cake. The only consistently good thing about education in this country is college level, and unions would destroy it. Tenure should be enough. Adding unions would be too much.