Our higher education colleagues across the nation are being put through the wringer, and it has not been easy to stomach. There is a haunting feeling that the University of Hawai‘i faculty will one day find themselves immersed and directly facing these same types of situations.
Faculty Increasingly Affected by Labor Disputes
Labor disputes are on the rise at universities across our nation over concerns about inflation, working conditions, academic freedom, and other governance issues. Many of these battles have intensified to the point of faculty walking off their jobs and crippling entire university systems. According to a May 2023 Inside Higher Ed article, about 60 percent of the nearly 225,000 employees who engaged in work stoppages in 2022 were educators, researchers, and other academic professionals.
Unrest on University Campuses Abound
We don’t have to look far to find an abundance of strife. Last year, 48,000 postdoctoral scholars, teaching assistants, and graduate student researchers of the 10-campus University of California system walked off their jobs for nearly six weeks because of disputes over working conditions, compensation, protections against harassment, and unfair labor practices.
The battles are relentless with no end in sight. Earlier this year, the week-long faculty strike at the University of Illinois at Chicago led to the cancellation of classes for thousands of students. The faculty union and administrators finally agreed to a tentative four-year agreement, which has since been ratified. Very recently, the West Virginia University Board of Governors voted to discontinue 28 academic programs and to cut 143 faculty positions as a result of an anticipated $45 million budget shortfall. There have been rallies and other solidarity actions at Florida State University, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago and University of Texas.
UH Not Immune from Labor Battles
Sadly, the University of Hawai‘i is not immune from any of this. We have struggled with our own battles right in our backyard. On the home front, hardly a legislative session goes by without certain lawmakers brazenly ignoring UH’s constitutional autonomy with ongoing attempts to micromanage the UH. These legislators overstep their defined roles and justify their meddlesome intrusion under the thinly veiled cover of “accountability.” We believe their attacks will not only continue, but will intensify due to the activity occurring on the national scene.
Plotting Our Course of Action
As we prepare for the upcoming legislative session in January 2024 and the unprecedented challenges that faculty will likely face in the years ahead, UHPA is now exploring various options to aggressively protect the UH faculty from the onslaught of those intent on decimating the very institution that helps to drive our local economy forward. UH faculty single handedly attract extramural funding, help generate new jobs, conduct groundbreaking research to improve our quality of life and extend our lives, and cultivate the next generation of experts in various fields. They are the heart of the University system and must be protected.
It’s time to take action, do something differently and see new results. As always, we’re open to feedback from our members, so please don’t hesitate to email those suggestions to email@example.com.