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The Cost of Not Joining UHPA

Guest post by UHPA Member Randy Hirokawa,

In my formative years as a young assistant professor, I admit not being a proponent of faculty unions. I believed in the integrity of universities, and the administrators who ran them. I believed that if you did your work well, you would steadily climb the tenure and promotion ladder and be rewarded appropriately. All of that changed in 1986. Allow me to tell you my story.

I started as an assistant professor

Upon receiving my Ph.D. in 1980, I took my first assistant professor position at a well-known public university on the East Coast (“University X”). At University X, I taught well, published regularly, and served on a variety of committees. I was rewarded with positive pre-tenure reviews in my 1st and 3rd years, and double-digit percentage merit pay increases in each of those three years.

And then was recruited to a university with a top doctoral program

At the start of my 4th year at University X, I was recruited by a well-known public university in the Midwest (“University Y”). The graduate program at University Y was widely regarded as the top doctoral program in my field of study, and some of the top scholars in my field were on their faculty. It was an opportunity too good to pass up so I accepted a faculty position at University Y.

I received lots of lucrative promises in the offer letter

In my offer letter, I was promised a salary that was significantly higher than what I had been making at University X, and along with other perks and benefits, I was told that I would receive four years of credit toward tenure and promotion, thereby allowing me to apply for tenure and promotion in my second year at University Y.

Then we got a new dean

In my first year at University Y, I continued to teach well, publish regularly, and serve on committees. Everything seemed to be going well. Behind the scenes, though, a very important change was happening: The dean of the college who hired me had decided to retire and a new dean was appointed. This new dean had different ideas about how to run the college, and one of those changes was to make the tenure and promotion process more stringent.

Who then broke the terms in my offer letter

In the summer prior to my 2nd year at University Y, with the guidance of my department chair, I prepared my tenure and promotion dossier. All of the required documentation was included. At the start of the Fall Semester, my department chair submitted my dossier to the College in accordance with standard procedures. Shortly thereafter, the department chair received a phone call from the new dean informing him that I could not apply for tenure and promotion because I did not have the minimum three years of service at University that was specified in the College’s Manual of Rules and Procedures. The department chair told the dean that it was true that I had only been at University Y for two years, but that my offer letter specifically stated that I would be allowed to apply for tenure and promotion in my 2nd year. The dean replied that he was under no obligation to comply with any agreements or promises made by the previous dean, especially if they appeared to violate the Manual of Rules and Procedures. The department chair filed a protest with the Provost. The Provost supported the dean. The department chair then appealed to the President. The President supported the Provost. I was not allowed to apply for tenure and promotion that year. Was I wronged? You bet I was. So much so that my department chair resigned from the university in protest.

Stuff happens but without a union, you have no real recourse

The point of this story is that even at the finest universities, mistakes happen; oversights occur; poor judgment takes place; bad decisions are made. Those are organizational realities that exist at all universities. The difference is how they are handled, or dealt with, on non-unionized versus unionized campuses. At University Y, like at most non-unionized campuses, once the appeal process reaches, and is denied, at the Presidential level, there is no further recourse for a faculty member. He/she can file a legal lawsuit against the university, but doing so comes at great cost to the faculty member. In my case, I was strongly advised by my senior colleagues to “bide my time” and not take any legal action. I did as I was told.

With UHPA and our letter of hire, we have the power to enforce written agreements

At unionized campuses, the presence of a faculty union (like UHPA) provides faculty members with a means of appeal that is not available to faculty at a non-unionized campus. If what happened to me had occurred at the University of Hawaii, I would have immediately reported the matter to my union representative, and I’m certain UHPA would have gone to bat for me against the administration. Offer letters are sacrosanct, and we now have contractual protection of them Promises made in those letters are the reason(s) why faculty members decide to join the university. A new dean must abide by the conditions of the offer letter, whether she/he agrees or disagrees with its content. UHPA will make sure that the commitments of the offer letter are honored by the university.

It’s not about what it costs to join. It’s about what it will cost you if you don’t join

When faculty ask me what the benefits are of joining UHPA, I flip the question and tell them, “The question you should be asking is what is the COST of NOT joining UHPA?” I then tell them the story of what happened to me at University Y, and then ask them, if the same thing happened to you here at UH, could you afford NOT to be a member of UHPA? Think about it.