By Sebastian Moronta Blanco, Assistant Editor-in-Chief
The Department Chairperson for each department on campus belong to the same union bargaining unit as the faculty in that department. The university aims to remove thirty-four Department Chairs, as well as five Library Division heads from that unit, arguing their presence in the bargaining unit is problematic. Terms couldn’t be agreed upon in negotiations, so after a petition to the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations was filed by the University, the case now goes before the Employment Relations Board. The Chairperson of an academic department on campus has two kinds of responsibilities. The first is largely the same as other faculty in their department; teach classes and contribute research to the school. They also have administrative responsibilities, including but not limited to building robust course offerings that allow students to take the classes they need, staffed by capable faculty members.
The University contends that the Department Chairperson’s responsibilities make it effectively a supervisory role, and supervisors should not be in the same bargaining unit as the faculty they supervise. The University contends the current structure creates “irreconcilably conflicted” loyalties, both to higher administration and to the Chairperson’s fellow unit members, and that conflict impedes their effectiveness as leaders.
“We are simply trying to create the best possible structure and organization that is most capable of serving our students,” said John Hoey, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs. He said the change would “create a better atmosphere, so that the students are served well.” In terms of specifics on the implications of this move, administrators are tight-lipped as the case is being actively tried, and public hearings are expected to extend through the end of this year.
The Faculty Federation has firmly opposed this restructure throughout the negotiation process leading up to these hearings. They disagree with administration’s assertion that the Department Chair’s role is conflicted to the point where their position within the faculty bargaining unit is inappropriate. They hold that Department Chairs can perform their jobs effectively under the current system, as they have for several decades.
How well the current system works aside, it has been in place for a long time, since before this school joined the University of Massachusetts, before it became a nationally accredited research university, and before many of the laws surrounding the case at hand were put in place.