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Nearby Lesley University Faculty File To Unionize

UPDATED: March 24, 2015, at 2:40 a.m.

Members of the core faculty at Lesley University, located less than a half mile from Harvard Yard, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize last week, joining a growing movement of the unionization of private university faculties locally and nationwide.

Jason W. Pramas, an assistant professor of business management and communication at Lesley, who is a leader in the movement toward unionization for core faculty this month and previously for adjunct faculty in February 2014. Lesley University does not have a tenure system.

Pramas said a key issue among core faculty was the lack of control over curriculum and academic programs, an issue he does not see at Harvard.

“I think at Harvard, your tenured and tenure track people absolutely do have that power,” Pramas said. “The university isn’t just going to start up and shut down programs over the heads of faculty in an arbitrary manner as much as they have done [at Lesley].”

In addition to higher pay, Pramas pointed to the “prestige” afforded to regular and adjunct faculty at Harvard and MIT as potential factors in low unionization efforts at those nearby institutions.

“It’s not like we would never want them to be unionized, it’s just that, where are you going to go first?” Pramas said.  “You’re going to go to the places that are really screwed, where there’s a heavy, heavy reliance on adjuncts.”

Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers director Bill Jaeger said while HUCTW union members were “incredibly impressed” with the results of faculty unionization seen at Tufts and other local universities, he thinks Harvard’s faculty are unlikely to follow Lesley’s example any time soon.

“I think it’s further out on the horizon,” Jaeger said. “It hasn’t been a burning, hot question among Harvard adjuncts that I have heard.”

If they successfully unionize, core faculty at Lesley would join the Service Employees International Union Local 509’s Faculty Forward program, which has been joined by Boston-area universities like Tufts, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Bentley University.

Though he said HUCTW is “not actively working on anything” with SEIU currently, Jaeger noted the the potential for a relationship with the University.

“We’re following carefully and trying to stay connected to what SEIU is doing with the faculty at a number of universities,” Jaeger said.

—Staff writer William C. Skinner can be reached at wskinner@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @wskinner.

—Staff writer Emma K. Talkoff can be reached at emmatalkoff@college.harvard.edu.

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