Published: April 8, 2022

General assembly also gets update on common curriculum, votes on two resolutions

Representatives from an aspiring collective bargaining association for all Colorado higher education employees asked the Boulder Faculty Assembly’s members Thursday to sign a letter to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis seeking support for legislation “granting all public workers in Colorado the right to organize into unions of our own choosing and to collectively bargain in the public interest.”

The group—representing the United Campus Workers of Colorado (UCWC)—was invited by the BFA’s Faculty Affairs Committee to speak at the general assembly’s monthly meeting, at which two of UCWC’s faculty members and a UCWC organizer gave a 25-minute presentation asking for faculty support for the letter that calls for, among a host of measures, “safeguarding the right to strike, the ability to bargain on a wide scope of issues beyond wages and benefits, and protections for worker organizing.”

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to bring collective bargaining rights, not just for faculty workers, not just graduate students, but for all public sector workers,” said presenter Burton St. John, professor of advertising, public relations and media design in CU Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information.

Co-presenter Ambikah Kamath, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said UCWC’s efforts would not simply be directed at higher wages, but would seek a wide scope of bargaining that would include “issues related to working conditions—things such as teaching workloads, classroom conditions and protection from harassment.”

The linchpin to securing these, Kamath said, was “the right to strike.”

“A right to threaten to withhold our labor—that is what gives us collective power,” she said.

BFA Chair Tiffany Beechy asked the trio what unionization would mean for the varied interests of faculty across the CU system—faculty whose “salaries, promotions and raises are very different across the campuses.”

“How do you envision campus-level autonomy vs. coordinated efforts among the four [campuses]?” Beechy asked.

UCWC organizer Hailey Huget said the legislation the group was lobbying would mean “workers in a similar job classification can organize into bargaining units of their choosing,” and that it’s up to the faculty to decide: “Are we at CU Boulder aligned with those at UCCS such that we want to be joined as a bargaining unit.”

Ravinder Singh of molecular, cellular and developmental biology asked how unionization might impact shared governance, and if there were “any downside to this compared to what we have been doing here (in the BFA)?”

Beechy, asked by one of the UCWC presenters to describe BFA’s goals in shared governance, said, “Faculty governance pokes, demands and asks questions,” and that in contrast, “The formal rituals of consulting faculty are pro forma only.”

“We have to push past that feeling—shared governance can devolve into that, and we hope for it to be more substantial.”

Kamath, while not directly addressing Singh’s question on how unionization might impact shared governance, said collective bargaining would “change our shared governance as we know it by making it stronger,” but did not say how that might come about.

A coalition of colleges and universities—including the CU system, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado Mesa University, the state’s community college system and others—have cited the threat to long-standing shared governance organizations as among the reasons they oppose collective bargaining for higher education employees.

Unions, the coalition maintains, would replace shared governance entities with an adversarial union or group of unions that don’t know the culture, context and particularities of how higher education operates in the way that shared governance organizations do.

The coalition also cites increased administrative costs—the CU system is preparing its specific financial analysis for administrative costs, which are estimated to be in the millions, to submit for a fiscal note—that will be needed to create the infrastructure to implement collective bargaining legislation. This figure does not include the costs associated with enforced changes to salaries, benefits and leave, which they say could cost millions more.

Update on common curriculum

Following the collective bargaining presentation, the BFA heard an update from Senior Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Planning and Assessment Katherine Eggert and Dean and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Daryl Maeda on current efforts to create a common curriculum for CU Boulder.

In a 15-minute presentation, the two outlined the steps the Common Curriculum Planning Committee is taking to create a common curriculum—called for in the 2018 Academic Futures initiative, and mandated by CU Boulder’s 2020 accreditation process and by Chancellor Phil DiStefano.

The two outlined the process by which data and input from faculty white papers, models from other institutions, and “81 meetings with [CU Boulder] academic departments and other units” had coalesced into a set of what Maeda termed ideas for “learning objectives” that were “heard over and over again.”

Eggert said the efforts of the common curriculum committee so far have arrived at a key question that asks, “What is the purpose and distinctive nature of a CU Boulder education?” with a preliminary answer that posits a curriculum that helps students forge “sustainable futures” built on a keen understanding of “self, society and world.”

The committee, Eggert said, has focused on the curriculum’s purpose as focusing on students developing three habits of mind—discovery, reflection and engagement; and three skills—information literacy, communication, and critical thinking.

“All of these are not imagined as sequential, but rather as taught, learned and absorbed through the curriculum,” Eggert said.

The common curriculum’s learning objectives will be realized through curricular pathways of the colleges, schools and undergraduate degree programs at CU Boulder, Eggert said, along with incorporating first-year programs that reinforce skills of “study, citizenship and self-care.”

Eggert said immediate next steps include finalizing and approving the learning objectives and outcomes, the initial draft of which will publish next week with public forums and options for email input to follow.

Other BFA action

The BFA voted on two resolutions:

  • It approved by a vote of 33 in favor, four opposed and three abstentions, a set of previously recommended guidelines for incorporating DEI in annual faculty merit evaluations.
  • It approved by a vote of 34 in favor, two opposed and four abstentions, a resolution that calls on the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA)—the retirement fund for many CU faculty and staff—to divest its holdings “from the climate crisis and reinvest in climate justice” by developing a more “robust” selection of funds without holdings in fossil fuels and deforestation companies.

The BFA also introduced two new notices of motion to be voted on at the general assembly’s April 28 meeting:

  • A resolution from the BFA’s committees on Budget & Planning and on Climate Science & Education that calls for the CU system to work with “faculty governance bodies at the system and campus levels to develop a socially responsible strategy to divest from fossil fuels and to reinvest in a just energy transition, as quickly as financially prudent but no later than 2027.”
  • A resolution from the BFA’s Libraries Committee that makes revisions to the charge and name of the BFA’s Libraries Committee. The resolution proposes the new name “Libraries and Scholarly Communication” for the committee. It calls on the committee to advance the views of faculty members “concerning the role of the University Libraries in the acquisition, storage and provision of scholarly materials and issues related to scholarly communication, education materials and open scholarship.”