Unions in Academe: Negotiating Difficult Times


A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education touted the benefits of unionizing for faculty. This panel will provide people an opportunity to hear how those benefits are actually achieved, using the example of a presently unionized campus, Western Illinois University, and the examples of campuses in the Univeristy of Wisconsin system which are currently in the process of being unionized.

Illinois has 13 billion dollar deficit and as of this date (November 22nd) has not delivered any of FY 2011 funds to Western Illinois University or to any other state supported institution. To say this puts WIU administrators, faculty, and staff in a difficult position is to only to state the obvious. What is not obvious to outsiders is how the faculty and academic staff union, the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), have worked closely together during this period that saved the university money, saved jobs, prevented furloughs and gained improved benefits for its employees. Jack Thomas, Academic Provost of Western Illinois University, and William Thompson, vice president of UPI at WIU, will discuss how this was managed. Julie Schmid and Jamie Owen Daniel (two organizers for AFT), and Teresa Burns (a professor of English at University of Wisconsin Plattville) will discuss what it is like organizing new faculty unions in the current economic and political environment.


Teresa Burns

Jamie Owen Daniel is a Field Service Director with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, she works with a federated local representing approximately 3000 public university faculty and staff in Illinois. She was a Union Summer Site Coordinator for the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Institute in 2002 and 2003. A founding member of the Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies, she was co-chair of the group until 2005. She also served as Chair of the Chicago’s Workers’ Rights Board, a joint project of Chicago Jobs with Justice and the Chicago Federation of Labor, from 1998 until 2004. Ms. Daniel was Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1995 until 2004, where her teaching and research focused on British modern writing and culture, literary theory, and intersections of gender, labor, racial identity, disability, and/in the public sphere. She continues to teach intermittently as an adjunct assistant professor in the Gender Studies Program at Northwestern University.

Julie Schmid has been working in the academic labor movement since 1993, when she was a Department Organizer in the campaign to organize the graduate students at the University of Iowa. She then served as a steward and then Vice President of her graduate employee local. Over the years, she has worked as the Executive Director of the Portland State University AAUP and a national staff member in AAUP's Department of Organizing and Services. In 2008, she took a position as the Campaign Director for AFT-Wisconsin's UW organizing project. She is author of a number of articles on higher education organizing, and in 2003 she co-edited, along with Deborah Herman, Cogs in the Classroom Factory: The Changing Identity of Academic Labor, a collection of essays by tenure-line faculty, contingent faculty, and graduate employees on the higher education union movement.

Jack Thomas is Academic Vice President and Provost at Western Illinois University. Dr. Thomas has held administrative appointments at Middle Tennessee State University, where he served as Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Interim Dean of the College of Continuing Education and Distance Learning. At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore he served as Interim President, Executive Vice President, and Professor of English.

William Thompson is an Associate Professor in the University Libraries at Western Illinois University, where he also serves as the Vice President of the WIU chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) Local 4100 IFT/AFT/AFL CIO. Dr. Thompson’s most recent publication, co-authored with Bradley Dilger, is “Ubiquitous Cataloging”, part of the edited collection, Radical Cataloging. Once upon a time he also published fiction in the long lamented Christopher Street and The James White Review.