LETTERS

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March 30, 2019

Non-Tenure Track Professors Condemn Administration for Violating Contract

UChicago boasts many historical firsts. Among them is the first teaching award—the Quantrell. Established in 1938, the prize is a “monetary award…presented annually to faculty members in recognition of their excellence in teaching undergraduate students.” 

Despite the fact that non-tenure-stream faculty teach roughly 40 percent of classes in the College, all but a handful of us have been excluded from this award. Students who made nominations were surprised to learn that instructors who had changed their lives were deemed ineligible because they had the wrong job title. Dean Boyer would write a nice note to these faculty members thanking them for all they do. 

Last year, our Union of non-tenure-stream faculty, after over two years of negotiations with the University administration, ratified our first collective bargaining agreement. It’s a contract that we are very proud of, and includes significant gains such as better salaries, a pathway to promotion, more secure employment for some part-time lecturers, and green card sponsorship. All of our wins are wins for our students and for the greater Chicago community. 

While a teaching award may not seem significant, it cuts to the heart of the principle that informed our entire bargaining effort: working toward equal respect for all faculty. We recognize the extraordinary teaching that goes on in classrooms run by tenure-stream faculty. But if UChicago is fully committed to recognizing excellence in teaching, it should recognize this excellence no matter who the teacher is.  

The administration resisted including eligibility for the Quantrell in the teaching awards section of our contract. Time and again, we submitted our version of the article with the Quantrell language included. Time and again, the administration returned their version with our Quantrell language crossed out. 

This back-and-forth continued for some six months. We continued to argue that including all faculty in the Quantrell award eligibility is in everyone’s best interest. At the University of Chicago, excellence in teaching is excellence in teaching. 

The final version of the teaching award section of our contract reads: 

“Nothing in this Agreement precludes a Lecturer from being nominated for and receiving any teaching awards for which they are eligible, including the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award, as those awards exist from time to time.” 

That should have been that. It shouldn’t occasion a second helping of the Latke-Hamantash debate.  

Recently we learned that students wished to nominate one of us for the Quantrell. When they wrote to the associate dean of the College for Academic Affairs, they were told effectively not to bother, that a full-time lecturer with 14 years of experience teaching in the College was not eligible for consideration of an award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. 

Hadn’t the administration read the contract they signed? When we reached out to the University for clarification, their labor lawyer told us that it was the administration’s position that, well, what the sentence clearly says isn’t what it clearly says. Their position seems to be a mixture of gaslighting and obfuscation, essentially saying in legalese that they had their fingers crossed behind their backs when they made a commitment in writing.  

Since our primary role as non-tenure-stream faculty is to teach, why shouldn’t our exemplary teaching be recognized alongside that of our tenure-stream colleagues? We made this argument across the bargaining table. The administration finally signed off on language that they are now going to extremes to contort into saying what it does not say. 

The larger questions are: How does restricting this award to tenure-stream faculty and a tiny fraction of non-tenure-stream faculty enhance the collective teaching mission at Chicago? When the clear purpose of the award is to encourage excellent undergraduate teaching, how do our students benefit from excluding nearly half of undergraduate instructors? What motivates the administration to backtrack after they agreed that all lecturers will be eligible for the Quantrell? What does it say about an administration that will go to such great lengths to keep some of their most dedicated teachers ineligible for a teaching award, even though doing so requires a lengthy grievance and arbitration process? Shouldn’t a student nomination automatically confer award eligibility for a faculty member? What’s the principle at stake here? We haven’t heard a peep.   

We believe strongly the University risks tainting this very prestigious and historically significant award by refusing to honor their commitment. We would welcome a public forum to discuss the principles at stake with students, our colleagues, the administration, and anyone else who has a stake in seeing excellence in teaching recognized at the University of Chicago. 

The deadline for the Quantrell nominations, April 6, is fast approaching, and the administration is refusing to honor their commitment. We call upon the administration to honor the contract they signed. We ask our colleagues and our students and the entire UChicago community to reach out to Dean Boyer (jwboyer@uchicago.edu), President Zimmer (president@uchicago.edu), and Provost Diermeier (ddiermeier@uchicago.edu) and urge them to honor their commitment. 

—The UChicago Faculty Forward Union Steering Committee 

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