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May 8, 2019

University Rejects Faculty Forward’s Grievance on Denial of Quantrell Eligibility


William Rainey Harper Memorial Library.

Jeremy Lindenfeld / The Chicago Maroon

Late last week, the University denied a grievance filed by Faculty Forward, which claims that the University has violated its contract by denying its union members, non-tenure-track faculty, eligibility for the prestigious Quantrell teaching award.

The Quantrell is a student-nominated award granted to three to six faculty members each year. One of the country’s oldest undergraduate teaching awards, it has often gone to faculty nationally renowned in their fields.

The union filed its grievance in early April, after one of its members found out from a student who nominated him that the nomination was rejected because he was not deemed eligible. The nomination rejection came as a surprise to union members who thought that they had secured eligibility after repeatedly pushing for eligibility to be specified in their contract, which was ratified around a year ago.

The University’s denial of the grievance marks another obstacle in the union’s efforts to obtain eligibility. The union continues to believe that because non-tenure-track faculty teach a substantial number of undergraduate courses—40 percent according to union estimates—they should be treated equally with tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the area of undergraduate teaching. The University maintains that the teaching prize is intended to reward faculty members who, outside of teaching, also contribute to the University in other ways such as research.

The language in the union’s contract about Quantrell reads, “Nothing in this Agreement precludes a [non-tenure-track] 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.”

Despite the union’s belief that this language secures eligibility for their members, the University maintains that only “long-term, full-time UChicago faculty members who are tenured, on the tenure-track, or serve as Senior Lecturers” are eligible.

“The collective bargaining agreement did not change eligibility standards for this or any other award,” University spokesperson Jeremy Manier said in a written statement to The Maroon following the grievance denial.

The dispute hinges on disparate understandings of the original intent and purpose of the award, which was established in 1938 by a donation from University trustee Ernest Quantrell. Public information about the original intent is sparse. In a quotation posted on the University's webpage about the Quantrell Award, Quantrell describes the motivation behind his donation in broad terms: “The success of a university depends on its product, and its product consists of students trained to lead happy, proficient, useful and unselfish lives. To obtain this product, a good faculty is essential and constitutes the most important part of a university. We have had, and still have, great teachers, but we will have still greater ones.”

The University’s statement to The Maroon says that the award is intended to honor faculty who contribute to the University beyond teaching.

“The list of recipients of the award reflects that the faculty committee has long sought to recognize distinguished faculty and senior lecturers who have played an outstanding role in the formation of a curriculum, in addition to the other important ways they contribute to the University, including research in the case of faculty,” the statement read.

When the award was established in 1938, there were no distinctions between non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty members, and most faculty members engaged in both research and teaching. Job titles and teaching responsibilities have shifted since then. In the 1970s, a need for more faculty members to teach undergraduate courses led the University to hire faculty members, categorized as non-tenure-track faculty, to exclusively teach.

Geoffrey Rees, the union member whose student nominated him and was rejected, told The Maroon shortly after the grievance filing that the change in job titles since the establishment of the award shows that “the present exclusive criteria for eligibility are contingent and as such open to revision.”

“I am disappointed the administration is pursuing a policy of division and exclusion in place of a policy of unity and inclusion,” Rees said following the grievance denial. “It is a disrespect most of all of students’ freedom of expression,” referring to students’ role in nominating teachers for the award.

The steering committee of Faculty Forward said in a written statement to The Maroon following the grievance denial, “We have always contended that expanding eligibility for the Quantrell benefits everyone: both students and faculty. We still hope that the University will do the right thing by honoring the contract and recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching, no matter who the teacher may be.”

The union is moving ahead with putting the grievance up for arbitration, which would take at least several months to complete. If the union and the University reach an agreement before the official arbitration hearing, the two parties may settle the grievance without arbitration.

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Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Union Files Grievance for Denial of Quantrell Eligibility

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Union members had pushed to be eligible for the prominent teaching award during bargaining, and believe that their finalized contract secures them eligibility.

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