Op-Ed | A faculty union means a better University for Pitt students

This Op-Ed is part of a series about faculty unionization. To read the Op-Ed opposing faculty unionization, click here. For information about the faculty unionization election, click here.

My research at Pitt Dental Medicine studies the effects of bringing dentists, dental hygienists, receptionists and other staff members together to improve clinical practices and patient care.

Harnessing diverse perspectives — leveraging the collective expertise of providers and staff — gives clinicians opportunities to better meet patient needs.

It’s important for my colleagues to keep the benefits of this sort of collaborative approach in mind as we vote in coming weeks on forming the Union of Pitt Faculty, in affiliation with the United Steelworkers. I support the organizing drive because a union will give every professor a voice in ensuring Pitt excels at preparing students for the challenges of life.

My colleagues and I are world-class researchers deeply invested in not only sharing what we know, but also helping students chart their own paths to success.

We work with them in classrooms, labs and clinical settings every day. We advise and counsel them during one of the most formative periods they’ll ever know. Thousands of graduate students enroll at Pitt every year specifically for the opportunity to study side by side with us.

Yet many crucial decisions affecting the learning environment continue to be made without taking faculty input — or students’ best interests — into account.

The administration fails to properly compensate adjuncts or even give them predictable course loads from one semester to the next. And administrators demonstrate less confidence in faculty members than our major funders do, constraining some professors to year-to-year contracts even as they land prestigious, multi-year grants enhancing the University’s stature.

This sort of treatment leads to a revolving door, with students never knowing whether trusted professors will be around the following term. Failure to fund and staff some departments adequately is an affront to students, who rightly expect the administration to invest fully in educating them.

My colleagues and I want nothing more than to collaborate with the administration to address problems like these and make Pitt a stronger institution. With our union, we’ll be able to have those discussions as equals.

Just as dental clinics find new and better ways to care for patients when they invite the knowledge of all stakeholders, universities provide the best opportunities for students when they welcome diverse viewpoints, practice inclusion and tap the deep well of faculty expertise.

My colleagues and I will be empowered through our union to pursue adequate resources for all parts of the University. We will be able to leverage our collective skills and experiences to help Pitt create the most effective, globally competitive undergraduate and graduate programs.

In addition, a collective bargaining process, conducted with the input of all professors, will lead to fairer compensation arrangements, more manageable workloads and greater faculty stability.

All of these improvements will directly benefit students.

They will enroll at Pitt knowing that faculty — the people on campus closest to them — have a hand in shaping the academic environment. Students will be assured of the faculty stability they need to make the most of their experiences. And they will learn that openness and inclusion pave the way to a greater good.

A vote for the faculty union is a vote for a better University. It’s the right choice for the students we’re called to serve.

Dr. Deborah Polk is an assistant professor in Pitt Dental Medicine and Pitt Public Health.

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