Your Turn: An important election looms ahead

Sept. 20 was a banner day. Sparkling sunshine, early hints of autumn — and a caravan, driving to Topeka to file cards with the Public Employee Relations Board, or PERB, calling for a union election at Lawrence’s largest employer: the University of Kansas.

Filing those cards, signed by a strong majority of KU’s faculty and academic staff, set the wheels in motion for an election that PERB will convene and supervise once the date is finalized. The good news is that the dialogue is well under way. The union organizing committee, United Academics of KU, has met regularly and amicably with KU’s administration and PERB staff to iron out the details.

Now, as we near the finish line, one further step is needed: setting the official date for the vote. We call upon Chancellor Douglas Girod to join us in taking that step, for an election early in the spring.

The road we traveled to reach this point was long but encouraging. In early 2021, while deep in the throes of the pandemic, a small group of us began to canvass our colleagues one-to-one, to find out what people were feeling in that difficult moment. It soon became clear that most of us had shared concerns — concerns that a union could address.

After Labor Day that same year, when we began a second round of conversations, we circulated a Statement of Purpose, saying this: “We join together to form a union that will speak and act democratically in defense of our interests, in service to our students, and for the betterment of our community.”

Our aim, we agreed — a strong majority ultimately signed this statement — is to “advocate for the rights of faculty and academic staff in the creation and dissemination of knowledge for the public good”; to realize “the promise of a workplace guided by equity, fairness, and fully realized shared governance”; to promote “high-quality public education, academic freedom, and critical inquiry” and “champion all voices, believing that diversity is — and must be — our strength.”

That Statement of Purpose remains our lodestar, and what it means is very concrete to us.

We need a forum for shared deliberation. We need a voice we can be sure will be heard.

No one is more fully engaged with the educational needs of our students and our community than KU’s educators. We have learned, from our years of dialogue and discussion, just how much we have in common, and how much we have to offer, outside as well as inside the classroom. We resolve to play our part, as always, but now, as an academic union.

— Margaret Bayer teaches in the KU Mathematics Department, and Lisa-Marie Wright teaches in the KU Sociology Department.


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