South Dakota has just become the fourth state to ban faculty unions, at public universities, joining Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The National Association of Scholars takes no institutional position on this change—which is a way of saying that we, and our members, have mixed feelings about faculty unions.
On the one hand, faculty unions too frequently squelch the speech of faculty dissenters, act as motors of left-wing ideology, and oppose other reforms the NAS supports. The search for truth, in any case, ought to be individual rather than collective, and that aligns more with faculty who work as individual artisans rather than collective members of a union.
On the other hand, many NAS members also belong to faculty unions—and some of them are proud, vigorous supporters of faculty unions. Some believe that what a faculty union can be matters more than what it all too often is—and others think that faculty unions offer benefits to faculty that outweigh their drawbacks. We take these arguments, and this pride, very seriously. Then, too, removing faculty unions tends practically to empower higher education administrators, whose instincts are generally worse than those of the faculty. At a time when the faculty are already ground between bureaucrats on the one side and adjunctification on the other, why bother to oppose the sorely beset faculty unions?
The NAS will neither support nor oppose laws to ban faculty unions. But we will note that faculty unions would have far greater support if professors did not work so hard to make themselves seem an odious superfluity to the public. The vast mass of college professors have worked toward, or acquiesced in, an institutional revolution that has destroyed academic standards and reduced our universities to glorified high school; that has ceased to teach core knowledge of Western Civilization, American history, and American government; that has politicized the humanities and social sciences to a fare-thee-well, and is well on its way to politicizing the sciences as well; and that has beggared a generation of Americans for the privilege of a college diploma that guarantees no more than docile semi-literacy. Is it any wonder that public support for faculty unions is crumbling?
If professors demonstrated their commitment to truth and intellectual diversity—for example, by supporting the intellectual diversity legislation pending in various states, or even calling for such legislation elsewhere—the public might be more inclined to view them as a class worthy of special protection, unionized or not.
If America’s professors wish to receive public support, for their unions and in general, they must prove themselves worthy of the hire. If they will not reform their behavior, they must expect to see every faculty union at public universities banned, in every state of the union.