December 2011 Issue
November 23, 2011

Solidarity soars among Canisius faculty

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United

To its faculty, Canisius College in Buffalo had long been known as a close community of scholars. But as the college grew, so did a sense that faculty had to work harder to keep up with each other across an expanding campus.

Five years ago, a small group of faculty set out to reclaim that connection with their peers. The result — with the advice and assistance of NYSUT — was the Canisius Faculty Association (CFA), now a vibrant part of life at the historically Jesuit college.

Whether CFA members are organizing social events — such as a trip to a Buffalo Bisons minor league ballgame that drew more than 50 faculty members — or accompanying a colleague to a meeting with administrators, the group's goals remain: to educate faculty about governance and benefits, to provide social interaction, and to advise and assist faculty in their dealings with the administration.

Originally, CFA founders had a modest mission to monitor the governing structure and policies, recalled Howard Stanger, who co-founded the group along with his senior department colleague Mike Gent. Stanger, a professor of management and history, serves as CFA president. "But we also saw the faculty association as an opportunity to have greater social connections," he said.

The group sought and received help from NYSUT in forming the association, but members do not expect to organize a traditional NYSUT local with full collective bargaining rights or an elected slate of officers. That's because of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1980 "Yeshiva Decision," in which the court ruled that full-time faculty at private colleges and universities with certain types of governing structures are considered "managerial employees." Under those conditions, the campus administration may petition the National Labor Relations Board to block the representation process necessary to achieve collective bargaining.

Faculty organizing continues at private universities where Yeshiva criteria have not been proven by management. NYSUT represents faculty locals at a dozen private campuses.

The Yeshiva Decision has discouraged faculty at a number of private universities from attempting to form a collective bargaining unit. In such cases, a non-bargaining faculty association may be an appropriate alternative.

"The CFA is an example of NYSUT helping the non-unionized higher education faculty improve communications and outreach among themselves on their campus," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "We continue to extend our assistance to higher education faculty who seek unity and a strong voice on campus."

From the start, the leaders of the CFA tried to be available to help colleagues when that help was wanted, but they never pressed a faculty member to accept assistance.

"Canisius used to be known for its sense of collegiality, and people would like to see that come back. All the feedback I've gotten from my colleagues has been, 'Keep up the good work,'" said Gent, a veteran faculty member since 1978.