Almost all public- and private-sector employees in the state
of Wisconsin have the right to organize a union in their workplace if they win
the support of a majority of their co-workers. But according to state law,
17,000 University of Wisconsin faculty and academic staff belong to a subclass
of workers unworthy of the right to bargain collectively. Yet we still wonder
why so many great professors leave UW for other schools every year.

This is the unfortunate reality that Sen. Dave Hansen,
D-Green Bay, and Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, are trying to change. Their
bill to permit faculty to unionize passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate
but is being held up in the state Assembly by Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater.

Mr. Nass chairs the Colleges and Universities Committee,
even though he has ironically demonstrated his hatred for state support of
higher education by attempting to cut $120 million from the UW System in the
most recent state budget.

While opposing unionization in all sectors of the economy is
consistent with right-wing ideology, it is inconsistent with quality public
education. If UW faculty members are not able to negotiate competitive salaries
and benefits with the administration, they will ? and do ? find a school that
gives them a better deal.

Other universities are aware of this and are increasingly
trying to lure UW faculty away. Twice as many UW professors received outside
offers in the 2005-06 school year as compared to the 2001-02 school year.
Professors who receive an outside offer are usually proposed a salary on
average 30 percent larger than their current salary at UW.

UW does not even grant benefits to domestic partners of
faculty and staff. So it shouldn?t be a mystery why the current six-year
faculty retention rate for the UW System has declined to 57 percent compared to
75 percent in the six years prior.

I?ve personally had multiple political science professors
tell my class at the end of the year about how they?d fallen in love with UW
and the city of Madison and were completely torn up about the decision to
accept an outside offer. But at the end of the day, the offer was always too
much money to turn down, so they left.

It is unacceptable in a state that prides itself on quality
public education to be losing so many great professors. We will never be able
to compete with the benefits offered by well-endowed private institutions. But
when faculty members are leaving in droves to schools like Ohio State and
Michigan State, we know we have a problem.

It is apparent that the very concept of a ?public
university? is losing its meaning. Ostensibly, UW is a state school, but its
share of allocated finances from the Legislature has declined from 34 percent
to 24 percent in the last 10 years. The share of the UW budget financed by
tuition and fees has risen to 55 percent of the total. UW is relying
increasingly on private sources of funding like research grants, dorm fees and
alumni donations.

Thus, the effort to skimp on salaries and benefits by not
offering faculty members the right to unionize are only symptoms of a larger
problem: a lack of state commitment to public higher education. Wisconsin has
tried piecemeal solutions to this problem, like creating multimillion dollar
?retention funds? to sweeten benefit packages for faculty. But the lack of
bargaining power is a fundamental problem for faculty that will continue to
hold down salaries until they are given the ability to unionize.

Beyond the economic arguments, the right to form a union is
also a universal human and civil right. Article 23 of the United Nations?
Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, ?Everyone has the right to form
and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.? What is it about
UW faculty members that makes them somehow less deserving of this right?

Mr. Nass needs to understand that the money he can cut from
faculty paychecks by denying their right to unionize is less important than the
incalculable loss in educational quality when a great professor leaves our
university. Until the state reaffirms its commitment to higher education in
spite of the dire budget situation, we can only expect further disheartening
declines in the quality and reputation of Wisconsin?s most powerful economic
engine.

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Ryan Greenfield ([email protected]) is
a junior majoring in political science and economics.

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