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Fred Lazarus IV (Photo courtesy of MICA)

MICA president urges delay to union drive

The president of Maryland Institute College of Art this week issued a tepid response to adjunct faculty members’ move to form a union.

“I hope the part-time faculty will recognize the seriousness of this decision and that more time is needed,” President Fred Lazarus IV wrote in an email to the MICA community on Wednesday in response to a petition filed this month with the National Labor Relations Board by a group of part-time professors seeking to form a union.

The Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents education and public service employees, submitted the petition to the NLRB on March 7 on behalf of at least 200 part-time professors at MICA.

The NLRB will soon schedule a secret-ballot election for adjuncts to vote on whether they want to be represented by the union.

“The decision to bring in this union will rest with the part-time faculty, but it is a critical decision that will impact the entire College,” Lazarus wrote in the email, which was not made public. “It is the most important governance decision that will be made at MICA in my 35-year tenure and will influence the future of the College and its culture for decades to come.”

Lazarus went on to say that, because of federal labor law, the decision about whether to unionize must be made within a month — a period he described as “the busiest of the year and one of great transition.”

Lazarus announced in April of last year that he would retire at the end of the current academic year in May. His successor, Samuel Hoi, will officially take over July 1.

“It is hard to imagine that any of us would have willingly put a decision of this magnitude on this timetable or at this time of year,” Lazarus wrote in the email. “… Indeed, simpler issues facing the College were studied for months, and sometimes years, before a final decision was reached.”

Lazarus implored all adjunct faculty members — as many as 450 people total, according to a school spokeswoman — to participate in the election, suggesting they can “vote against unionization at this time” if they think more time is needed to study and research the issue.

Lazarus also asserted that the SEIU petition is “part of a nationwide effort to increase the union’s membership.”

According to a document on SEIU’s website, dues are $34 per month for those who make $5,500 per year for teaching (at MICA, adjuncts earn between $3,300 and $5,000 per course) and $24 for those who make less.

If MICA’s adjuncts vote in favor of unionization, the Baltimore art school would become the first four-year institution in the state where part-time faculty have established collective bargaining.

Joshua Smith, a part-time art professor and co-chair of the loosely organized “Part-time Faculty Committee” that’s working on the issue, said the goals of unionization include greater job security and an increase in compensation.

“At this point, every adjunct is operating semester to semester,” Smith said. “There’s a tradition of people being hired back, but there’s nothing that guarantees their contract will be renewed. A union contract would provide greater protections for part-time faculty so they wouldn’t have to worry about whether they have a job next year.”

A handful of other universities have also recently recognized adjuncts’ right to unionize, including George Washington University, Georgetown University and American University.