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December 5, 2013

Law school professors join faculty union

By Mara Biggs

Until this year, none of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law faculty belonged to the American Association of University Professors, a union that ensures academic freedom, shared governance and faculty voice across college campuses. Cleveland-Marshall Law professors are among a minority of law faculty in the country that have unionized.

Cleveland State’s faculty voted to form a chapter of the AAUP in 1993 and secured their first contract in 1995.

According to Sheldon Gelman, a professor of law at Cleveland State and a union organizer, support and numbers are growing for the union, with about 35 members from the law faculty currently after a marginally close vote of 17 to 14 to start it. Gelman said everyone has their own personal reasons for joining the AAUP, but he thinks the union’s success has been influential in law professors’ decisions to join.

Gelman said that the drop in law school applicants, which hasn’t had much public discussion, could also be influencing law professors to join the AAUP. The law faculty’s unionization may even be attributed to the Senate Bill 5 referendum, which repealed an Ohio law in 2011 that would have limited collective bargaining, said Gelman.

Law professor Claire Robinson May stated that she joined the AAUP because she “strongly believes in having a seat at the bargaining table when it comes to the terms and conditions of one’s job.”

“Before the union, the law school had the only full-time faculty at Cleveland State that lacked collective bargaining rights,” said Robinson May. “That made us increasingly vulnerable to the possibility of unilaterally imposed changes to the terms of our employment.”

Robinson May also said that “the union puts law faculty in a better position to provide meaningful input regarding the law school’s future direction and priorities,” and that the AAUP supports a mission that will help Cleveland-Marshall students and alumni continue to thrive.

Gelman reported that the law faculty hope to have a constitution completed soon and that contracts will be negotiated with the university afterwards.

In July, Cleveland State law professors said that Dean Craig Boise unlawfully issued raises of $0 or $666 as a threat due to his disapproval of their unionization.

“I think some people thought it would just complicate things,” said Gelman. He added, “I think most of the faculty wants to see it work.”

Gelman also said, “I think CSU as a whole is benefitting enormously from collective bargaining. I’m personally very happy.”