The Perils of Privatization
In our nation's history, public services like education were considered so essential to the functioning of society that they could not be left to the whims of the market or the opportunities of profiteers. When public school employees, especially education support professionals (ESPs) are “privatized” or “outsourced,” this means that a private contractor is taking over their services. The employees are no longer public employees working for the school district—they are employees of an individual or company with a contract to provide services for the district.
Why does privatization cause problems for ESPs and schools?
- When ESP jobs are privatized, the primary goal becomes making a profit versus delivering a quality service.
- Private contractors may or may not use former district employees to provide the service.
- Whatever contracts, agreements, understandings, or board policies that existed between the district and their employees no longer exists between the new private contractor and his/her employees.
- ESPs won’t have the advocacy of the Association under the new employer.
- Privatizers don't underprice at-cost public employees simply by being “efficient” or having “superior management techniques.” Privatizers function by significantly reducing employee compensation, usually through the elimination or reduction of benefits such as pension, health care, and paid time off.
- Because of their employment practices in the pursuit of profit, privatizers have high turnover of staff. Most of the time these are people looking for a job, not a career. And the privatizer is typically not concerned about who might be well suited to work around children.
What is lost in privatization?
- Caring adults who come from the community, and who overwhelmingly want to stay in their careers are not part of the business model
- Quality services focused on keeping students safe, healthy, supported, engaged, and challenged, are replaced by tasks carried out as quickly as possible by individuals compensated as little as possible, all to make a profit for the employer.
- Flexible services that come with the personal relationships between ESP and administrators and other staff are more uncommon.
How can local associations can take preventative measures against privatization?
- Get involved in school board politics. As public employees, we have a unique privilege to elect our bosses. We can: screen candidates for endorsement in school board races, ensure they are aware of the impact of privatization, and elect those who won’t outsource the jobs of public school employees.
- Build relationships with education decision makers such as the school board and superintendent, and with stakeholders such as parents. A simple way to begin building these relationships is by attending monthly school board meetings.
- Demand high-quality professional development, preferably under the guidance of the ESP Professional Growth Continuum. ESPs who acquire skills that make them valuable members of the education team are more difficult to replace.
NEA provides ongoing support for local and state affiliates facing privatization, including preventative measures and crisis campaigns. Contact Tim Barchak of NEA's ESP Quality Department for more information.
Navigating Tenure for Higher Ed Faculty & Staff
Tenure inspires innovation and protects academic freedom, and NEA and its affiliates are working hard to defend and expand it.
Why Tenure Matters
Let’s say a faculty member wants her students to explore the efficacy of gun-control laws in a state where the governor wants to repeal an assault-weapon ban. The governor’s appointees of the state board of higher education hear about this classroom exercise and say to the college president — we’re not entertaining anti-gun opinions in university classrooms. Tell that professor to stop, or fire her. Or, let’s say a faculty member is developing alternatives to a popular cancer drug in her research lab. The corporation that owns that drug is a big donor to state political campaigns, and doesn’t want new competition. Word gets back to college administration: shut down the lab.
Tenure is about providing vital protections for academic freedom. Without it, faculty could be dismissed for teaching unpopular political opinions, or exploring research costly to big corporations. The common good, which is at the heart of higher education, would be undermined.
This is why NEA defends tenure and works with its local bargaining units to include tenure protections in faculty contracts and to convert part-time or contingent positions to tenured ones.
NEA’s Position Statement on Tenure
The NEA statement on tenure “affirms that academic and intellectual freedom in institutions of higher education are best protected and promoted by tenure, academic due process, and faculty self-governance. Such protection is enhanced by including—where possible—these items in a collectively bargained contract enforced by binding arbitration.”
Increasingly, institutions are excessively using part-time faculty, misusing temporary or “rolling” contracts, extending probationary periods, and establishing tenure quotas. These anti-tenure practices are dangerous to academic freedom.
Intellectual and Academic Freedom
According to the 1940 "Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure," which NEA first endorsed in 1950 and again in 1985:
Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole.
The common good depends on the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom applies to teaching and research. While freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth, academic freedom in the classroom protects the rights of teachers to teach and of students to freely learn.
Academic freedom also includes the rights of scholars:
- to publish the results of their research;
- to retain the rights to their intellectual property;
- to participate in institutional governance; to advance in their profession without fear of discrimination;
- and, when necessary, to criticize administrators, trustees, and other public officials without recrimination.
Faculty and staff also have the right to assist colleagues whose rights have been violated.
Tenure may be defined as the expectation of continuing and/or permanent appointment in an institution, granted to a faculty member after a probationary period and extensive, objective peer and institutional review of their teaching, research, and service, according to criteria adopted by faculty at that institution.
During the probationary period, generally not to exceed seven years, untenured faculty should enjoy the same academic freedom as their tenured colleagues and be made aware of the criteria for promotion and tenure. In this system, any attempt to legislate tenure criteria for an entire state would be inappropriate.
The courts generally recognize tenure as a right of property that, under the Fourteenth Amendment, cannot be alienated from a faculty member except by academic due process and for just cause. Academic due process usually is established by faculty by-laws, constitutions, and collective bargaining contracts, and typically looks like legal proceedings. In such, the burden is on administration to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a tenured faculty member should be dismissed or suffer sanction.
Temporary, non-tenure, and part-time positions
More and more, U.S. institutions are hiring part-time faculty members, or those on temporary or rolling contracts, to save money and weaken the voice of faculty on campuses. These contingent faculty often earn poverty-level wages, forcing them to cobble together gigs at various institutions to make a living wage. This means they’re often on campus to teach only, and unable to participate in the mentoring and advising that underlay student learning.
Typically, they also lack job security or access to grievance procedures, which means they’re less likely to engage in controversial but important classroom conversations. It would be potentially dangerous to their livelihoods to stand up and say such critical things as, this university is dangerous to students who have mental-health needs.
As a result, the popular trend to academic contingency is harming faculty’s academic freedom and its ability to share governance.
Tenure quotas — arbitrary limits on the percentage of tenured faculty — have a negative effect on the academic environment of an institution. Decisions on tenure should not be motivated primarily by a desire for budgetary "flexibility."
Faculty development plans should be developed and implemented with faculty involvement. In order to provide students with a quality education experience, faculty have a responsibility to remain current in their fields to provide students. Tenure does not and should not interfere with faculty continuously working to better themselves.
Educators Employment Liability Program
The Educators Employment Liability (EEL) program is a professional liability insurance program which NEA provides as a benefit of membership. The program is totally dues-funded; members pay no separate fee. It is designed to protect association members—whether classroom teachers or support professionals—from personal financial liability for most incidents arising out of their educational employment activities or duties.
The EEL Program provides insurance coverage for a variety of situations which result in injury to someone other than members. For example:
- Student injuries
- Charges of educational malpractice
- Corporal punishment
The EEL Program is administered through your NEA state affiliate association. Liability and insurance laws vary in each state. If you want more information on the specific provisions of EEL coverage in your state, contact your local UniServ representative or state affiliate association.
When I first got involved with my union, I quickly learned how the union supports education support professionals, like me. NEA’s ESP Growth Continuum, for example, creates a pathway for growth where I’m able to master my profession—and remain in it.