Library Faculty Status

Jay Bernstein (Kingsborough), Robert Farrell (Lehman), John Drobnicki (York)

Jay Bernstein (Kingsborough), Robert Farrell (Lehman), John Drobnicki (York)

“The History and Future of Library Faculty Status” was the topic of the 2013 LACUNY Dialogues, held at the Graduate Center on May 10.  John Drobnicki (York) and Robert Farrell (Lehman) composed the panel moderated by Danielle Becker (Hunter), vice-president of LACUNY.

Danielle briefly introduced the topic of faculty status.  She touched briefly on the definition of faculty and referred to the American Association of University Professors’ Joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians, which was endorsed by ACRL in 1972 and has been updated several times since then.  This statement argues that librarians deserve faculty status because the library is important in curricular decisions and other decisions regarding the teaching role of the university. Librarians perform a multifaceted role, teaching faculty and students in both formal and informal ways, and engaging in research and outreach which enhance the institution.  Because can accomplish all these things more effectively as faculty, librarians deserve faculty status.  Furthermore, faculty status guarantees academic freedom. Librarians are the trustees of knowledge and ensure the availability of information and ideas. We should have a stake in shaping the institution and should get appropriate rewards for our participation.

 Polly Thistlethwaite (Graduate Center), Danielle Becker (Hunter), Robert Farrell (Lehman), John Drobnicki (York)

Polly Thistlethwaite (Graduate Center), Danielle Becker (Hunter), Robert Farrell (Lehman), John Drobnicki (York)

Recently, however, some academic librarians have lost faculty status.  For instance, at the University of Virginia, librarians have been made non-tenure-track faculty, while East Carolina University is considering stripping librarians of their faculty status.  Mount Hood Community College has eliminated all faculty positions for librarians and has replaced them with staff-level positions.

John Drobnicki gave a detailed history of faculty status for librarians at CUNY to show how we have gotten to where we are. To better explain this history, he broke down the question of faculty status into four parts: faculty status, faculty rank, faculty pay, and the faculty calendar. CUNY librarians have achieved some of these but not others.

When the first colleges that would eventually become part of CUNY were founded, libraries were run by senior faculty in other departments or, in the case of City College, the registrar.  By the time that Brooklyn and Queens were founded, they started with real librarians.

At that time, there were four possible ranks for librarians: librarian or professor librarian (later called chief librarian), associate librarian, assistant librarian, and library assistant. The requirements were a bachelor’s degree and one year of professional training or three years of work experience. After 1936, an MLS requirement was added.  In the 1930s, the city of New York cracked down on corruption, including that which occurred within city colleges. At this point, the division between instructional and non-instructional staff (that is, civil service employees) was introduced. Activists were allowed to make their case on behalf of CUNY libraries. Later, this group became LACCNY and eventually LACUNY.

When CUNY’s bylaws were revised in 1938, libraries became academic departments.  Librarians were considered instructional staff, but this status applied only to those at an assistant librarian level or higher.  Library assistants comprised ninety percent of libraries’ staffs but did not get any of the benefits of being considered instructional staff and could not serve on committees. Library assistants were treated poorly and faced pay cuts and attempts to move them into civil service ranks. In 1946, however, they too were granted faculty status.

However, librarians still didn’t get other benefits, including faculty rank, faculty pay and the faculty calendar.  In 1951, librarians received smaller raises than other faculty. They attempted to sue for more pay, but this move was unsuccessful.  Collective bargaining was not yet allowed, so a lobbying group was assembled to work for faculty rights. This group served many constituencies, including both subject faculty and librarians. Even library association members were divided. In particular, the Council of Librarians (later the Council of Chief Librarians) was not always sympathetic to the needs of library assistants. In 1947, the Council advocated for the creation of junior library assistant status, which would have ranked below library assistant.

Ultimately, societal pressures and other forces helped create the conditions that allowed faculty rank and pay for librarians to become a reality. These forces included the GI Bill and the Cold War, which increased federal research funding. Additionally, the United Federation of College Teachers wanted to include librarians. The poor salaries for most librarians had also resulted in high turnover and a librarian shortage. Chancellor Balkor wanted to solve these issues, particularly the librarian shortage. A task force recommended hiring a consultant, Robert Downs, a well-known advocate for faculty privileges among librarians.  In 1965, the Downs Report was issued.  The bylaws were changed to eliminate the “librarian” titles, instead creating faculty rank and salary for librarians. Promotions would be based on degrees.

Faculty rank and pay had been achieved.  The entry salary was now what the former maximum salary had been. Of course, some vestiges of the old titles remain, and we can see them in titles such as associate librarian for public services.

Do we really make the same as subject faculty? We work twelve months instead of nine. Subject faculty have twelve hours of contact, while we work thirty-five hours a week.  This difference in workload means that we’re deprived of twenty percent of our salary. We do have professional reassignment in the libraries, and this benefit has gone from two weeks to five. However, this is not the same as having a mandatory contractual right to summers off because it requires approval and a specific project. Furthermore, our annual leave was cut as reassignment was increased. Research leave was also added.  Of course, this also includes higher expectations for publication and other requirements for tenure and applies only to pre-tenure faculty. What leave do you get when you want to be promoted to associate professor?  Sabbaticals are far from automatic on some campuses.  Professional reassignment can fill this gap, but is five weeks enough? Ultimately, librarians have to spend their own time working on their research agendas.  Librarians have taken on more of the responsibilities than rewards of faculty status. We also don’t get to elect our own chairs, unlike other faculty.

Is our faculty position secure? There have been attempts to undermine it. When PSC negotiated with CUNY, the board wanted three bargaining units: full-time teaching faculty, full-time non-teaching faculty, and adjuncts.  The labor relations board ruled in favor of only one unit to represent CUNY faculty.  In 1979, there was an audit of the libraries at three colleges. The comptroller released report claiming that CUNY is wasting money on librarians because they don’t perform teaching duties. He had seen an associate professor cataloging and did not understand that this was teaching. In response, he recommended more HEOs rather than faculty.  CUNY and SUNY vigorously opposed this.  Some chiefs have indeed hired librarians on HEO lines, either as replacements or new lines. Faculty work should be done on faculty lines.

Robert Farrell focused on how we can preserve faculty status into the future.  He summarized the arguments that took place about this issue in the 1960s and 1970s.  Within the library community, some argued against tenure on the grounds that we are a service profession. Others argued for it because we are researchers, are involved in the educational lives of students, and reflectively engage with our profession.  Even today, some, like the well-known librarian blogger Meredith Farkas, say that we don’t need faculty status to do these things and this is really about self-esteem.  However, Farrell argues that faculty status is not about self-esteem or even research and engagement.  Rather, it’s a political and legal issue. Faculty status affords us the rights and obligations of faculty.  Without it, we may find ourselves in threatening situations, both for ourselves and the profession.

Five years ago, Vice-Chancellor Lowe made an announcement that non-teaching staff would be furloughed.  We would have been the only faculty block to be furloughed.  We need to be politically engaged. Were we connected enough with the union and our colleagues in the disciplines?  Can we protect ourselves from economic threats like this one?

We are faced with many other issues.  Throughout higher education, there is a trend toward adjunct faculty, and librarians too are looking to hire on contingent lines.  We suffer from privatization, the weakening of unions, and the backlash against and misunderstanding of tenure.  We have seen administrative power grabs attacking faculty status, most notably the push for Pathways.  We need to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our shared political position as faculty.  We need to think about the value of shared governance and how our P&Bs can accomplish it well. Currently, they focus heavily on P (personnel) and much less on B (budget).  We should also think about the value of participating in college governance and the tensions involved in having non-teaching faculty status.  Do we need to change it?  We’re concerned about our staffing levels. Pathways, too, is a current concern. Should we be mounting a strong response against (or for?) it?  What are its implications?  Pathways is part of a trend toward centralized hiring and curriculum planning, and we need to consider our response toward that.

Most of all, we need to think about how faculty status helps us to engage with our colleagues.  We must show that we are working with subject faculty in a way that demonstrates that we deserve the same political benefits, rather than relying on the moral arguments.  We need to use our reassignments as well and as beneficially as possible. Fifty professional reassignments are provided for the libraries, and many are not used.  Remember that poets and other faculty with MFAs have only one master’s degree, and they have full faculty rights. Most of us have two, yet in many respects, we are faculty in name only. So how can we build solidarity and coalitions of support?  Let’s look at those librarians who have had their faculty status stripped from them. What was their relationship with their unions?  Did the union feel they were a constituency worth protecting? How were they engaged with their colleagues?  Here, the union’s bargaining team negotiates on our behalf.  What more should we do? Should we be co-organizing with HEOs and non-professional staff? Should we work with adjuncts? Do we have the commitment to be more engaged?  How can we create the structure most beneficial to us?

Finally, what would it look like if we didn’t defend faculty status? Currently, CUNY shows a trend toward hiring HEOs as librarians. This is a problem because the HEOs work for their campuses, not for a department.  What does this do to a library in terms of the administrative structure?  Can we still craft decisions for ourselves? What is LACUNY’s role?  Should we be working with PSC Library Faculty Committee more directly?  There isn’t always a conversation between the union and our professional committees. To what degree are we willing to commit our own time and energy to building this kind of community? Our freedoms and rights are bound up with these structures.  Are we willing to do something instead of expecting it to be given to us?

Should we develop relationships with unionized librarians at other institutions? What about New York Public Library?  It faces many threats. Maybe we could support NYPL and it could support us.

During the question-and-answer session, one audience member pointed out that there is a conflict inherent in applying for reassignment leaves because we are still expected to do the same amount of work we would normally do but have less time in which to do it.  Robert responded by saying we sacrifice for each other. When we can apply for these leaves, they’re not compensated by the university. Colleagues have to cover for us.  If we don’t take these leave times, nobody ever feels the pinch when we do. This stops us from realizing how understaffed we are.  We need to do the work and allow for reflective practice and scholarship.  Until it gets better, it’s going to hurt.  To not do so is hurting us more in the long run.  John said that if we don’t take these leaves, how can the union argue that we need more time to do research?  With regard to research leave, we’re not always compensated for that, even though CUNY gives money to each campus. Sometimes a college doesn’t give it to the library but decides to do something else with it.

Bill Gargan (Brooklyn) had a question about HEOs. In the 1980s, HEOS started coming in more and more.  Many colleges are hiring HEOs to do faculty work. What can we do about this?  How can we guarantee we get qualified people.  Robert responded by saying that last semester a faculty member retired and the administrators proposed replacing this person with HEOs. We have to be vigilant and engaged.  Faculty need to be connected with the union chapter chairs.

Kenneth Schlesinger (Lehman) said we have to advocate for faculty positions to the administration.  Instructor and lecturer lines are assigned automatically, but he had to push for assistant professors and provide data to justify their hires. Now Lehman has six assistant professors all taking research leaves. This has changed our relationship with the disciplinary faculty.

Sharon Swacker (City Tech) pointed out that some department chairs aren’t hired with tenure, making it more difficult for them to be forceful advocates. Ken replied that we need coordinated advocacy. Our goals are similar, and we have strength if we work together. Someone pointed out that sometimes advocacy by the chief librarians can create more tension, since they are accountable to their presidents, not to their departments.

Lisa Ellis (Baruch) asked why there is more interest in hiring HEOs and substitutes.  John replied that HEOs don’t get leaves, promotions, or tenure. Some chiefs have taken the easy way out, thinking about what’s best for the moment in their department rather than what’s best for the profession.  It’s not the HEOs’ fault; they should have been hired on a faculty line.  But they don’t work for the library; like Gittlesons, they can be moved from one department to another.

Lisa Flanzraich (Queens) asked if subject faculty disrespect librarians and our research?   Robert replied that he had not experienced that, though others have. experienced it.  He says he engages his colleagues in a way that indicates he is their peer.  He recommended commanding respect to be taken seriously. Otherwise, there’s a self-perception issue.

Shoshana Kaufmann (Queens emerita) said that we need to look again at how every librarian can create this relationship. Don’t rely on the chiefs. It’s up to us to have relationships with subject faculty. We need to tell faculty what we are doing. Then they will come to know and respect you.

Meg Bausman (Hunter) said she was disturbed by former ALA President Maureen Sullivan’s statements about the situation at the University of Virginia. Sullivan’s comments didn’t really support faculty status.  Robert replied that Sullivan is a management consultant and is not committed to any particular view of how libraries should be run or how librarians should be treated. Instead, she looks at what’s most functional within a particular organization. But we should hold people in a leadership role to a higher standard. These remarks indicate a disconnect from or a disregard for a history that she should be more aware of.  Our response is what’s important.  Perhaps LACUNY should develop a joint statement with Library Faculty Committee of PSC. Maybe we should advocate as a collective body or form a faculty status committee in ACRL.

Ian Beilin (City Tech) pointed out a link between the attack on libraries and the attack on faculty librarians. There’s this notion in the culture that we don’t need libraries anymore.  Faculty believe that online resources are not the library. The public media have defenders of libraries, but they are not advocates of librarians. John replied that we need to educate our peers about what we do, show them everything isn’t online, and what we do when we serve on committees. Robert observed that many people are involved in taking libraries outside our walls.  Little Free Libraries don’t involve librarians.  How should we work with other organizations, movements, and groups that want to redefine libraries?

Ken praised Amy Ballmer (Graduate Center) for organizing a LACUNY Institute which emphasized community engagement. He said we have to see ourselves as part of the fabric of society, as an integral part of higher education, and as cultural institutions. There’s a lot of pride in the profession, but we don’t grandstand as much as we should. All our conversations are an opportunity for this.  At Lehman, community relations is part of our strategic plan. We need to pursue partnerships; even on the New York state level, we aren’t working together as we should. We should work with other types of libraries.

Robert added that we should build bridges with NYPL and the Brooklyn Library. We need a collective will.  We need to come to terms with the fact that, like other cultural institutions, we have a shift in our mindset. We’re in selling mode all the time. This is going to take a mind shift for us.   Lisa pointed out that LACUNY once had a legislative action committee and once worked more with SUNY.  It would be great to see this take off.  According to Beth Evans (Brooklyn), public library activists believe that our students use city libraries. They don’t know what we represent. This is an amazing disconnect.

Bill said that we don’t really concentrate on offering resources and services in the library, but on remote access. We’re not interested in books and periodicals individually, and we don’t buy them this way. We have to think about what we want our libraries to become. Do we want to be museums?  Programming centers?  If we don’t think about it, these decisions will be made for us. At Brooklyn, the library has become a computer lab.  Ken added that libraries are collective learning spaces.  As a reaction against the virtual world, people have recognized a need to congregate face to face.  Undergraduates like being alone in a crowd. They want to be present with others and also have individual spaces.  The library needs to be a destination. Citizens who value libraries are our big advocates. We need to connect with them.

Another audience member remarked that people with money and power believe libraries aren’t needed, and they don’t go to a library to see that this isn’t true. Then, this perception is artificially magnified in the media.  Robert  hopes to see a shift among the younger demographic.  Ten years ago, when he said he was a librarian, he got curious looks, and now he feels hip again. Being a librarian is a signifier of being connected to something authentic.  Libraries represent deep human and American values. Making those connections clear to the younger generation will help us.

Another audience member made a connection between the prior conversation and assessment. What’s the effect of downgrading faculty status on student learning outcomes?  Robert responded that he has many colleagues who aren’t on faculty committees. These committees are valuable because they provide contact with faculty outside the libraries.

Robert observed that Pathways included IL as an outcome for each of the distribution areas because of work done by CUNY librarians at campuses and LILAC.  We can change the discourse and advocate for our ideals.  There are other factors too, including recognition by accreditation agencies, but it had to do with our work.  Robert initially saw Pathways as an opportunity for librarians to propose classes and to get a deeper foothold.  So far, only City Tech has had an information-literacy course approved under Pathways.  All the other colleges tried to integrate courses that were already on the books. If we can continue to develop these things ourselves, we will have impact.

Another audience member brought up working hours, research and development. Sometimes we hear that faculty shouldn’t do their research during work time or in their offices.  John replied that he has heard stories of a chief librarian telling faculty that when they were on their professional reassignment leave, they should not hang around the library.  Where are you supposed to do your work? This is not collegial.  Robert added that faculty in the disciplines do research when they teach.  They’re engaged in things that are both research and practice. With us, that isn’t always the case.

Nancy Foasberg (Queens)