Questions? Ask Your UC-AFT Librarian

UC librarians push for academic freedoms

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Illustration by Darin Connolly.

After four months without a contract and more than nine rallies across UC campuses, UC librarians remain in a tentative position.

UC officials and the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), the union that represents UC’s more than 300 librarians, met Tuesday at UC Davis in its twelfth overall contract negotiation. About 20 librarians and union supporters rallied while UC-AFT and the UC negotiated into a gridlock.

“They [UC administrators] feel like they can just sit back and say, ‘We aren’t interested,’ and wait until we negotiate against ourselves and give up on our strategy on our proposals,” said UC-AFT librarian representative Ken Lyons. “We aren’t willing to do that.”

In negotiation efforts since April, UC-AFT has proposed increased wages and funding and changes to the UC’s academic freedom policies in librarians’ contracts — a protection the union argues would allow librarians to work without fear of administrative censorship.

Academic freedom protects scholars in instances of academic controversy. For librarians, these instances can occur when archiving documents, selecting teaching material, providing research guidance or in presenting information.

In the UC’s current policy, revised in 2003, academic freedom protects faculty members and students from administrative discipline in potentially controversial work — like research, teaching, publication and speech. The UC does not promise academic freedom in librarians’ contracts, and UC-AFT wants this contractually guaranteed.

“If you don’t have academic freedom, and you select some controversial book, and somebody complains that this book is in the library, then you can be taken to task for selecting that book,” Lyons said.

The UC argues librarians are not restricted from the academic freedom protections in its policies, but UC-AFT believes this interpretation is nominal.

“We are meant to be the advocates and protectors of academic freedom, but if we don’t have it ourselves, how can we fulfill that role in that obligation of our profession?” said UC Santa Cruz librarian Rachel Jaffe.

This summer, the UC will reexamine its academic freedom policies with UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal and UC Academic Senate Chair Robert May as discussion leaders.

“The University of California is establishing a work group to carefully examine UC policy on academic freedom and the possibility of extending the associated privileges and responsibilities not only to librarians, but also other non-faculty academics,” said UCOP director of media relations Claire Doan in an email.

UC-AFT also wants to increase contract wages to match those of California State University (CSU) librarians.

CSU librarians have 4 ranks of librarians, while UC librarians are ranked in three groups — senior assistant, associates and librarian. CSU pays its top librarians 25.5 percent more than UCs in entry-level salaries, according to a fall 2018 UC-AFT salary proposal. Lower ranking CSU librarians are paid 32 and 37 percent more, respectively, compared to their UC counterparts, according to the same proposal.

“[Salary] is a major concern among people who work here,” said Jess Waggoner, a librarian who has worked at UCSC for 11 years, adding that many of the UC campuses are located in expensive cities like Santa Cruz.

In 2017, Realtor.com, a real estate listing site, listed UC Berkeley as having the most expensive college town in the nation and UCSC as the second. Investopedia listed San Francisco as the second most expensive city in the country the same  year.

“Librarians have mostly been fairly quiet over the years,” Lyons said. “In contracts past, we were willing to get what we could get. […] Now, we’re worried about the overall effect on the services that we provide to the UC campuses.”

UC-AFT and UCOP’s negotiations will continue with the next bargaining session scheduled at UCLA on Feb. 1. A bargaining session at UCSC on Feb. 22 will follow.

Additional reporting by Molly Hetherwick. 

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Karen Lowe is the social media editor at City on a Hill Press. Beginning her career as a fact-checker, she gained a passion for getting stories right and asking questions. She believes using facts is a key part in supplementing the human voice. Since her time as a fact-checker, she has joined the campus desk as a reporter and editor — reading, talking and asking questions to uncover stories hidden in the community. Now, she works to impose the paper's online presence, hoping to answer the city's questions using social media. She can be contacted at klowe@cityonahillpress.com.