By Colin M. Robinson ’06

The University of Vermont is in a time of both transition and great success. It is a time when national attention around the academics, the student body and the “Vision” of the University is at peak. The administration has aspirations which would lead UVM back to the days of “Public Ivy” status and once again find its place among the top institutions of higher education in America. They also have aspiration to make the University not only the premier environmental University but also a leading institution for social and economic justice. President Fogel at his convocation address specifically mentioned UVM’s need to “walk the walk” when is comes to issues of social and economic justice. However, currently this is not a reality.

The reality is that while UVM is in a time financial health and record enrollment, the workers that make this University tick — the faculty who teach us, the staff who help us, and the construction workers who are building the “vision” — are not all being given community and family sustaining wages and benefits. The full and part-time faculty union, United Academics, have both reached contract impasse with the University over these specific issues. They are being offered salary increased which do not keep up with the cost of living and rollbacks in benefits. This directly affects the Universities ability to attract and retain high quality faculty and thus OUR education.

The United Staff campaign to organize the 1,800 staff workers at UVM is battling against the University to give the staff collective bargaining rights to guarantee quality benefits, safe work places, and community sustaining wages. The University is using anti-union web pages and worker intimidation to make sure this is not a reality.

Furthermore, we need to make sure that the 9 million dollars in student fees which will go into the new Dudley H. Davis Student Center is not only being used for environmental sustainability but also community sustainability. This is to say that we must make sure that the workers building UVM make enough money to pay for their own children to come here. We must make sure the ideals of social and economic justice are literally built into the construction of the University, not just those of environmental justice.

As members of the University community and customers of the University — the ones paying for this University — it is impetrative that we make sure we are offering all workers at UVM livable wages, fair contracts, and freedom to organize. As we make strides towards being a “Public Ivy” we need to make sure the ideals of social justice are not lost in the national rankings. We must follow the lead of prestigious institutions of higher education like Georgetown University who as of fiscal year 2006 implemented “A Just Employment Policy” which gives livable wages to all employees and the ability to freely associate and organize. Students must show their support and solidarity with those who make the University of Vermont work — the faculty, the staff and the construction workers. Students must make sure social and economic justice at UVM is not just language but a reality; we must make sure UVM “walks the walk”.

Join other students, staff, community members and faculty for the “Rally for Fair Faculty Contracts at UVM”, Friday, September 23rd at 5pm to march from the AFL-CIO state convention at the Sheraton in South Burlington to the steps of the Royall Tyler Theatre. Make social justice a reality.

Colin Robinson is a student at UVM and a member of the Student Labor Action Project