This week, contingent faculty at Duke took the historic step of filing for a union election. The decision comes in response to the administration’s ongoing attempts to replace stable, full-time, tenure track jobs with part-time, precarious, low-wage positions. Predictably, the burden of these policies is distributed unevenly across race and gender lines; while roughly 40 percent of Duke’s teaching staff are now contingent, more than 50 percent of faculty of color—and more than 60 percent of female faculty—labor off the tenure track. As our faculty take a stand for long-term contracts, health care and fair pay, it seems an opportune moment to look back at the history of wage suppression and union-busting here at Duke, which has been chronicled by Erik Ludwig.
Our journey through history takes us back to 1963. Duke, one of the last major universities to desegregate, has just admitted its first Black undergraduate students. Restrooms on campus remain segregated; there is a separate entrance to Wallace Wade Stadium marked “colored.” There are no Black faculty, administrators or trustees.