Michael Russo knows how his Louisiana State University (LSU) colleagues describe him: quiet; dedicated instructor; self-effacing. So Russo, an associate librarian and instruction coordinator for the LSU Libraries, realizes he was an unlikely choice to spearhead the controversial formation of a faculty labor union in 2011 and emerge as its primary—and always tenacious—spokesperson.
“I keep telling people, I’m probably not the best person to be out in front of this effort,” Russo says. “But they won’t believe me. I think I became the front man by default. I’m doing it because someone had to do it.” Of course, he could always boast of one particular advantage: “I am tenured,” he jokes. Job security in the wake of faculty cutbacks and pay equity are among the issues the fledgling union, LSUnited, needs to tackle, Russo says.
LSUnited has some growing to do. About 110 of 1400 LSU faculty members signed up at first, and roughly 65 have started paying dues. “We have a small number of people who are very committed,” says Russo. More significant than dues at the moment, he points out, is that LSUnited is affiliated with the Louisiana Association of Educators and boasts the National Education Association as a parent organization.
Dominique G. Homberger, a zoology professor at LSU who served under Russo’s leadership on the original faculty committee that recommended the union’s formation, described him as “the proverbial reformer in sheep’s clothes, who manages and leads a movement while seemingly remaining in the background.”
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