Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why I am Voting "No" to a Strike (Part I)

[NOTE: This two-part message offers a viewpoint differing from that of my colleague Professor Zaretsky. Please read her post, Deo Volente discussions, and my own reflections below. We FA members have a week to decide and even change our minds, as I have done before deciding that NOW is not the time]

After paying close attention to what the Faculty Association (FA) has been saying, as well as the fine details of administration statements and terms, I have decided to vote "no" on a strike at this time.

This does not come easily because I am unhappy with the current proposed raises and believe the substantial retirements this year mean more work at the same pay. I would hope that the administration could offer those of us left behind a small slice of the pie (hundreds of workers will retire this year. Do the math).

Unfortunately, the FA leaders insist that this is not about modest pay raises or short-term job security. Instead, they have whipped themselves up over perceived "attacks on tenure" and "forced teaching of online courses."

The FA's Distance Ed claims are false, even by the administration's imposed terms (see Addendum D). I might add that the transition to online education has been rocky and there is no way the administration is in a position to force people online. More important: for years, faculty screamed for unit control and credit for courses taught online. Distance Education credit hours and responsibility are now at the department and college level. We asked, we got, now we live with the rocky transition from central to unit control.

To write contract language "no professor shall be required to teach online" goes against the decentralization of programs that are being put in place after departments and colleges decided to create them. Some colleges now offer certificates and degree programs with an online component. If Mass Communications or Education create programs with an online component, then shouldn't they be allowed to hire people who teach an online course in their area of expertise?

Even the FA knows this is a straw man: at last Friday's Q & A, Professor Auxier conceded that there would be more than enough volunteers and it is not going to be an issue in the short term. But, then, the FA flies off into the stratosphere of "power politics." "They" want to make "us" do as they please and it is theoretically possible that some time down the road this may be an issue. Perhaps, but not in the next 3-4 years! Why are they leading a strike movement with this weak non-issue?

The Chancellor's email today puts forth the administration position that financial exigency (or program elimination) is required to terminate faculty. There is added job security because of retirements and the hiring freeze. Plus those with tenure are listed (even under imposed terms) as the last to be laid off.
"The full or partial layoff of Faculty members in the level of organization as determined by the Board to which the layoff applies shall be in the order listed below:
a.         Full-time untenured tenure-track Faculty;
b.         Tenured Faculty."
Those same "imposed terms" scratch out the following no-layoff clause:
"No Faculty member shall be laid off for financial exigency during the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010 fiscal years."
Given the above factors, how bad would things have to get before they laid off tenured people? When our 2006-2010 contract expired, President Randy Hughes assured me that it would be very unlikely layoffs would ever reach tenured faculty unless things were really bad (as in "financial exigency" bad). But now the union leadership is leading us into a strike based on a quixotic battle with something that a) hasn't happened and b) is likely never to occur!

The 2006-2010 clause granted no-layoff security even with a financial exigency--a higher bar than the Board Policy which calls for financial exigency before terminating faculty. Still, declaring "exigency" means the Board believes the very existence of the institution is threatened and that would send SIUC's borrowing costs sky-high (not to mention the bad press).

Can I live with financial exigency as the "bar" needed to lay off faculty? You bet. Demanding more is really setting tenure-track faculty in a position so secure that we only share that privileged position with one other group: U.S. Supreme Court justices!

The FA insists that "financial exigency" is not in a new union contract. Even if true, so what? The FA view is that the whole universe exists within the union contract:
no contract clause = no tenure rights. . .
Step back from the ledge and imagine the following: you are teaching at a college or university of your choice. You are a tenured professor. Are you freaking out about your "insecure tenure" because your college has no union? Of course not.

Again, since the FA is fond of hypotheticals, imagine a contract with no "financial exigency" clause. The Board policy remains (with financial exigency required for terminations). This could be the basis of lawsuits for wrongful termination, as was the case back in the 1970s. Does any one believe the administration wants to go through that again? I have criticized many administration policies over the years but I am not that paranoid.*
*If the Board eliminated its "financial exigency" policy (as the FA says it might), then I will seriously consider a strike. But we haven't crossed that bridge, have we?
"We strike for tenure" is a loser argument in this economic climate. Lifetime job security is never popular even in good times. Privately, FA members will say tenure = lifetime job security (and, hey, I'm all for that!) but when outsiders accuse FA leaders of desiring lifetime jobs, they retort "that's not true!" But, really, it is true if the FA insists on a no-layoff clause in each and every contract.

The informative, vigorous discussions at another web site make one thing clear: those strongly in favor of a strike believe this is not about money or short-term (as opposed to life-long) job security. Perhaps they wish to seize some "moral high ground." Yet who is not in a union for better pay? That's why I joined and the last contract was good for me. I grow fearful when my union puts bread-and-butter issues below some "larger cause" (particularly one that seems purely hypothetical).

The FA leadership also favors a strike to make the administration "bargain in good faith." But given the malevolence they have ascribed to the administration (with particular demonization of Cheng) one would think the "Evil Empire" (as one person characterized the administration) would "Strike Back" during a strike (apologies to the creators of Star Wars for the reference). The students would be collateral damage (more on that in Part II).


Dave Johnson said...

You've written a well-argued post but--surprise--I disagree.

If we sign a contract (which will include a no-strike clause) that does not protect tenure, and the administration changes BOT policy to allow for firing of tenured professors through something less than a financial exigency (or, rather more likely, it so dilutes the "financial exigency" process that any faculty protections are minimized), it will be too late to strike. You will not have the legal right to strike if your union has signed a contract with a no-strike clause and that contract does not itself defend tenure.

The administration already made a major change in its policies to allow it to cut our pay: unpaid administrative closures. Under prior board policy, the only way the administration was supposed to be able to cut salaries was by declaring a "financial emergency" (NB: not quite a "financial exigency", but still a scary situation that may have scared of students and creditors). They didn't want to declare a financial emergency, so they simply changed their policy. A parallel argument has been made at other universities for firing tenured faculty (including FSU: the Inside Higher Ed for March 2, 2010). Gosh, we really need to cut staff to make ends meet. But we don't want to scare anybody (save the faculty!). Let's just fire them because times are tough and we need to be flexible: no need to frighten anyone (other than faculty) with fancy scary words like "exigency".

If the administration in fact has no plans to fire faculty without a bona fide financial exigency, why is the Chancellor only willing to say as much in an email, and not in a contract? Why isn't she willing to clearly lay out a financial exigency policy and--something crucially important to avoid administrative abuse along the "no crisis should go to waste" saying of your favorite Chicago mayor--why shouldn't we demand that the BOT policy be altered, in keeping with AAUP policies, to ensure that faculty have the "primary responsibility" in deciding where to make cuts in the event of a financial exigency? As it stands now, should the BOT declare a financial exigency, the chancellor gets to decide which faculty to fire. That's dangerous. There would be nothing to prevent her from starting with uppity faculty. I wonder why I'm not happy with giving her that particular power . . .

PeterG said...

SIU doesn't need layoffs, it needs to fire for cause on non performers. OSU fires the deserving, working though the painful systems to make it happen. SIU should too.

There are so many deserving university professionals jobless, it is a shame to employ non performers.

Good luck all,

Joe Sramek said...


You raise several interesting points. Did anybody ever get back to you, from the administration's side, what terms were are currently living under as our "dynamic status quo?" WIth a book due to be released in the next week or so, and as a tenure-track colleague of yours in his 5th year, I am only nervous about getting to the next rung on the ladder in two years' time if the administration plays the financial exigency card. So, it is very vital for me to know what our dynamic status quo is at the moment.

I am leaning toward voting yes on a strike vote in part as a vote of dissatisfaction of the heavy-handed and arrogant actions of the administration in this bargaining round. The union, of course, has not been blameless in this regard and, indeed, I wince at times at the childish commentary at times put forth by some people. I am really hoping that enough grownups will get together and hash out a compromise that most people can live with, even if 11th hour.

brookshirewalker said...

STAR WARS will forgive you, and no one will seek either their Revenge or Return. I don't think Cheng has been honest with the SIU folks even prior to her arrival, but the dysfunction that is your University (and technically mine as well) goes well beyond anything she did, does or will do. Remind me again, how many levels of bureaucratic "management" are there? How many Associate Vice (fill in the blanks)? How many meetings upon meetings upon meetings following a round of meetings take place in a given week?

Dave Johnson said...

SIUC can fire for just cause under the previous contract and similar language will no doubt be included in the next contract. The FA does not object to this, so long as "just cause" is adequately defined, and the tenured faculty member involved receives due process.

Anonymous said...

Posted on Deo Volente yesterday:

1) Emotions are high (at stake are at least our reputations and our jobs and at most our principles - be they students ueber alles or perceived-tenure ueber alles).

Facts and questions
2) Stakes are high

A) the IEA is eager to engage in the first strike of a public higher-education institution in the great State of Illinois (and they don't care which institution).

B) as Prof. Bean notes, there has never been a truly successful strike of a public higher-education institution in recent history

C) if there's a positive strike vote:
i) Can the University survive the negative press and the resultant fall in recruitment after 20 years of decline
ii) Can the majority percentage of the FA members (106 votes required) persuade the remaining represented faculty ( ~ 600) that
a) the Chancellor is lying about the Tentative Agreement reverting back to the language in the 2003 and 2006 contracts, the one she dates to February (can you say FOIA?), and, further, that the same FA that was unable to prevent furloughs last year can do better for us than the tenure commitment she made in her e-mail (layoffs only for financial exigency or program closure), and/or
b) being assigned to teach via distance learning (and how many smart classrooms are there on campus?) is significantly different than being assigned to teach in a crappy classroom or to teach a service course
c) that they can do better than the 1% in January, 1% in July, 1% in the next July, and 2% in the following July (5.09% compounded over the next four years) - the same deal she noted that the other union got (those fellow SIU workers some are so quick to disparage)?

D) if there's a negative strike vote
i) can the Union survive a failed-strike vote
a) after failing to win on the one issue upon which it focused its negotiating power last year
b) after, subsequently, the FA team fails to secure the offer with which the Chancellor prefaced her note concerning negotiations with the faculty
ii) can any of the other Unions which linked with the FA to ride its coattails to victory survive a failed-strike vote?

What about that Tentative Agreement returning tenure protection to the language of the last two (or three) negotiated contracts? (Any discussion of the imposed contract is MOOT if the Board has offered that language.)

E) why isn’t the Union be talking about that Tentative Agreement the Chancellor is on record as avowing? How is that NOT at the core of the core of their conversations with us?

i) what happens to the FA leadership’s credibility if the Tentative Agreement the Chancellor cites as having been signed in February is made public as actually having been signed in February and having been suppressed by them? (FOIA, anyone?)

ii) what happens to the Administration’s credibility if the Tentative Agreement the Chancellor cites as having been signed in February is made public as NOT actually having been signed in February?

Further stuff
The last two contracts were settled at the last moment with the Administration buying off the faculty with a pot of money. There is no pot of money to be had from this Administration.

It is clear to me that if the FA team can secure the tenure provisions the Chancellor says the Board team and the FA team have already agreed to – those that were good enough for the FA for the last two contracts -- AND if the FA team can secure for membership the financial package achieved by that other union at SIU, they should declare victory and settle.

It’s the best we can do, and it’s what the membership wants.

The downside of the alternative – for the university and for the future of the Union is far too far down, for all of us.

i-History said...

Dear Anonymous,

My Part II was to be Pro/Con and you stole some of the Con arguments but, of course, they are evident to any one not caught up in the heat of the moment.

paranoid said...


Since the new fiscal year, the chancellor has responded to FA claims that the imposed terms destroy tenure. That certainly suggests that the administration considers the imposed terms to be the dynamic status quo. Otherwise, she could just say that it's a moot point because we reverted to the 2006-2010 contract after the end of the 2011 fiscal year.