12 November 2016

Beyond Pantsuit Solidarity

This, my first explicitly political post, is directed very locally: to economically comfortable liberal white women, like me, living in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. If what I say applies to other liberal white women living in blue bubble communities, counties, states: good.

We can do better in 2018 and 2020. We need to keep a hanger handy for the pantsuits, though.

Yes, misogyny is real, and yes, pantsuit solidarity is needed. Girls shouldn't have to be informed on national television that they can do anything (if you click on the link, watch to the end)--we all should know it so deeply that it doesn't have to be said. Also, powerful women should not be more vulnerable than powerful men because they have the same careerist, domineering, opportunistic, manipulative, underhanded, disciplined, and unlikeable tendencies. Also, women should be helping each other, along and across every line of race, class, wealth, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, and citizenship status there is.

So what I'm talking about here is just one of those lines: the rural-urban divide. Yes, that's a Cracked article. Read it anyway. Definitely read it if you've already read, "I'm a Coastal Elite from the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America."

Is the rural-urban divide the whole story of what went wrong with this election? Of course not. We have months of figuring that out ahead of us. But it's a big enough piece to be worth addressing as we go forward, particularly those of us who live in "blue islands in an ocean of red" ("Champaign-Urbana Big Outlier in Area Results").

It's not a piece that pantsuit solidarity is equipped to confront. What about women who can't afford the dry cleaning and don't have anywhere to wear a pantsuit anyway?  Who don't want to wear pantsuits? Who don't aspire for their daughters to wear pantsuits? Who have been screwed over by women wearing pantsuits? Who have good reason to believe that anyone in a pantsuit will look down on them? Who find it hard to believe that anything good ever comes of talking to someone in a pantsuit?

It was no more inevitable that the vast low-population tracts of rural America would turn out to be zones of economic depression, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and Oxycontin abuse than it was that chunks of inner cities would turn out to be zones of economic depression, violence, teen pregnancy, and crack addiction. Trying to understand the environment that breeds racism, sexism, and xenophobia with the hope that it can be made less hospitable to those diseases is not a capitulation to them. Laying aside judgment to learn about the risk factors that promote those diseases is not capitulating to them.

Yes, it's complicated, and yes--racism is a cause as well as a symptom of the complex history that has made rural America a source of prosperity for large multinational companies but not for the people who inhabit it.

New York Times
Of the many, many tasks ahead of us, it's on educated, comfortable, left-leaning white women to start this process. To reach out to the women on the geographical and ideological margins of their blue communities. To seek out opportunities for community that aren't centered on institutions of higher learning, left-leaning white congregations, or social activist groups dominated by people like them. To risk discomfort and awkwardness across class lines as well as racial and ethnic lines. To recognize that not everyone regards educational status and book-learning as markers of personal worth and to start genuinely valuing themselves and other people on other terms. To have real conversations that aren't premised on the assumption that we already have the answers. To find the stalwarts who voted blue in red communities and find out what kinds of action they think are needed. I'm sure there's more. That's just a start.

24 September 2016

About that Abyss that's Gazing Back at Us

According to the editorial board of our student newspaper, "too much homework has real post-graduation consequences," and they respectfully suggest that professors assign less "homework."

The editorial neatly sketches the abyss into which public higher education is teetering:

1. A college education exists to help you get a good job after graduation.
2. Anything you do while going to college that will help you get a good job after graduation is worth spending time on.
3. Anything you do in college that doesn't help you get a good job is a potential waste of time.
4. Most college courses do not train you for a job. 
5. The things that you do outside the classroom in order to learn the content of your courses (e.g., "homework") are a waste of time.
6. Therefore, the work of learning the content of your courses should be subordinated to the things that will get you a job, like extracurricular activities, internships, and part-time paid employment (which also helps to alleviate your student debt burdens).

Of course, as the students point out, the abyss also looks like this:
Often, students must take on extra jobs and excel in multiple internships to be competitive candidates in their desired fields.From a financial perspective, students often need to work one or more part-time jobs. About 30 percent of students at the University work one or more of these jobs because of the high price of college.With the hefty costs of tuition in mind, students need to maximize their time at the University so that their jobs after graduation can pay enough to help repay their debts.
In my current position, helping English and Creative Writing majors prepare for post-graduation employment, I'm often the one nudging students towards this abyss, urging them to pick up jobs or activities that will help them build their applicable skills and demonstrate them to employers. Our alumni generally seem to get good jobs that they like, but it can take them a few years of floundering first, and our students are more likely to get good jobs upon graduation if they do some of that floundering while they are here.

So my dismay is not directed at the students who are trying to live in this world. It's not even directed at the forces (public divestment in education, funding gaps that are increasingly filled by corporate encroachment, exploitative student debt practices) that have created that world. I've been dismayed by those for a long time, as any reader of this blog knows.

Rather, this editorial gets under my skin as evidence of how lousy public higher education in Illinois has been at pushing back against those forces, how little scope we've given the students--even at the state's flagship institution--to recognize that colleges and universities exist to do anything other than train an entry-level workforce. The DI editorial board has internalized an understanding of higher education that the university itself increasingly puts forward. That's the abyss.

09 September 2016

Leading the Losers in the Academic Arcade

Timothy Killeen, the president of the University of Illinois, was just awarded a $100K bonus for doing his job for the past year.

It feels churlish to begrudge him it.  He did reject a $225K bonus early on in his tenure here, citing the campus's ongoing budget problems and his brief--sustaining the glory of the institution when the state budget is in free-fall--is an impossible one.  For what it's worth, his salary (base + bonus) is dwarfed by the sums granted to academic luminaries like the U of I golf coach and Lovie Smith.

And, to be fair, he was set a series of challenges by the board, all of which he apparently met. Some items on the list, however, sound less like "goals" and more like a particularly detailed job description:
b. Work to ensure effective capital and maintenance programs, and appropriate facilities and infrastructure for all campuses 
c. Foster research opportunities to enhance teaching/learning strategies to improve academic programming 
a. Increase and enhance the visibility and positive reputation and ‘brand’ of the University at large 
b. Promote the University of Illinois at civic and other organizational meetings when possible; give more than 15 presentations to community and civic groups 
c. Engage key constituencies through targeted communications to increase advocacy efforts on behalf of the University 
d. Work with University of Illinois Foundation and University of Illinois Alumni Association to increase collaboration and cultivation opportunities with key donors, potential donors and alumni 
 There's also a lot of "seeking"--hard to know how the Board of Trustees decided how much "seeking" was enough to justify the money.

In today's paper, trustee Patrick Fitzgerald explains the video-game logic behind the payout. Don't call it a bonus!

Trustee Patrick Fitzgerald emphasized that Killeen’s award is “not a bonus. It’s something that’s earned.” 
“At least from my perspective, he’s earned every dollar of it. When you look at the leadership he’s shown, the leadership shown by the chancellors this year ... I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

I'm happy to have a president who can level up rather than bringing scandal to the university. That is, indeed, a step in the right direction. But isn't that level of leadership what the base salary is for? One might expect Fitzgerald, of all people, to understand that the rewards of excellent public service are not monetary.  His achievements as a federal prosecutor took down corrupt public servants ranging from former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff.  He did that work, presumably because it needed to be done and he was in a position to do it, not because someone dangled shiny financial incentives in front of him.

The University of Illinois, like many public institutions, runs on the willingness of people to do better in their jobs all the time, not because their efforts will result in a payout, but because the work needs to be done.

  • Advisors in my department and adjacent departments who have worked hard to reverse declines in enrollment. No one has threatened to fire them in they fail, nor do they get remunerated for the increase--but it's obviously the thing that needs to be done, so they come up with effective ways to do it. 
  • Faculty, both those with the job security of tenure and those without, who have radically changed their teaching in order to engage more students--not because their jobs depended on it, but because the students did. 
  • A colleague who wrote 1000 words before lunch every day over the summer in order to get her new book project well underway (she's already full professor, so doesn't need it for promotion; nor is she particularly unusual in her dedication--it's what research faculty do). 
  • Staff and faculty tacitly adding "social media management" to their job descriptions so as to foster a sense of collegiality in their units and make their colleagues' work available to a wider audience--not because they get more money for expanding their duties.   
  • Rhetoric instructors who diligently sustain the programs of writing and research that energizes their teaching, even though they get no institutional recognition for that work. 
  • Office staff and building and service workers who take on whole new unremunerated realms of job responsibility to keep the university moving forward in a hiring freeze.

(Sometimes faculty continue to strive for excellence, even though the incentives they are promised are not forthcoming. Campus-wide teaching awards are supposed to bring with them a salary bump. Several of my colleagues who have won these awards have seen the salary bonus withdrawn, not because they failed in their teaching, but because the administration decided that other one-time institution-wide salary increases invalidated those bonuses.)

The point is not that ALL superlative performance should be compensated financially--it's that the Board of Trustees is trying to lead through an incentive structure that has nothing to do with the way the work of the university gets done. Sure: everyone I know would like more money, but if money were what drove us towards excellence in our jobs, we'd be doing something else. If those of us doing the work of the university are dependent on chief executives who only do their jobs well in pursuit of financial incentives, then we're being led by people who don't understand the institution at all.

26 August 2016

Monsters and Mythical Creatures of Higher Education

More on that U of Chicago letter to the students...

Things that pose a threat to "freedom of inquiry and expression" in higher education:

1. declining levels of public support for higher education.
2. the widespread belief that higher education exists primarily to train an entry-level workforce.
3. student debt
4. ongoing failures to give all students access to an equal K-12 education
5. the increasing adjunctification of higher ed
6. increasing reliance on private and corporate partners to foot the bill for public higher education
7. the proliferation of third-party vendors and educational corporations in the delivery of higher education.

Things that don't pose a threat to freedom of inquiry and expression in higher ed:

1. professors' efforts to prevent bigoted students from derailing discussion.
2. the acknowledgment that traumatized students may find some material difficult.
3. events, spaces, organizations that give students who have, as a group, been historically excluded from certain institutions the opportunity--if they want it--to have community and a sense of belonging at those institutions.

Things that don't exist*:

1. institutionally enforced expectations that faculty not talk about certain things.
2. institutionally enforced expectations that students be allowed to opt out of anything that makes them uncomfortable.
3. institutionally enforced expectations that students be protected from disturbing ideas.
4. the large-scale excision of intellectually viable yet controversial subject matter from college curricula.

*At least not in my experience of teaching at a public R1 for the past 12 years and interacting with lots of faculty at other institutions.

Preserving Intellectual Safe Spaces for White People

It's been a couple of days now since that University of Chicago letter to admitted students erupted all over the media, and I'm still trying to figure out what an "intellectual 'safe space'" is. I've been in and around higher education since 1992, mostly at R1 institutions like the U of Chicago (where, full disclosure, I got my BA). Here are the "safe spaces" I've encountered:

1. A so-designated room in the Women's Resource Center on my campus. I was part of a panel discussion on trigger warnings (more anon) and it was pointed out to everyone at the start of the event. The discussion--which was not part of any formal class--was pretty dry and academic, which I gather is not always the case. Anyway, no one made use of it.

2. Cultural houses on my campus where students of color for whom the predominantly white and privileged campus is not itself a "safe space" can spend time with people who share their positionality.

3. (Not on my campus, that I know of): stickers given for faculty to put on their doors alerting LBGTQ students that said faculty member is "safe" to come out to (e.g., won't "out" them to others or try to talk them out of being LBGTQ).

I'm guessing "safe spaces" like these are not what Dean Ellison had in mind. Closing off these kinds of extracurricular resources would just be mean, and the University of Chicago's own Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (which provides them on that campus) seems to be in no particular danger. I'm guessing it was exactly to exclude such instances that Dean Ellison modified "'safe spaces'" with "intellectual."

So what did he have in mind?  I've certainly heard of faculty using the term "safe space" to demarcate rules of engagement.  As Dean Ellison himself points out, "Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others." Occasionally professors set down guidelines about how what "civility and mutual respect" mean in a classroom; many trust to their own modeling and guidance to convey that message implicitly. It would be really nice if we lived in a world where professors and students alike could be counted on to civilly and respectfully shut down racist comments and behavior as quickly as they would shut down a creationist demanding equal time in a genetics classroom, but any student of color on my campus can tell you that we are not yet living in that world. I have yet to encounter white students who have been censored by heavy-handed efforts to bring it about.

I have also heard the phrase "this is not a safe space" used to signal to students that class discussion is likely to touch on controversial matters in which students may have some personal investment. I'm sure that those applauding Dean Ellison's letter would be glad to hear of it, except that such statements could be taken to be "trigger warnings" and those are, I gather, a bad thing.

The phrase "trigger warnings" seems to be, uh, triggering, to people who aren't themselves in higher education. It provokes a reaction disproportionate to the words themselves, conjuring up nightmare visions of words, phrases, whole realms of inquiry being declared off-limits and pathetic students cowering in dismay. I don't know where this fantasy comes from. I've certainly never encountered it. The terms is, I admit, irritating, but I'm not sure how one teaches disturbing material productively without the concept embedded in it. In fact, I was using "trigger warnings" before they were A Thing. It's just good pedagogy.  When I've taught Eliza Haywood's 1725 novella, Fantomina, for example, there's a scene of sexual violence early in the story.  I've long been in the habit of letting students know it's coming and that we're going to be talking about it in class--not to get them off the hook for reading it, but because a survivor of rape who knows to expect it is more likely to engage with it intellectually than one who gets blindsided by it.  Depending on the nature of the class (I have had the luxury of small discussion-centered classes), I may mention before we start discussion that some students may have personal experience of sexual violence and so connect differently to the scene than those for whom the question, "Is it rape?" is more abstract.

Is that censorship? It may cause a student who has not considered these matters to think twice and look for some textual evidence before suggesting that Fantomina "was asking for it." There may have been rape survivors who choose that day to take one of their allotted absences. Either way, I'm okay with it--I don't see where either outcome vitiates the intellectual process. Acknowledging the intersection between this three-hundred-year-old text and present-day concerns leads to a deeper discussion than does allowing students to uncritically internalize the narrator's assumption that it's ultimately all in good fun--or asking them to pretend that rape is a thing that only happens in the safe spaces of the printed page.

So when I see people applauding Dean Ellison's bold stand for intellectual give-and-take, I'm baffled. Of course, rigorous debate is a good thing in college, as is coming up against ideas that are troubling and challenge one assumptions.  I've blogged about it, in one of my most popular and enduring posts.

It's that one paragraph, though, that undermines the whole enterprise:

Trigger warning and safe spaces are, in my experience, how students of color, LBGTQ students, rape trauma survivors get the support they need to participate fully in the painful conversations that are part of the University of Chicago experience. To take Dean Ellison's words at face value, to assume that he writes out of some rich understanding of the function of trigger warnings and safe spaces would be to sssume that the majority of University of Chicago students are such delicate flowers that the mere acknowledgment that other students come at these matters from different life experience and need different kinds of support constitutes a deadly threat to their ability to engage fully. And one must then echo the many supportive commentators and ask, how are these students going to cope in a world where people of color expect to being taken seriously as human beings? Where trauma survivors expect not to have their experience erased? Where the intellectual enterprise is supposed to take into account the whole of human experience, and not just that of privileged white people?  What a trigger warning Dean Ellison has given!  And what glorious reassurance, that the University of Chicago is a safe place where the world view of white students will be preserved intact and without threat.

But it would be a mistake to take Dean Ellison's words at face value. As I said, above, the "safe spaces" provided by the University of Chicago to its minority students still stand, and I have every expectation that conscientious faculty continue to to frame their subject matter in ways that will encourage participation from all students. All this letter does is make it clear to the mass media and any well-heeled alumni paying attention that the University of Chicago is dedicated to preserving its intellectual-macho brand. The letter also makes it clear to students of color and trauma survivors (both incoming and prospective) that the brand will be preserved at the expense of their access to it.

The whole letter:

01 June 2016

Putting the "Public" Back in "Public Employee"

"This great university system is not in danger of shutting its doors, but..." the wheels are off the bus, the train is off the rail, and the slow-moving wet garbage fire of the Illinois state budget is emitting ever more toxic smoke. We need new metaphors. Even more, we need a plan of action.

President Timothy Killeen domesticates the sh*t-show in today's MassMail. The doors will not shut.he reasssures us, while inviting us in to share his humble meal of advocacy: "significant cost-saving initiatives, structural reforms and prudent financial management." Our place is set, however, with a dire future:

All options are on the table as we go forward – layoffs, reductions of academic programs, closure of units and cuts in a health-care enterprise that provides critical care to underserved populations in Chicago. All would damage the very core of our mission to serve students and the public good, and erode a rich, 150-year legacy of academic excellence and economic impact that would be far more costly to rebuild than sustain.

The imperative to say something doesn't always mean that there is something to say. Let us grant that this particular MassMail is among the most straightforward administrative writing most of us have ever seen from the upper level of U of Illinois administration. Yet the core is hollow, and it doesn't need to be. "Tim" ends the MassMail as follows:

We will continue to do everything in our power to preserve the world-class quality that is synonymous with the University of Illinois, ramping up efforts that have been underway for well over a year to advocate at every turn for the interests of our students, our employees and the people and families of Illinois. I hope all of you will join us, and I will update you as the budget process unfolds.
That "we" again. Apparently the "we" that advocates for the university in Springfield differs from the "you" that receives MassMails. Yet as this MassMail boomerangs around academic Illinois Facebook, the solidarity is palpable. It is, after all, "our misson" under threat as faculty and staff share the link and the alarming "on the table" pull quote -- not just our livelihoods and benefits, not just our investment as Illinois citizens and taxpayers. We do our work because it matters.

"I hope all of you will join us"?!? We're in.

Now what?

04 May 2016

An Interesting Thing Happened on the Way to Graduation...

Last year, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign started collecting information on what all its graduating seniors were planning to do next. A few colleges and schools had been collecting such data for a while, but this was the first effort to tap all students on their way out the door to find out what their plans were.

Some of us were sort of dreading the outcome, for all the reasons you might think: our majors have a reputation for having a hard time landing jobs, we've heard the tales of graduates floundering for a few years before landing in a career, we know students who defer job-hunting until finals are over. We wished that the data could be gathered six months after graduation, when our students have had some time to get settled into post-graduate life.

Turns out, we didn't need to worry.  This is what the data looks like:

How about that.

Three caveats here. First, employment data is not broken down by quality of employment, so a student who plans to scoop ice cream all summer while applying for professional jobs looks the same here as the student who is headed directly to a high-paying consulting job.  Second, the respondents may over-represent students with post-graduation plans, as they would be more likely to complete a survey like this than students with no plans. Third, this is the first time we've done this--there are no doubt bugs to be worked out in framing the survey and encouraging full participation.


Looks like an English or literature/cultures/linguistics major is about as employable as an economics, math/statistics, or political science/global studies/area studies major.  The English major is about as likely to still be seeking employment upon graduation as a chemistry major, and less likely to be seeking employment than the earth, society and environment major. English majors are far less likely than psychology majors to be headed directly to graduate school; on the other hand, they have a much higher rate of initial employment.

There is certainly room for us to do better channeling traditional humanities graduates into employment (yes, I see those numbers for history and philosophy vs. communications), but this is hardly the dire picture painted by media outlets and popular wisdom.

Even our own student newspaper, The Daily Ilini, claimed in a recent editorial that "now, it seems an undergraduate degree outside of STEM fields carries hardly any more weight than a high school diploma." The editors go on to argue that "lowering the cost of tuition or the interest rates on loans would allow students to choose their majors unburdened by financial or societal pressures," which is certainly true. The nationwide decline of state support of public universities threatens to turn them into employee-farms for corporations, not institutions that educate citizens for the full range of occupations in a functioning, healthy society.

But please, can we stop telling people that English majors don't get jobs? It's just not true.

01 May 2016

Faculty Union Success

Well. After a nail-biter of a day, this evening, NTFC Local 6546 tentatively agreed to a full contract with the UIUC administration. Further details will be disclosed to the membership tomorrow (Sunday) at a meeting where members will vote on whether to suspend the strike; ratification will take place on Thursday (corrected).

Many things can happen, of course, but it looks like we may be back to work on Monday.

Eventually, too, the drumbeat of strike chants will fade away from my brain.  But for now, variations are triumphantly and insistently resounding in my head.

Tell me what democracy looks like? THIS IS WHAT democracy looks like!
Tell me what excellence looks like? THIS IS WHAT excellence looks like!
Tell me what organizing looks like? THIS IS WHAT organizing looks like!
Tell me what leadership looks like?  THIS IS WHAT leadership looks like!
Tell me what improving higher ed looks like?  THIS IS WHAT changing higher ed looks like.
Tell me what saving the liberal arts looks like?  THIS IS WHAT saving the liberal arts looks like!
Tell me what higher ed should look like? THIS IS WHAT higher ed should look like!
Tell me what the future looks like? THIS IS WHAT the future looks like!

If we can do it, so can others.

29 April 2016

Also: Vuvuzelas (Can We Get Some by Monday?)

Day 2 of NTFC Local 6546's second strike.  (Read about Day 1 with backstory here.)

It's the fourth day we've set up and maintained a picket line, but this part was new: it was the first time we've done all of that while our bargaining team was simultaneously in a mediation session on the other end of campus.

We seem to be part of a nationwide trend towards these kinds of things. FWIW, here's some of what we have learned:

1. Bags of cough drops ready to hand are key.
2. Supporters bring doughnuts.  There has been no shortage of doughnuts (thanks everybody!)
3. Early choir/chorus training sticks with you.  Pushing chants out from the lungs, not the mouth, and using your chest voice helps preserve the throat.
4. Feet hurt more when you stop walking.
5. Pushing fliers on people who don't want them doesn't pay. Seizing on a momentary hesitation to start a conversation does.
6. Solidarity is a long game.
7. A strike has many moving parts. Everyone will find one that requires his or her particular strengths. But anyone can help fill out a picket line.
8. Drumming is hard on plastic buckets and water cooler bottles. Get a lot of them.
9. It's really hard to deliver information in easy-to-remember words set to 4/4 time.  Just make noise.
10. Keep all this stuff in mind for when you need to put in a few hours on someone else's picket line.
11. Only time will dislodge the strike chants from your brain.

We had some friends on hand from upstate. We also had a May Day rally, which had been planned   by others independent of our labor action, but nonetheless expanded to be a rally for us, too:

And then two more unprecedented things happened.  First, there was meaningful movement from the administration team several minor things and one key issue (a real key issue): reappointment. Second: the administration team agreed to come back at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning (tomorrow!) to continue negotiations.  That may not seem like a big deal, unless you lived through the year plus when they insisted on three weeks (or more) between bargaining sessions and still showed up unprepared.

We are hopeful. But also prepared to have hopes dashed. I'm pretty sure this is all new territory for everyone concerned, and it's hard to know how things will go.

What can you do, dear reader?

I'm guessing neither Acting Chancellor Barb Wilson nor Interim Provost Feser will be taking calls at work or reading work email between now (Friday evening) and the end of bargaining tomorrow (Saturday)--though a voicemail or email certainly couldn't hurt (see corrected contact info below).

More important is to be ready for another strike day on Monday: be prepared to come show your solidarity on the picket line on campus, if that's possible for you. If you can't, or you're far away, continue letting our administrators know, from the moment they arrive in the office around 8:30am Central Time on Monday, what you think about continued stalling on our contract.  I'll be back here over the weekend if there's news one way or the other.

Contact Info for UIUC administrators 
(My apologies for the incorrect email for our provost in my previous two blog posts. The correct email address is here.)
Interim Provost Ed Feser: 217-333-6677; feser@illinois.edu.
Acting Chancellor Barb Wilson: 2​17­-333­-6290; bjwilson@illinois.edu.

Ask them to bring this labor action to an end by urging the administration bargaining team to agree to a fair contract (like the one the U of I administration signed with NTT faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago).

28 April 2016

Inside Illinois? A House Divided Against Itself

Updating with my thumbs from the picket line: the Provost's CORRECT email is feser@illinois.edu.

Day 1 of NTFC Local 6546's second strike. To recap: 10+ hours of mediation on Wednesday ended with the administration presenting a slight variation on the same set of unacceptable proposals they've been presenting all along and then walking out. NTFC voted to strike the next day. So there we were, once again, today, walking in circles, handing out fliers, shouting.

A picket line is all about the noise and movement, yet once inside that noise and movement, it is easy to fall into a meditative state, at the edges of which you hear people explaining or trying to understand what the noise and movement is all about. "Multiyear contracts" come up a lot, as do "performance evaluations," "shared governance," "respect." Lots and lots of words get expended to make it clear that it's not about the money.

These are all accurate representations, all of them important. None capture, though, what motivates faculty to leave the classroom and spend hours at a time on the pavement, walking, walking, walking, shouting, walking, shouting, contemplating. We would all rather be teaching.

Multiyear contracts?  That sounds like something one could reasonably object to, particularly in a cash-strapped state like ours--but then we point out that the "multiyear contracts" in question are not anything tenure-like, just a commitment that after five single-year contracts, faculty get a two-year contract.  After ten years of continuous employment, they get a three-year contract. Automatically? No, not automatically--we want annual performance reviews, too.  No, we don't get those already--not everyone, anyway. Those, too, are something we're trying to get into our contract that the administration is resisting. Shared governance? We want departments to have to come up with policies for including us in it--we're not actually binding anyone to specific contractual provisions.

It all starts to sound rather pathetic. Except that the administration is peculiarly dug in on not agreeing to any of it.

Which is exactly why it's all so important.

"Shared governance" is traditionally how faculty are able to exert some control over their working conditions. Only it's not available to NTTs now and is not likely to be under Provost's Communications 25 and 26--though we continue to be urged to have faith that these policy documents will, one day, materially affect us. (There's some doubt about whether "shared governance" means much to tenure-stream faculty anymore either. Strongly worded letters and votes of no-confidence don't seem to have the power they once did.)

The way we can exert control is by forming a union.  Oddly enough, the U of I's "Inside Illinois" online billboard this week promotes a recent paper by our own law professor Robin Karr, "Contract as Empowerment: The Basic Theory." According to the marketing blurb, Prof. Karr gets it. Contract law, he is quoted as saying, "empowers people in a special way, which reflects a moral ideal of equal respect for all. This explains why contract law can produce genuine legal obligations and is not just a system of coercion.”

What NTTs have in the absence of a union contract is a system of coercion, where the institution leverages their love of their subject matter and commitment to their students or research to get them to do the work of tenure-stream faculty without tenure, tenure-stream working conditions, or tenure-stream remuneration. This, apparently, is what excellence looks like.

Without a union contract, NTTs have no countervailing leverage. They can do the work they love or they can leave. It's not a choice structure that naturally lends itself to excellence, so NTTs who chafe within it alternately find themselves scorned because they ask so little or scorned because they've had the presumption to ask for more.

Therefore: NTTs rightly ignore meaningless policy documents. They look instead to a union with the power to collectively bargain a contract bearing the "moral ideal of equal respect for all." We're walking and shouting because a union is only as good as the contract that it can bargain. A contract that codifies the system of coercion is no contract at all.


What can you do, dear reader?

If you're here at UIUC, come join us Friday (4/29) on the picket line at the English Building, 608 S. Wright St. We'll be there from 8am to 5pm.  Come for a little or come for a lot.  If you haven't picketed before, you'll feel weird doing it, but that's okay--everyone does. Once you get past the initial discomfort with chanting in unison, having an excuse to yell a lot can feel downright cathartic.

Also, whether you're here or not, let the administration know your thoughts.

Call or email Interim Provost Ed Feser: 217-333-6677; efeser@illinois.edu.
Call or email Acting Chancellor Barb Wilson: 2​17­-333­-6290; bjwilson@illinois.edu.

Ask them to bring this labor action to an end by urging the administration bargaining team to agree to a fair contract. The one that the University of Illinois has already ratified for NTT faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago will do nicely.

27 April 2016

Reasons Why You Should Support Striking NTTs

This evening members of NTFC Local 6546, the union representing non-tenure-track faculty at the U of Illinois, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a five-day strike.

The mild optimism of this morning seems a long way away. At points the news we were getting from the mediation session seemed to indicate some movement was possible, but it was illusive. The administration remains locked inside the nothing they've been promising us all along. Our team was prepared to stay all night until an agreement was hammered out, but as the session stretched past five pm, the administration team presented one more counterproposal, more of the same, and walked out of bargaining.  So that was that.

Here we are.

Reasons Why You Should Support NTT Faculty When they Form a Union or Strike for a Fair Contract (whether or not they're at UIUC)

1. NTTs are the face of their college and of their academic discipline for many students. Students learn what the institution values from the way NTTs are treated.

2. (As a member pointed out at our strike vote meeting) unions are the only way most of us can work to reverse the current downward spiral of U.S. higher education.

3. NTTs deliver the teaching and research at the heart of higher education. Supporting them means supporting that mission. If their work doesn't matter, then what is the institution for?

4. They're not going away.  If anything, there are going to be more of them in future (that downward spiral I mentioned in #2). The working conditions they get set the floor for everyone.

5. Your grad students (if you have them) are likely to become NTTs if they choose to stay in academia.

6. Your children are likely to be taught by NTTs when they go to college.

7. Even though state support of higher education is dwindling, your taxes go to support institutions where NTTs deliver public higher education.

8. Every day, you rely on college-educated people who have been taught by NTTs: from insurance adjusters to health professionals, bankers, your children's teachers, librarians, police officers, city council members...

9. Many NTTs love their work and are easy prey for administrators who would rather take them hostage than direct institutional resources to their institution's teaching and research mission.

10. It could be you.

Update: things that you can do to support striking NTTs here at UIUC

Call or email Interim Provost Ed Feser: 217-333-6677; feser@illinois.edu (corrected)
Call or email Acting Chancellor Barb Wilson: 2​17­-333­-6290; bjwilson@illinois.edu
Ask them to bring this labor action to an end by urging the administration bargaining team to agree to a fair contract. The one that the University of Illinois has already ratified for UIC's NTT faculty will do nicely.

Let's Review: Faculty Working Conditions are Student Learning Conditions, Unless You're Downstate

Current state of play at the University of Illinois mediation with NTFC Local 6546 (NTT faculty), according to an email to the union membership from lead negotiator Kay Emmert:

"While we're willing to accept current statutes for academic freedom, their offer on multi-year contracts doesn't contain language that can be enforced. We remain committed to working to find a pathway to creating the same protections for our members here at UIUC as our colleagues at UIC have, a fair and just contract., The administration has made little movement on the issues that are most important to us: multi-year contracts and reappointment rights. They merely want to codify the status quo."

If provisional and unenforceable suggestions were enough for UIUC faculty, we would have no need for a union. The administration had decades, before a union even formed, to demonstrate their concern for NTT faculty. Had that concern taken the concrete form (appointment procedures, shared governance provisions, support for departments wanting to offer multiyear contracts), a union never would have happened.  Unions are a legal way for workers to get the working conditions they need to do their jobs. Three years ago, there was little reason to believe that the U of I administration would improve working NTT conditions on their own, so a union was certified two years ago.

As the union began to take shape, so did policy statements that codified a hypothetical concern for NTT working conditions, without offering any requirements or resources that would turn that concern into meaningful change.  Provost Communications 25 and 26 have, in two years, produced multiyear contracts for 19 of approximately 500 NTT faculty. Everything is, as it had always been, at the discretion of departments to determine without any recourse for faculty or incentives and resources for anyone to improve their working conditions.

The administration's actions and language at the bargaining table have only affirmed the conviction of many NTTs that they were correct to put their trust in labor law and union organization rather than the university's empty professions of concern.  Why can we not have the same protections as our counterparts in Chicago? The administration's bargaining team has been startlingly frank about that: UIC has to compete with other Chicago-area institutions of higher learning for faculty. UIUC does not.

The bottom line here at the state flagship is not excellence, innovation, teaching, or research: it is, nakedly and unabashedly, the bottom line. It's a line that is bad for students, bad for education, and bad for the mission of the university.

Want a Fair Contract? STFU

It's an interesting bargaining strategy. First, Int. Provost Feser explained that we can gain shared governance through shared governance procedures to which we have no access. We are told that contractual negotiations are a flawed effort to bypass procedures to which we have no access. We should trust in existing policy documents and an administration that wants to work with us.

I blogged about that earlier today, in a post which I can't link because I'm writing on a phone with my thumbs, from a different administration building than the one I'm currently occupying.

Since then, Interim Provost Feser has left the negotiations, annoyed, it seems, by the flurry of phone calls coming into his office. He also got some nasty emails.

As one union negotiator characterized the scene and its aftermath, "Things are getting nasty here at the Fire Services Institute.  I'm not used to getting yelled at by anyone above the age of 15." Asked to elaborate, the union member explained, "Fuming/hissing/ storming out: Interim Provost,  Yelling:  Associate Vice Chancellor Katherine Galvin (at [other union negotiators])."

So that's how that went. The admin team submitted an academic freedom proposal to the effect that we can have academic freedom, but we can't grieve violations of it.

And then this update from the negotiating team:

"11:33 Got admonished by Catherine Galvin [who took part in the GEO contract negotiations of 2009]. She asked if we wanted to make real progress today, and if we wanted to, we should ask people to stop asking for Ed Feser. Told Kay that she had the power to make them stop. She wants to see us send out a twitter message, and call on people to stop asking to meet with Ed Feser. Said that they would stop bargaining unless we did so."

UIUC: where freedom of all kinds comes to die?

Who's Sharing the Governance of What, Exactly?

From the transcript of of Interim Provost Feser's remarks in this morning's bargaining session:

"there are a lot of things i want that i don’t get because of shared governance. I think the key subject for us is that ntts don’t have access to shared governance, and we are pushing our colleagues on that and it is taking a long time. A commitment to shared governance means that you don’t bypass that process. I am very happy to work on how ntts get into shared governance. I don't believe in going around shared governance to get what one group of faculty want to get what another group of faculty does not want. Its commitment to that process that we see is vital, especially when we see outside parties attacking it. Even if I agreed with what you proposed, I don't want to bypass shared governance."

The AAUP is pretty clear on this point: shared governance is a faculty working condition. If a unit is not willing to codify the role of its non-tenure-track faculty within a contractually mandated time frame, then the problem isn't the union, it's units that wants faculty-who-are-not-faculty, warm bodies to do the teaching, research, and service, without the working conditions of faculty. 

How Is this Mediation Session Different from All Other Mediation Sessions?

This blog post is certainly different from all other blog posts. I'm typing it with my thumbs on my cell phone, using a colleague's hotspot, from a folding chair, in a hallway outside the office of the President of the University of Illinois. Members of NTFC Local 6546 are conducting a "work-in" while we await news from the mediation session across campus, about whether the administration is willing to move forward on a fair contract with NTT faculty.

Two new developments for this session: (1) Interim Provost Ed Feser is sitting in with the administratio'ns bargaining team; (2) the session started on time, by virtue of the admin team showing up an unprecedented 20 minutes early.

It's good news, as far as it goes. One hopes that these gestures of taking the union seriously are not the only effects of the two-day strike last week.  Members had hoped for more evidence that the administration was prepared to move towards a fair contract before this. In the absence of such evidence, a meeting for a second strike vote has already been scheduled for the end of today. So a lot rides on whatever is happening in mediation right now.

Here's what most people who haven't done this before don't know (I certainly didn't): a mediator has to be called in before a union can legally call a strike. Used to be, strikes were so ubiquitous that they routinely got in the way of doing business.  The federal mediation system came about as a way of reducing the number of strikes.

NTFC #6546 chose to strike when it became clear that the administration was not using the mediation process as a way to move forward towards a contract, that they were bringing to mediation the same lack of preparation and engagement that they had brought to a year and a half of bargaining sessions.

Mediation did not serve to prevent last week's labor action, so here we are again, waiting to see if the administration values the faculty who teach at the state's flagship as much as they value the faculty at UIC, if they are willing to grant instructors here the same job security and working conditions that faculty in Chicago get.

What's being held hostage here is the concern faculty have for their students, their love of teaching, their commitment to their disciplines.

23 April 2016

Today's Koan: "More than Half a Day or Less"

A half-hour after the two-day NTFC Local 6546 strike ended at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on April 20, all members of the bargaining unit received an email from university HR demanding that they report whether or not they participated in the strike by Friday, April 22.  I blogged about that email here, but at that point I had not even clicked on the link to see the form I had to fill out. Here it is, in case you're interested. 
I myself found the form confusing, and my situation is simple. My job these days has a regular nine-to-five structure, so missing two days has effects that I myself am having to cope with as I make up for a solid 16 hours of lost office time of my own choosing. So what exactly am I supposed to put on this form?

I'm guessing that they're asking me to write in either or both dates, but the request "document the number of days of the strike" makes it sound like they don't know the nature of the labor action and want some evidence that the strike lasted as long as I say it did.  On the other hand, they only give two slots to write in a date, so who knows?
Okay, I'm being a little snarky here, but the person who generated this email is paid a high six figures (or the equivalent of 3 - 6 writing instructors, depending their rank) to communicate information about contracts and employment procedures to all the employees of the university. Clarity would seem to be in order.
I'm not the only person who was left with questions.  Fortunately, HR has provided an email "strikequestions@illinois.edu" where we can submit them.  
NTFC Local 6546 President Shawn Gilmore read the form carefully on behalf of his union members, and had more, which he kindly shared with many of us

  1. The instruction email indicates that the Provost's office believes it is "is required to pay employees who work and to withhold pay from employees who chose not to work during the strike." What, specifically, requires this to be your office's approach?
  2. The instruction email also indicates that "[i]f you elected to participate in the strike, it is required that you complete the Time and Attendance Form." To be clear, you have decided that this is your policy, thus the correct phrasing should be "The Provost's office requires..." correct?
  3. The instruction email indicates that I should "submit the completed document to your unit administrator who handles HR matters." However, it is not clear if this means the administrator that supervises the three courses I'm teaching this semester (Bruce Erickson, the director of the Programs in Professional Writing), the Associate Head of the Department, who is in charge of the department's curriculum more broadly (Tim Newcomb), the Department Head, who signs my appointment letter each year (Michael Rothberg), our business manager (Jennifer Daly), or some other party.
  4. The instruction email indicates that "The University is not interested in learning whether you do or do not support a labor organization or whether you have or have not engaged in protected concerted activities." But this is directly contradicted by the online form itself, which collects said information and provides no way to abstain from this question.
  5. The instruction email indicates that "The purpose of this form is purely to determine whether you did or did not work on April 19th and/or April 20th, in order to accurately account for your time and to make any necessary pay adjustments for one or both days." However, the form provided cannot accurate account my time, as the form is not arranged in a way that corresponds with my labor. I do not have a fixed schedule that recurs each day, and as a professional, am expected to manage my time at my professional discretion. In point of fact, I shifted much of my work for these affected days to the weekend beforehand, over which I worked at least 10 hours that I was not compensated for. How will this be accounted for?
  6. The form itself is an insecure .pdf format, which could potentially be filled out for me on my behalf without my knowledge. This raises large concerns about the privacy of my reporting and the accuracy of any information you receive.
  7. Further, the instructions and form do not clarify the mechanics of submission--should I print and fill this out; can I email this document?
  8. The required form reads that "[a]ny disputes related the hours worked during a strike will be reviewed before a final determination is made." Who will conduct this review? What is their expertise in assessing the work of teaching faculty and the management of their time? How can I be assured that this review will be impartial?
  9. The form indicates that "[l]aws and policies regarding the appropriate use of state resources require that you accurately report work hours." This may be the case, but there is a implication here that your office must then respond in a certain way via those laws and policies, which I would like documentation on.
  10. Finally, have you discussed the method of this reporting and assessment with the union, NTFC Local #6546? As your office obviously had prepared this documentation in advance, did you ask about cases that might apply to other members of the union? What of research faculty who ran their labs and walked the picket line? What of faculty that chose to teach and picket? Or that shifted their labor in order to complete most of their week's work on Monday, Thursday, and Friday this week?
Once I have some clarity on these issues, I will be happy to report my actions and time accurately. But I am not comfortable signing a document representation my actions and their consequences given the documentation I currently have.
Some members have written to point out that the April 22 deadline poses a hardship for those who celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover, which begins at sundown that day (or at noon for those who are strict in their ritual observance) and, like Christmas or Easter, for many requires travel to celebrate with family.

Others have pointed out that the nature of faculty work duties is such that one can  be physically absent from campus for two days and not grading papers or responding to email while still meeting all the needs of the courses one teaches.  In addition, many of are accustomed to doing a lot of work while off-campus or on weekends. Most of us don't get equipment like computers or phones from the university to do our jobs, and some shared offices don't have adequate wifi for the many teaching tasks that must be completed online, even for a face-to-face class. Moreover, an office shared by teaching faculty meeting students in office hours is not conducive to the teaching preparation and grading that requires focus and concentration.  So it's a good thing that as professionals, we are generally empowered to allocate our own time as we see fit.

Many of us have gotten variations on the following boilerplate response to our questions:

Thank you for recent email. In response to the various questions that you posed, the form is intended simply to ensure that employees are paid accurately and in accordance with the relevant law. The campus must not pay employees for services that they did not perform and may properly deduct pay from those employees in a manner consistent with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under that Act, an exempt employee may be docked pay in half day increments if the employee does not perform services on a given workday, even if the employee performed more hours than usual on other days within the workweek. In accordance with these principles, the campus intends to use the following guide in assessing whether any deduction in pay is warranted:
  • If an employee worked a full day, no time will be deducted;
  • If an employee worked more than half day or less, no time will be deducted;
  • If an employee worked a half day or less, four hours will be deducted; and
  • If an employee did not work anytime on that day, eight hours will be deducted.
In determining the amount of time worked in a given workday, the time spent in activities such as grading papers, planning, conducting research and so forth should be counted. Department representatives will be seeking confirmation from those employees who submit forms that they did not engage in any of these other work activities on the dates of the strike. We are not requesting additional documentation be submitted with the form. In addition, if an employee needs additional time to submit the form, they should seek an extension from their supervisor or department administrator who handles HR matters. There will be no penalty assessed for submitting this next week.

In your case, you should submit the form to your department’s business manager, [name] either electronically or in the form of a hard copy. I would advise you to ask her who is the most appropriate person to sign the document.
The response of course raises additional questions:

  • What is "more than half a day or less"? 
  • What provisions are there for employees who "perform more hours than usual" outside the workweek?
  • How exactly will "department representatives...be seeking confirmation" that those of us submitting the form "did not engage in any of these other work activities"? 
But enough. One grows weary of this troll/countertroll game. Whatever capacity HR has for enacting coherent and well-articuled employment policies ought to be directed in the next four days to communicating with the Interim Provost and Interim Chancellor so that the administration bargaining table can come to the schedule mediation session on April 27 ready to bargain with reasonable proposals on the thirteen key issues still outstanding.

The Kids Are Alright

During two days of marching around the English Building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and making a lot of noise, one felt about as awkward as Roger Daltrey looks in this promotional film for the song of my title.  Most of us had never done anything like this before.  It has all been very strange. The students seemed nonplussed, too. I suspect many of them had never seen a labor action up close. (There was a GEO strike in 2009, and an SEIU strike in 2013, but many students have arrived on campus since then). Some seemed embarrassed for us, some avoided making eye contact, but there were a lot of other reactions too.  Some smiled in amusement or amazement (it was hard to know which). Some stopped to learn more about what what going on. Some came back because they'd read the fliers we were handing out and wanted to know more. Some picked up a sign and joined us. If anyone was angry or hostile, they took those reactions elsewhere.

The student newspaper has been supportive, too.  Their coverage has been extensive and even-handed, setting this labor dispute within the context of growing nationwide concern about contingent faculty working conditions, and publishing a supportive op-ed.

The Daily Illini editorial board went so far as to publish an editorial lauding the faculty strike as an example of good civil protest, in contrast to the racist pro-Trump chalkings that roiled campus last week. Granted, it's a low bar to surpass, but it's nice to have the recognition that "The Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition has followed the proper procedures for an effective strike, while avoiding any of the common blunders that could have detracted from its cause."

That said, the student newspaper avoided taking a stand on the particular issues under dispute, saying only,
One could argue the details of the faculty’s cause for hours — this issue is complex, and without a simple solution. The union’s most prominent desire, that non-tenured faculty members receive multi-year contracts, seems reasonable. But so does Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson’s response in Wednesday’s MassMail: that “multi-year contracts should be awarded based on performance, evaluation and merit, not centrally mandated and automatically granted.”
It's to our students' credit that many of them want to understand the issues at stake here. We handed out thousands of fliers--as striking workers usually do--but you wouldn't have known it from the trash cans or the litter on the ground afterwards. Students took the fliers and read them, talked about them, and perhaps, yes, argued. We could hear those conversations taking place as students grappled with the anomaly of their faculty choosing to walk in circles for hours, carry hand-made signs, and chant in unison.

The DI editorial board needs to know, however, that multiyear contracts are consistent with standards of "performance, evaluation, and merit."  Our present system ensures neither.  Many faculty are rehired, year after year, with no mechanism in place to ensure that they are meeting professional standards. Some departments have annual performance reviews, but many do not, and the administration has refused to put them in a contract.

Many faculty are, in effect, on multi-year contracts--it is simply the case that those contracts are parceled out year by year, with no provisions to reward the merit that leads to upwards of ten years of ongoing rehiring.  A faculty member who has demonstrated excellence with years of work at the university is just as vulnerable to a change in leadership or a downturn in the budget as someone marginally qualified who was hired two weeks before classes started to fill a sudden vacancy in the schedule.

Under the NTFC proposal for multi-year contracts, if a faculty member's performance is inadequate, and there is a system in place to evaluate and document that inadequacy, then they can be refused a second, third, fourth, or fifth one-year contract.  If an inadequate faculty member ends up getting "automatically granted" a two-year contract that has been "centrally mandated," then the problem is not a union that insisted on those provisions, its a department or unit that refused to uphold its own standards of excellence.

Under the current system, some "performance" gets "evaluation," much doesn't.  Some "merit" is rewarded with recognition, receptions, shiny nameplates on department plaques; very little of it is supported with meaningful institutional structures like stability, promotion, or raises.  Some departments get resources and backing to bring their policies in alignment with Provost's Communications 25 and 25, many don't.

If Interim Chancellor Wilson has better ideas than NTFC Local 6546 about how "performance, evaluation, and merit" can be built into the contract that we're bargaining, then it would be a very good thing if she could communicate them to the administration's negotiating team so that they can have a solid counterproposal in place in time for the April 27 mediation session.

So far the union has seen nothing.  Not a bad proposal, not a proposal we reject: nothing.  In eighteen-plus months at the bargaining table, it's been the union advocating the "performance, evaluation, and merit" that should structure the teaching University of Illinois students deserve--not the administration.

20 April 2016

The "What Words Mean" Debate Just Leveled Up; or, Who is the University?

The NTFC Local 6546 two-day strike ended at this afternoon at 5pm.  The following email arrived at 5:30. There are some things that U of I HR can do expeditiously.  Good to know.

In case you're wondering, yes, I'll fill out the form. I get that's how a strike works: you don't work, you don't get paid.  

Here's the part that rankles:
"The University is not interested in learning whether you do or do not support a labor organization or whether you have or have not engaged in protected concerted activities. The purpose of this form is purely to determine whether you did or did not work on April 19th and/or April 20th, in order to accurately account for your time and to make any necessary pay adjustments for one or both days."
Before I get to the snark, note this: The only reason why the specified dates are of interest is because they are the dates on which a "protected concerted activity" took place.  HR doesn't usually care if I cancel a class to give students extra research time on a project, or to stay home with a sick child, or to go to a conference. They ask me to report sick days once a year, and that's it. They don't care if I'm grading papers on a weekend, or staying up until midnight working through the email backlog, coming in early to meet with a student who can't meet any other time, or completing my ethics training over lunch.  They don't care whether I was working on the 18th or the 21st.  The very fact that they're asking suggests that they're very much interested in knowing whether I took part in a strike, even if they're not going to use the information for "action other" than docking my pay.

I get it though: the adversarial dance of labor relations puts everyone in a weird place sometimes.  HR needs some mechanism by which to put the "you don't work, you don't get paid" consequence into effect.  I'd rather they do it this way than ask our department heads and chairs to monitor us for an activity that some of our EO's support.  

Here's where snark is the rational response: "The University is not interested..."  

The University?

Recent MassMails would suggest otherwise. They indicate that the Interim Chancellor and Interim Provost are, at least, very interested.  Are they not the University?  I had many, many conversations  at the edge of the picket line today and yesterday with curious students, and saw others joining us on the picket line.  Some would say the students are the University, central to its mission.  They seemed interested.  After all, many of them come to us for instruction and are under the impression that we are the University.  

The crowd at our noontime rallies on our two strike days seemed pretty interested.  So are the departments who have expressed their support for the labor action.  So are the tenure-stream faculty,  academic professionals, and campus workers who joined us on the picket line.  Are they not the University?  Granted, not all tenure-stream faculty support us.  Some firmly believe that they are the University in a way that we are not.  

The University is a big place.  Every month I learn about things happening that I didn't even know existed: mind-blowing course offerings, fascinating cutting-edge research, community outreach projects. performances, student activities.  Some of the University has the task of administrating the University, and HR serves a vital administrative function.  I get that, too.  

Whether you support the strike or not, if the administrative units that, though stalling and inaction, dragged out NTFC contract negotiations for eighteen months are themselves the University, then we're all doomed.  

(see follow-up blog post here)

19 April 2016

I Do Not Think the Word "Discussion" Means What You...Are We Seriously Here Again?

Two MassMails from the Interim Chancellor in one day.  The second came while I was walking the picket line, so I didn't get to read it until just now.  You can find the first and my thoughts on it here.

Oh gosh. It's long.  The first one was so short.  So was the Interim Provost's MassMail last week.  It's like the Chancellor is actually trying to engage with some of our concerns, which is fantastic. One grows weary of the platitudinous nothings that usually populate MassMails.

In that spirit of robust engagement (did I say that right?) let me isolate a few key points (it's been a long day):

"It is important to note that the NTFC has chosen to strike after just one introductory meeting and one work session with that mediator."
Sure. It's also important to note that the administration showed up to that mediation session with no prepared remarks, no prepared proposal, no nothing.  A mediator's not a magician.  If both sides don't present something to mediate, it's just a waste of everyone's time and workday.  After eighteen months, the union bargaining team doesn't have more time to waste.

"As a campus, we support multi-year contracts, as demonstrated by the authorization and encouragement to units in Provost’s Communications No. 17 and 25 to issue such contracts."
It should be lost on no one that Provost Communication #25 came into being in April 2014, just as momentum was building for an NTT union.  That's when we started getting called "specialized faculty."  PC 26 sounds an awful lot like a collective bargaining agreement, except that the language is entirely provisional.  Lots of things--the kinds of things that a union can negotiate in a contract like procedures for promotion and multiyear contracts--should happen.  There is no provision to ensure that they will.

"Individual academic units are best-positioned to award multi-year contracts, as they best know their unique curricular needs and financial capacity. Multi-year contracts should be awarded based on performance, evaluation and merit, not centrally mandated and automatically granted based on the amount of time someone has worked here."
Somehow departments manage to develop their own criteria for tenure and post-tenure promotion, while still adhering to institution-wide expectations for the schedule and administration of that process.  The multiyear contracts that the union wants would be two-year contracts after five years of service, three-year contracts after ten years of service.  If someone has sufficient "performance, evaluation, and merit" to be hired for five consecutive years, then a two-year commitment is not a huge risk.  Of course, that's setting aside the issue of how "performance, evaluation, and merit" are going to be determined.  The administration doesn't want to contractually bind anyone to annual performance reviews either.

"Where we differ with the NTFC is in our belief that robust shared governance – something we greatly wish to protect – is not served by bypassing our governance processes and legislating it through a labor contract. Labor contracts are intended to address wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment."
We're happy to write the existing governance processes into a contract, if they in fact give NTTs a voice and protect their academic freedom.  Right now these are allotted on an ad hoc basis, like many other NTT working conditions, with no guarantees that they will withstand a change in department or unit leadership, be administered equitably, or get the backing of other relevant administrative units. Also, for faculty?  Academic freedom and shared governance are "conditions of employment."

"The campus and NTFC have important and principled differences that deserve discussion, which is why we stand ready to continue the negotiations as planned. Future sessions are scheduled for April 27, May 11, May 26 and June 26."
The administration has had eighteen months to engage us in "important and principled differences that deserve discussion."  We've shown up to bargaining session after bargaining session, ready to discuss.  The administration has shown up with nothing, as they did to the first mediation session.

So which is the administration now offering: a discussion of "important and principled differences" or a resistance to the very notion that some of those "important and principled differences" have anything to the working lives of NTT faculty?   The very fact that they can't articulate a clear position on that question suggests that what lies ahead is more stalling.  But they can call up our negotiating team any time to prove that assessment wrong.

NTTs on Strike (Links from 4/19)

We just finished day 1 of a two-day strike.  Here's what it looked like.

The building we were picketing, emptied by our labor action:

It takes two to tango, but you can definitely dance at our revolution!

Students join the picket line.

Noon rally on the quad side of the building.

The local newspaper made a video about the strike, which features both our president and lead negotiator.

The local newspaper reports on the first day of the strike.

Local news station WAND covers it, too.

The student newspaper gets statements from folks on the picket line.

One of this year's Guggenheim Fellows, who used to be Head of the English department, writes to the Chancellor and Provost.

And the Interim Chancellor sent out a second MassMail. Two in one day strikes me as something of a record, but I've only been NTT here since 2005, so I could be wrong.

I blog about that second MassMail.

(I blogged about and linked to the first one here.)

No doubt there's more, but I'm weary, and now I have another MassMail to write about before I sleep. Feel free to send me any juicy links you've got or post them in the comments.

UPDATE 4/20:

AAUP shares the NTFC Local 6546 press release.

Remaking the University covers the strike.

The Campus Faculty Association translates the Chancellor's MassMail for us.