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.

I Do Not Think "Work with" Means What You Think It Means, Chancellor

"Thank you for your patience as we continue to work with the union negotiators to reach an agreement."

These words are from Interim Chancellor Barb Wilson to Illinois students, in an email that went out this morning. These words would lead one to picture a room somewhere on campus where right now campus administrators and union negotiators are sitting across a table from each other trying to hammer out an agreement that will get faculty off the picket line and back into their classrooms.  We in NTFC Local 6546 would very much like that to be the case.  But that picture is wrong.  Not only is it wrong now, it's been wrong for the past eighteen months.  

Well, no, let me correct myself: negotiations been taking place for the past eighteen months on campus, if by "on campus" you mean the at Fire Service Institute out on the edge of Research Park.  

So yes, that part's true.  But although we've had 29 scheduled bargaining sessions since October 2014, along with two mediation sessions and three side meetings, there have been no meetings between union negotiators and administration since the last mediation session ended on March 30.  

Well, no, let me correct myself.  Leslie Arvan, the U of I's Director of Labor and Employment Relations, who has been heading the administration's negotiating team, contacted our strike coordinator to complain that she had not received timely notification of today's labor action. Fortunately, our strike coordinator, in the course of doing all the paperwork required by state labor law, had hand-delivered the letter and obtained a receipt from Ms. Arvan's secretary. So we were able to clear that up.

Apart from that, and the letter Interim Provost Ed Feser sent to all members of the bargaining unit represented by NTFC, we've had no contact from the administration.  

So why can't we just wait until the scheduled April 27 mediation session?  Probably because our first mediation session went like this

"neither prepared remarks nor any proposals": this has, sadly, been the union's experience of negotiating sessions, even before the mediator was introduced.  We come with proposals ready to, you know, bargain, and the administration comes with nothing.

University administrators, however, say they feel progress has been made in the negotiations, noting that initial contracts often take months to hammer out.
The university has had "months" to arrive at an agreement. We're coming up on "years," particularly at the pace that the university has set.  When we've brought up that issue, the result was Rob Craddock, Assistant Director of Labor and Employee Relations, screaming in the hallway at our lead negotiator, that the union "doesn't get to bitch about the speed of bargaining."  So that's how that went.

It doesn't have to take so long.  In the interests of stewarding resources and limiting the time that both university administrators and faculty spend in the bargaining room, the administration could expedite matters by coming prepared with counterproposals.  In fact, they could avoid replicating the expense of contract negotiations by agreeing to the contract U of I administration has already signed with NTT faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

According to the News-Gazette,
Feser said the campus is implementing procedures established in 2014 to allow for multiyear contracts and promotional opportunities for nontenure-track faculty, based on merit and performance; and updating policies to provide a stronger voice for them in departmental and college governance.
That's odd.  At the bargaining table, the administration has professed "no interest" in discussing any of these things.

So who exactly is continuing to "work with" us?

16 April 2016

Emailing My Students about the Strike, with Links (Updated 4/19)

NTFC Facebook post with strike announcement (they announced it other places, too--this was just the easiest version for me to find)
Old news, but back in September, NTFC President Shawn Gilmore explained "Why a Union?"

UPDATE 4/17:

I'm still looking for formulations of the anti-NTFC position and not finding any.  Feel free to comment or contact me via the blogger contact form in the sidebar if you know of anything I'm missing.

ORIGINAL POST: Here's the email I sent my students earlier today (4/16).
Hello all,
As I mentioned in class last week, it's looking like class will not be meeting this week, as I will be on strike, our planned speaker is also part of the striking union, and the English Building will probably be picketed. The union had been hoping that the threat of a strike would bring the administration to the bargaining table, but that doesn't seem to be happening (although it still might!).

Feel free to email me at [personal email address redacted] if you'd like to discuss the matter informally.  
You can read up on some of the issues involved in the following places, in no particular order:
The only formal statement that the university has issued since the strike vote was announced has been this letter from Interim Provost Ed Feser to the faculty members who make up the bargaining unit (cut and pasted here because I can't find anywhere it's been published).  If I can find any additional formulations of the univerity's position, I'll send a follow-up so you can get a fuller picture of the non-union view of the issues involved.
Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to you because you hold a position that is represented by the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition Local #6546, IFT/AFT/AAUP. The NTFC bargaining team has said publicly that the membership authorized a strike last week and that it is considering a job action as early as the week of April 18. In light of these developments, I want to make sure that you have critical information regarding the current status of our negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement. 
The campus has been engaged in ongoing contract negotiations with representatives from the NTFC since October 2014. The union recently requested bringing in a federal mediator. We’ve had just two mediation sessions so far and four additional mediation dates are scheduled (April 27, May 11, May 26 and June 11). We have reached tentative agreements on several key items and believe that further progress can be made at the bargaining table. We are disappointed that it appears the NTFC isn’t willing to give that process a chance. We have urged the NTFC representatives to continue mediation so that we may work together toward reaching a fair and equitable contract.
Since many of you have asked about rules regarding strikes, I want to clarify them here. While the University recognizes that, under certain circumstances, represented employees have the right to strike, it is equally important to note that individual employees also have the right to choose not to strike and to continue working. Employees who report to work during a strike will be paid by the University for their services, whereas employees who choose to strike will not be paid.
We value the contributions of specialized faculty members. We have taken major steps over the past few years to demonstrate our support, and we are committed to doing more to address your concerns and ensure that you can achieve your career goals.
We remain optimistic that if we work together we can find reach a fair and equitable contract.

Edward Feser

Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost
I HOPE I'll be seeing you on Tuesday, but if I don't, stay tuned for an announcement about your Week 6 assignment.  
Kirstin Wilcox

Update: shortly after this email went out, the student newspaper published a story on the Provost's letter.  Had it been available before I sent the letter, I would have included it.

I Do Not Think "Key" Means What You Think It Means, Provost.

If you're non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois, you got an email from the Provost on Friday, with the subject line, "Announcement Regarding Specialized Faculty."  It says, in part:

The campus has been engaged in ongoing contract negotiations with representatives from the NTFC since October 2014. The union recently requested bringing in a federal mediator. We’ve had just two mediation sessions so far and four additional mediation dates are scheduled (April 27, May 11, May 26 and June 11). We have reached tentative agreements on several key items and believe that further progress can be made at the bargaining table. We are disappointed that it appears the NTFC isn’t willing to give that process a chance. We have urged the NTFC representatives to continue mediation so that we may work together toward reaching a fair and equitable contract.

"Tentative agreements" have indeed been reached on thirteen items, mostly boilerplate subjects like recognition and union/management meetings.  Most significant, or "key," has been an agreement on grievance, something members of the union have now that they didn't have in October of 2014 when negotiations started.  So there's that.

We've been at this eighteen months.  Most faculty work on nine-month contracts tied to the academic calendar, so in academic terms we're coming to the end of two years.

Several "key items" on which there are NOT yet tentative agreements are

In other words, almost all the difficult substance of a contract has yet to be bargained.

It would be difficult for NTFC and the administration to have arrived at tentative agreements on some of these subjects, as there have been no proposals from the administration on three that are most important to NTTs: evaluations, multiyear contracts, and reappointment notices. No administration proposals. None.

In case you're wondering: NTFC Local 6546 is asking for
  • departments to create an evaluation structure for NTTs within a year of the contract
  • 2-year contracts after 5 years of service and 3-year contracts after 10 years 
  • timely notification about reappointment so that faculty can know whether they need to look for new jobs while there's still time to find one.  
The union proposes to keep benefits and leaves as they are. With so much unfinished business, the issue of compensation has not been otherwise broached.

The university has had eighteen months to bring their proposals on these issues to the table and they have not done so. The delay is puzzling: NTFC Local 6546 is asking for the same contract that has been negotiated at the Chicago campus for NTT faculty in UICUF. The length of time it is taking, and the lack of movement from the administration on some of the most significant issues suggests that their goal is not to arrive at tentative agreements, but erode the commitment of union members by running down the clock. They've had eighteen months to demonstrate otherwise, and they have not.

It is therefore difficult to know what the Provost means when he says, in the same letter
We value the contributions of specialized faculty members. We have taken major steps over the past few years to demonstrate our support, and we are committed to doing more to address your concerns and ensure that you can achieve your career goals.
There are two recent "Provost Communications" (#25 and #26), which give NTTs the collective name of "specialized faculty," recognize the desirability of multiyear contracts, and offer a path to promotion. They commit the university to nothing. It's hard to know what to say about Communication 26 in the absence of a union contract guaranteeing some of its terms. The proposed promotion structure demands of NTT faculty seeking promotion the same kind of work that earns tenure without offering its corresponding benefits, including increased pay and a multiyear contract, and without the institutional support that helps tenure-stream faculty earn promotion. Those who want to keep the tenure system, and the protections that come with it, at the heart of higher ed should think hard about which is more consistent with those goals: a unionized NTT faculty with a contract that spells out their role or a system of workarounds that will allow the administration to replace tenure-stream faculty with professionals who get no protections at all.

The administration's bargaining team has given the university community no reason to believe that four more scheduled mediation sessions will achieve what eighteen months of delaying tactics have not.

An equitable contract could have been negotiated long before now that would have brought university policy in line with the goals of Provost Communications 25. It's puzzling that the Provost professes himself "disappointed" by those of us who are trying to do that. The NTFC proposals are consistent with those Communications. The university's bargaining position is not.

(both images courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Top: French, 16th century, iron.  Bottom: French, second half 17th century, iron and steel.)

15 April 2016

Academic Freedom 2.0

Steven Salaita is back in the news and our local paper continues to relish his downfall.  There must be readers who enjoy following his fortunes--most people I know are still wondering when AAUP censure will be lifted, mourning the demise of the American Indian Studies program here, and dealing with the brain drain as the combined effects of L'Affaire Salaita and the ongoing budget morass prompt humanities faculty who can go elsewhere to do so.

It's not over, though.  The questions that Salaita's unhiring raised remain unanswered, and it remains unexplained, "the nature of the line that Salaita crossed and the point at which he crossed it so that faculty have some clearer measure than "civility" to know when their passion, rage, ill-considered utterances, profanity, and political expressions become actionable."

One could continue to complain about this endlessly deferred conversation, except that the university has quietly and resolutely sought to end it altogether by eliminating the protections of academic freedom at the bargaining table.

The appointment letters that tenure-stream faculty read include boilerplate language affirming AAUP principles and promising that the university will adhere to them.  The appointment letters that most non-tenure stream faculty offer no such assurances, only a line in the accompanying "Notification of appointment that "This appointment is made subject to all applicable laws and to the University of Illinois Statutes, the General Rules Concerning University Organization and Procedure and other actions of the Board of Trustees. These policies are subject to change from time to time and the most updated version of the policies is applicable."

The Statutes do have an academic freedom article, Article X. However, "faculty" is presumed throughout the Statutes to refer to tenure-stream faculty, leaving NTTs without these protections. The Senate has crafted a set of revisions to the Statutes to make sure that TTs and NTTs count as "faculty" throughout the documents, but they are not yet approved by the Board.  Moreover, the university's bargaining team has shown a general disinterest and disregard in building minimal academic freedom protections into the contract for NTTs.  They seemed surprised that academic freedom should even be relevant to these negotiations and were accordingly unprepared to discuss it.

The future of academic freedom here lies not in in the fortunes of high-profile cases like Salaita's, but in the basic protections afforded to the faculty doing 40% of the university's teaching.  As tenure lines dwindle, the contract available to non-tenure-stream faculty becomes, quite literally, the bottom line.

14 April 2016

Time to Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

It was probably the weirdest moment of my professional life to date: telling students in my "Career Planning for Humanities Majors" class that we probably wouldn't be meeting next week because I would be on strike.

They looked at me, nonplussed.  "NO WAY!" one blurted out.  Yes...way.

I scribbled my non-university email address on the board and said I'd be happy to email or talk with them about the reasons for the strike outside class, and I pointed them to a website and a stack of fliers they could consult for additional information.  Then we got on with the business of the day: another lesson in finding a professional post-graduation job.

My students see me, week after week, in all my dark-skirt/drapey-cardigan/colorful-scarf matronly professorial glory, dispensing hard-won professional wisdom, advice, and grades.  I am a lesser angel in their personal pantheon of authority that stretches all the way up to God and Mom. "Strikes" are something they associate with workboots and insulated hoodies, building workers and trades. Their bewilderment meshes with the cognitive dissonance many of us feel, finding ourselves preparing to strike.  

My graduate assistant gamely offered to take over next week's class.  Her graduate student union has a contract with a no-strike clause, so she has to put in her requisite hours working for me, whether I'm there to supervise her or not.  That would have been fine, except that the class for next week is organized around a guest speaker.  Our planned speaker worked for 30 years as a writer for an industrial corporation. For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, she decided to switch tracks.  She went to grad school and got the credential that now has her teaching courses and running a first-rate internship program in an adjacent department that draws on her deep knowledge of her writing field.  However, she and I, unlike my graduate assistant, have been working for nearly two years now without a contract.  She's part of the same bargaining unit.  The strike affects her, too, and I cannot in good conscience ask her not to withhold the same labor I'm withholding.

What students don't know is that much of the undergraduate faculty operates like the Wizard of Oz. If you pull aside the curtain on many instructors' and lecturers' labor, the edifice revealed is not the stable timeless wizardry of institutional respect, academic freedom, history and longevity, research support and professional remuneration.  These things, which are widely assumed to be funded by tuition dollars to sustain college-level teaching, are not there.  It's just a man or woman, with (in many cases) a nine-month contract, no guarantee of employment beyond the semester, a salary suitable for the entry-level jobs our students apply for with their brand-new BAs, a tenuous relationship with their home department, and no research support.

Unlike the Wizard, non-tenure-stream faculty still manage to deliver the goods.  It's a mighty amplifying system we have, here behind the curtain: love of one's subject, commitment to students, the knowledge that comes with the requisite graduate credential, and a willingness to behave as if the edifice were in place even though it's not.  These things go a long way to produce the college experience students seek at our institution.

It's not fair to the students, though, who think their rising tuitions are paying for genuine wizards with all the institutional power that comes with the role. It's also not stable, particularly as the support for wizards declines and the university's reliance on jerry-rigged smoke-and-mirrors illusions grows.  Is it "unprofessional" to go on strike, as some detractors may claim?  At the point where "professional" is only being sustained by willingness of faculty to uphold the illusion, the question becomes meaningless.