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)


  1. Oh it's all so COMPLICATED. I'm expecting my email (with similar snarkish elements) tomorrow, following the 2-day strike here in the UK. "The University" is doing its damndest to make it clear that academics are 'the opposition' and 'the problem', NOT part of the solution or the front line of the university, and that's partly why I go along with the labour organisation...

  2. Solidarity, JaneB! I just added your blog to the blogroll and I'll be following your posts with interest. As the chant says, "Whose University? OUR UNIVERSITY!" I hope your union succeeds in making that case.