Monday, October 24, 2011

Are Faculty Strikes Effective?

If the FA were really guilty of groupthink and I were taking on the role of "mindguard," I would probably hide this recent bit of somewhat depressing news from Inside Higher Education.  But I am not, because despite what our critics say, FA members are pretty open to critique and different points of view.  I'll offer a few comments after the break, but mostly I think this one gets to go forward to comments. 

I know commentators on this blog have suggested before that faculty strikes don't work, especially since 2008.  The C.W. Post example would seem to indicate otherwise.  I know many of us have characterized a strike as the only real leverage available to the faculty in collective bargaining negotiation, especially with an immovable Administration.  The Cincinnati State Technical & Community College example is a warning we should heed.  So, hearing the conclusion of this article is that strikes have primarily "symbolic value" is probably cold comfort to most. 

I wonder, though, if there are significant differences between the cases mentioned and our own:  Does the potential simultaneous striking of four unions on campus make a difference?  Does the potential timing of this strike make a difference?  Does our regional history with organized labor make a difference?  These are open questions, and ones I'd just as soon leave to speculation as test out on the picket line.

So let me end with a personal observation.  I cannot speak for the negotiators or any of the union leadership, but my perception is that no one is in a rush to actually go on strike.  All would like to arrive at a contract that we can agree to before doing the damage this so-called "symbolic" act is all too likely to inflict.  We've seen the harm we can expect from an Administration willing to drag these negotiations out ad infinitum.  One of the current issues for the FA at the negotiation table is figuring out a mechanism to require administrators to rule on program operating papers, especially where they define and address workload; the current practice is to let "problematic" papers linger on administrators' desks with no action, thereby maintaining the status quo.  If the Administration cannot have its imposed terms, it prefers a state of endless negotiation.  We cannot continue the way we have been, and we cannot go back.  We have to find out if the threat of a strike or an actual strike will have any leverage at the negotiation table to reach a reasonable and fair contract. 

I take no comfort in any of this.  Broken unions will not, I fear, be a speedy path to turning the campus climate around any time soon.  I've known all along that we have so much to lose in these negotiations and really only relatively little to gain; however, I don't think we had less to lose by not negotiating.  In the end, it is about respect and about clinging to the last shreds of shared governance available on this campus.

Yay compromise!  Go symbols!


  1. Here is the article to which Jonny Gray alludes:

    Do Faculty Strikes Work?
    October 24, 2011 - 3:00am
    Kaustuv Basu
    Inside Higher Ed

  2. "I cannot speak for the negotiators or any of the union leadership, but my perception is that no one is in a rush to actually go on strike."

    Of course not but with a deadline I hope they are rushing to avoid the strike!

    In the FA's favor: simultaneous strike.

    Not in FA's favor: SIUC has a battered reputation, declining enrollment, cash flow issues (understatement), and weak representation in Springfield.

    Would be nice to have an update from Randy Hughes one week TSD (To Strike Date)

  3. To follow up on 5:55 - Can anyone from the FA give an update on negotiations? I think we all deserve to know what is going on........

  4. Really interesting article, Jonny. Thanks for posting!

  5. An email was forwarded to me from an off-campus colleague (without the credentials I was required to have) from the Dean of my college asking her to teach 2 classes. If not interested/available, she was asked to forward his email to others who might be......"business as usual"?

  6. Shame, Shame, Shame on this administration which thinks they can replace 100s of faculty members, each having unique and advanced credentials. Only those who themselves have no credentials, no experience, and no knowledge of what university professors do, would send this kind of stupid emails. If a Dean is sending this kind of emails, the faculty should take a note of it, boycott working with him or her, and kick him or her out of the office. They do not deserve to be leading colleges.

  7. Yeah, boycott working with your dean! Good idea. Everyone knows that the administration (including down to deans and chairs) are working on contingency plans. Can you blame them? I don't see anything wrong with them trying to minimize the impact of a strike. I don't think that there are qualified instructors for all courses, but certainly there are for some.

  8. The Deans and Chairs are blindly following the orders. This is an institution of higher learning where we teach our students how to lead. Deans can apply their own mind and tell Cheng that this is not going to work. True leaders don’t just follow the orders. Most of the current deans are cowered. They only care about their salaries not faculty, students, or education. We need leaders like Gary Minish and last engineering dean (don’t know the name) who stood-up and declared that they are not going to take crap from Cheng. Just because Cheng has power does not mean she is right. Watching period is over. We will be remembered what happens in next 10 days. No matter what, it is not going to be positive. But I don’t think BOT, Poshard, and Cheng understand this.

  9. Untenured & AnonymousOctober 25, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    This is in response to Fungible Faculty's comment. Can the university actually hire replacement faculty without doing a nationwide search, complying with university affirmative action policies and ensuring the candidates meet minimum educational and expertise requirements for the classes? I think the university could easily reassign administrators but my guess is the process of hiring replacements is not nearly so easy as the chancellor glibly suggests it would be. With the new policy on rehiring retired faculty, my guess is that potential pipeline would also be problematic

  10. Who are the Deans and other administrators that are members of the administration's bargaining team? what have they been doing all these months--just nodding their heads like puppets. They should realize that they have responsibilities to the faculty and students in their colleges to really work on getting a contract. Why are they tongue-tied and self-serving in their actions or inaction! Their boss may be Rita Cheng--does that mean they should blindly do what she asks them to do just to get ahead???

  11. "Can the university actually hire replacement faculty without doing a nationwide search, complying with university affirmative action policies and ensuring the candidates meet minimum educational and expertise requirements for the classes."

    They don't have to do that when you call in sick, do they? Someone covers your class when you're sick or otherwise occupied, right? And once some of these would-be strikers get a taste of a few days off with no pay...they'll be back in the classroom...contract or no contract.

  12. Laura Dreuth ZemanOctober 25, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    In response to anonymous 9:16's question about the BOT bargaining team who are negotiating the FA contract.

    Here are the names and positions (from the ground rules for bargaining on the FA website

    Dennis Cradit, Dean, College of Business
    Laurie Achenbach, Associate Dean, College of Science
    Steve Esling, Chair, Geology
    Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, Dean, College of Liberal Arts
    Susan Logue, Associate Provost & VC for Academic Affairs
    Debbie Nelson, Associate General Council
    Brent Patton, Director, Labor and Employee Relations
    Liz Porter (note taker), Business/Administrative Associate, Office of the Provost

  13. Anons 5:55 and 7:15 --

    I was late to the DRC meeting last Thursday, so I came in in the middle of the bargaining report. (I was there as a non-voting proxy-in-training for next semester.) Whatever I could pull from my notes would probably be out of date at this point.

    My sense was that there was some significant movement on RIF language, especially if the BOT negotiation team's language moved more toward the Chancellor's recent public interpretations of it -- at that time there seemed to be some discrepancies between the Administrations public position and their position at the negotiation table..

    I also understand that the negotiators are concentrating on the other areas of disagreement right now and plowing ahead. Last week there was a fair amount of frustration (prior to the DRC strike deadline vote) over the return of stall to the negotiations. I talked briefly with Morteza yesterday and the meeting frequency seems to have intensified again.

    I was hoping someone a little more central to the FA's organizational structure would take a stab at answering your question(s). My sense is they are all (appropriately) quite busy right now and not following this blog.

    I plan to attend the DRC meeting this Thursday and will be prepared to report back on the bargaining team's report. I will also raise the concern (if I am able) that FA membership (and others?) are eager for regular progress reports.

  14. Anon 9:32-- when sick or absent for conference or research duties it's common practice to ask a dept colleague to cover a class or two, given their disciplinary expertise, previous & recent experience teaching said course and to do so in accordance with the syllabus & assignments I have created and provide for them in my absence. I recently did this during a 10 day stint conducting international workshops in my area of research expertise. As a member of my dept this colleague already is 'certified' in all the ways mentioned above. In rare instances I have arranged for a 'guest speaker' from outside the university whose unique perspective enhances or extends the course content on that given day. This is not the same as "substitute teachers' from the community or other places on campus.

    Everyone associated with the unions is well aware of the consequences that would be incurred if we honor the strike and/or decide to not cross the picket lines of other unions. How could we not be? How could we not already have factored in the potential consequences when being continuously reminded of them in many University emails, blogs, newspapers and community responses? A decision to go out on strike is never cavalier nor naive--for this very reason I would acknowledge the complex rationales and variable economic circumstances that each person must weigh in making their decision.

    Finally, I am uncomfortable demonizing Deans and Chairs whose individual actions, pressures, alliances are not available to me, and who--at least in my direct experience--do the best they can in conflicted circumstances, being simultaneously (generally) faculty members as well as administrators.

  15. I thought Susan Logue had withdrawn from the bargaining team according to those FSN "knights in shining armor" attempting to excuse a supposed "damsel in distress"? She doesn't need that support at all since she is part of the higher administration establishment as are the rest of those other members listed above.

  16. Perhaps there should be an open letter to all the deans and chairs etc who are also or have been faculty who are on the administration's side of the bargaining team that we hold them accountable and that they should do the right thing and use their power and influence for the "greater good"--i.e. the have the power--use it to act responsibly and not just continue to aid Rita Cheng in her delaying and arm twisting tactics.

  17. Perhaps someone could tell us who is at the bargaining table for the FA?

  18. Anon: 2:11. This will do no good since they have been personally selected by Cheng herself and will obediently follow her orders. Anon: 244 - Although someone may post who the FA team are, they are very honest and forthright people unlike their opposite numbers.

  19. Several of the previous posts assume that chairs and deans agree with the FA stance on the issues. That's quite an assumption!

  20. So is the opposite assumption that Deans/Chairs/Directors necessarily stand with the BOT by virtue of their administrative position. or that they were collectively appointed by the Chancellor.

  21. Anonymous 3:42
    So then why aren't the Deans, Chairs and others who are on the administration teams that are supposedly engaged in negotiating or bargaining with the four union bargaining teams delaying the process--why aren't they doing their job? why have they all along been facilitating the delay by keeping quiet and simply doing what Cheng and Poshard ask? can't they use their influence to get things done in a fair and proper manner--and also more speedily, I might add? why delay the process of arriving at a contract to more than a year!

  22. Anonymous (10/25 2:44 PM):

    The link that Laura Drueth Zeman gave ( has the names of the FA bargaining team as well, but I think Collins has been replaced by Randy Auxier.

  23. I am Advisor at SIU. I will not share in what College. Our Dean has been finding out what our Masters Degrees are in. It has been made clear that we will be expected to "cover courses" under the "other duties as assigned" clause in our contract in the event of a strike. I will not cross that line. I have my issues with both sides and I would prefer to keep out of the dispute, but when the Chancellor orders me to cross the picket line and "cover" a course which I am not qualified to teach, I have to stand up. This isn't to say that I am not afraid. I am very afraid, because I don't have a Union to represent me. Please do whatever you can on your side to avoid the strike. I am in the trenches of the workings of the University. Fear is trickling down and pooling up fast down down here . . .

  24. Anonymous 12:47, first, thank-you. I am deeply regretful that you have been put in this position, and I recognize that the unions' threat of a strike has played a part in that. Your integrity, both in not crossing a picket line and not teaching a class you don't feel qualified to teach, is truly commendable. I know this situation must be extremely stressful.

    I remain hopeful that we can resolve the negotiations before a strike. But it is a dimming hope. Any message back to the Administration that its plans for filling in for striking workers are ill-conceived will help. Communicating as clearly as you can to whoever is making this request of you that you either will not do it or will do so only minimally and under extreme protest will help. I realize you don't have union representation, but I doubt the university can afford to fire anyone under these conditions.

    Thank you, also, for sharing what is going on. It's helpful to hear how the Administration is mobilizing its plan, and to learn who else is being squeezed.

  25. Thank you Mr Gray.

  26. This is really appalling. It shows how low this administration is as well as its FSN supporters.


I will review and post comments as quickly as I can. Comments that are substantive and not vicious will be posted promptly, including critical ones. "Substantive" here means that your comment needs to be more than a simple expression of approval or disapproval. "Vicious" refers to personal attacks, vile rhetoric, and anything else I end up deeming too nasty to post.