I was in the middle of the abortive attempt to disrupt this meeting, and I don't come out of it unscathed, but I'm going to give you the straight scoop, as there will be rumors about this and the story may get reported in the DE (which interviewed me about it). The moral of the story is as I report it in the lead, but like many such stories, there's something of a twist.
I was the guy who reserved the room in Lawson for the meeting. I did so the same lazy way I do most such things, by having our very competent civil service staff do the work. Get me a big room in Lawson on October 5 from 5-7, I said, and they did. I did not bother telling them the purpose of the meeting, which was a mistake, and the office staffer, asked to supply one, said "study session", as that's a reason I've reserved such rooms in the past. I subsequently learned that the staff member had reported this reason, but I did not correct it. In the past, when reserving a Lawson room myself (because the relevant staffer was out sick) for a meeting of the union's Departmental Representatives Council, I had truthfully but not terribly informatively said "faculty meeting" when asked for the purpose of the event.
So this afternoon at 2:30 or so an office staffer calls me to say that Jake Baggott (Assistant to the Chancellor) wanted to talk to me, as he had learned that I'd reserved the room, and was steamed about it. Yikes, I thought to myself, perhaps letting that meeting be called a "study session" wasn't such a good idea. Before calling Baggott back I called Randy Hughes (FA President), who called to my attention the following bit of the contract:
Section 4.07. Association Use of University Equipment, Facilities or Supplies. The Association may use University equipment, facilities and/or supplies, including but not limited to copiers, telephones, e-mail, and meeting rooms, if such usage has been pre-approved, in writing. Such use shall not take precedence over University needs and any materials used or other costs incurred shall be reimbursed by the Association if requested by the Board.I didn't know this bit of the contract until this afternoon. Technically, then, I was in violation of the contractual policy, as I'd not secured pre-approval in writing. Technically, of course, every time any of us has sent an email about union business without written pre-approval from the Board, we've also been in violation. This, at any rate, was what I thought Baggott was going to complain about. But when I talked to Mr. Baggott--and voluntarily disclosed the clumsy procedure I'd used in getting the room--he didn't complain about the procedure. I dwell on it here only because if asked about this incident now, he may note this procedural flaw.
This afternoon, he really just had one thing to say to me: "The room in Lawson isn't available for the purpose you requested it for". When I asked him if Lawson Hall was full at that hour (as I knew it could not be), he replied, "The room in Lawson isn't available for the purpose you requested it for". When I asked him if the FA was not allowed to meet in Lawson at all, he said he didn't really know, but that as far as today went, "The room in Lawson isn't available for the purpose you requested it for". He really had that line down.
Mr. Baggott did very kindly suggest that alternative spaces were available on campus, and that he had tracked some of them down, though he noted that those known to him came at some charge (rooms in Lawson being free of charge). The one such room he mentioned was the auditorium in the Student Health Center. It so happens that this is the meeting room on campus that is the farthest removed from the room we were scheduled to meet in. And the meeting was two hours away. Perhaps, if pressed, he could also have suggested a room at SIUE. "I hope you're able to work something out," he said. "Oh, I'm sure you do," I replied, with equal honesty.
I then called the scheduling office to see if they could arrange an alternative room in Lawson for this or any future Faculty Association function, and was told by a staff person (who was clearly unhappy to find themselves in the middle of this mess--much as my office staff were) that any such requests would, from here on out, have to come through the Provost's office. Obviously this staff member had been contacted by that office and given new instructions.
As by this time there were less than two hours to go before the meeting, we simply went forward with the meeting as planned. To our disappointment, administrators clad in riot gear and supported with water cannons did not appear to remove the 250 students from the university classroom in which professors, GAs, and civil service staffers were attempting to tell their side of the story. No one at all showed up to ask us to vacate the room. So we held our meeting as scheduled, in the room I'd reserved ten days before.
The Chancellor can hit one button and email the entire campus with her take on negotiations with campus unions. I've got no real problem with that. While I've of course critiqued many of her arguments, and occasionally thought she may have crossed the line from spin into the less savory realm beyond it, defending administration policy is part of her job. But this awkward attempt to deny the unions the chance to tell their side of the story to students strikes me as one such venture into less savory territory--a territory in which one side attempts to suppress the free speech rights of the other. She and her minions are afraid of something, it would seem; afraid of us telling our side of the story, especially to students. They are afraid of losing control. Because this is their campus, after all, not a university that belongs to faculty, staff, and students. Many SIUC students apparently want to educate themselves about what's happening on this campus, and many may then wish to have a say in what is going on. That is apparently scary to some.
Ah, to think of what a great story this would have been if Baggott hadn't been bluffing! But the only way to tell when someone is bluffing is to call their bluff. Bluffers want to win, after all, even though they do not deserve to, on the merits. Too much is at stake here for us to allow ourselves to be bluffed out of our rights.