Thursday, October 13, 2011

More contempt from the Southern

Our colleagues on the civility patrol might want to give Gary Metro a call over at the Southern.  I had managed to avoid comment on his editorial last Saturday, in which he essentially repeated the prior week's editorial, with the confirmation that people giving him a thumb's up in the supermarket showed him that the community was behind him. Oh, he also argued that faculty who support their union are like panhandlers who ask for money for whiskey, only worse.

Today's editorial, though, says that the students who protested yesterday are "obviously brainwashed",  prey to their ditzy emotions and passions, utterly out of touch with the facts, and completely lacking in common sense. (The paper covers the protest, fairly, here.) This editorial, I think, calls out for some comment. The students involved are, at least judging by the rather eloquent piece that I posted the other day, exactly the sorts of students we should be proud of. "We" here means anyone interested in a university that encourages students to get involved and informed about the issues facing them. You can of course disagree with what they are saying or how they are saying it, but when the hometown newspaper of a university town drips with contempt for articulate, engaged, and informed student activists, well, that newspaper is clearly part of the problem.

I'll engage with the rest of the editorial after the break.



For Metro and the Southern editorial board, there's nothing very difficult to understand about what's going on at SIUC.  They note, accurately, that the last union contract included raises for faculty that got us pretty close to our peers in pay (for a more nuanced account of how SIUC faculty compensation stacks up, try this post). While Metro et al do not explicitly spell this out, their point is obviously that we are paid just fine and therefore have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Metro & Co. do, however, do us the courtesy of noting that we claim to be concerned about things other than salaries. They present a list which climaxes as follows.
Tenure is under attack by the administration. Faculty must be included in shared governance at SIU.
That last union complaint is particularly extreme--apparently Metro would prefer a form of shared governance in which faculty are not included.  Here's how Metro & Co respond to this list of charges.
If those claims sound well-thought-out to you, please read no further. The cartoons and horoscopes are elsewhere in the paper.
That's actually a pretty funny line. It is also the only response they can be bothered to make to the union's positions. I like to mix a little argument in with my jokes, but I suppose if your argument is a joke, well, go for it. In place of any attempt to address concerns about tenure or shared governance or anything else (save salaries, an issues the unions have not been raising), Metro & Co go on to praise the FSN but to deplore the fact that more faculty haven't yet joined them.

By the end of that editorial, I need a drink, though today, uncharacteristically, I'm blogging at 11:30 in the morning rather than 11:30 at night, so don't already have one to hand. In keeping with Gary Metro's suggestion--by the way, isn't Gary Metro the name of the editor at the Daily Planet?--in keeping with Metro's suggestion, I will accept donations for said drink. Send cash only, please, to the following address:
Whiskey for Blogging Fund
666 Ivory Tower Avenue
Ostrichville, IL, 99999

Full disclosure: I prefer my whiskey neat, but this picture sure looks inviting, doesn't it? 

41 comments:

  1. Wow...the SI really ripped you guys a new one. I will try to avoid any "piling on" here as I suspect you will need to nurse your wounds for awhile. However, you should be aware that community support is not in your favor. Please don't kid yourself about that one. To do so would be dishonet. I mean really, you have about 30 percent of those eligible for union membership actually paying dues. You don't even have a majority of those you claim to represent. So nurse your wounds, I don't want to kick too hard when you're down. But OMG...denial is not a river in Egypt.

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  2. Anonymous 1:34, do not attempt to exaggerate the importance of what the Southern and its editor Gary Metro says. He knows exactly what side his bread is buttered. He will back Cheng and Poshard even if they were fiddling on top of a burning Anthony Hall.

    SIU is the Southern Illinoisan's biggest advertiser. Anything that hurts SIU hurts his bottom line and he is going to act accordingly.

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  3. Its true enough that public perception of SIU is not in the FA's favor. But unfortunately, despite the truth of your observations regarding FA "representation", we will all suffer the fall out from this.

    What many fail to grasp is that this has never been about any of the issues those blogging here like to harp on. Those internal debates are transparent to the wider community (who will chose whether or not to send their children here to be educated). It has always been about the SI, the Tribune, the Post Dispatch, US News and World report ... etc

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  4. "SIU is the Southern Illinoisan's biggest advertiser. Anything that hurts SIU hurts his bottom line and he is going to act accordingly."

    That's absolutely correct! GM perceives that what is going on is hurting SIU, so he is opposing it. You have hit the nail squarely on the head. Your argument attacks his motives, but validates his premise!

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  5. Gary Metro is really saying what the "civility patrol" is actually concealing behind their non-sense and sensibility facade. They belong together.

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  6. If you think SIU is one of the Southern Illinoisan's biggest advertisers, you must not be reading the paper. From the ads I see in the paper week to week, SIU probably doesn't even come close.

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  7. I think I understand the "attack on tenure" issue raised by the Faculty Association. I'm not sure that I know what they mean by "shared governance". Can anybody enlighten me? For those of us who both love (and rely on) this university, but are not faculty, it would help us if we could understand some of the concepts that are not common to the world outside of academia....

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  8. SIU Alum 21,

    Shared governance is the notion that faculty should have a real say in how a university is run--they should share the duty of governing the place with administrators. It is likely a concept that all faculty would agree on, at least in the abstract--both those who support the union and those who are critical of it. In the current negotiations, one area this has come up in is regarding departmental operating papers, which set standards for workload, define how distance learning is to be handled, etc. The FA believes that departmental faculty should have the decisive role in shaping departmental operating papers, while the administration believes that it should be able to veto proposed changes.

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  9. Dave,

    Your definition of shared governance implies management. If faculty are managers - well, what would become of the union?

    And isn't the Faculty Senate the current vehicle for shared governance? Seems like you already have shared governance...

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  10. As universities have grown in size and complexity the concept of shared governance has become increasingly contested. Faculty unions have stepped up to help insure a continued faculty voice in shared governance. That this contradicts older notions of management verses labor does not invalidate the new role unions are playing. The division of labor between faculty unions and faculty senates is also evolving. Nothing is static.

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  11. As for Metro knowing who butters his bread I am not so sure. By dismissing our students as brainwashed and faculty as overpaid, under worked, ungrateful and incapable of reasoned thought, he is hardly helping bring students, scholars or grant money to SIUC.

    Strikes happen when the emotions of one or both sides won't allow for compromise. By uncritically supporting one side and defaming the other Metro is actually increasing the odds of a train wreck.

    If he were to call for claim and remind both sides of their responsibility to the well being of the region then he would be playing a responsible role. I think rather Metro is a narrow minded Babbitt blinded by ideology.

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  12. As someone who I think the "civility patrol" potshot is aimed at, I actually agree with you! The SI's editorial stances have been over the top for quite a while now, thus I really do not give them much credence. Gary Metro really does not seem to understand how universities function, how they are different places than other institutional settings with management and labor. For example, name me another institution where administrators come from faculty?

    That being said, it is true that we have to do a better job enlightening people about this. And doing so in a rational way without resorting to heated rhetoric likely will garner the greatest success for our side.

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  13. "faculty should have a real say in how a university is run"

    Anonymous said..."Your definition of shared governance implies management. If faculty are managers - well, what would become of the union?"

    Precisely the point of GOP-sponsored SB5 in Ohio (to declare public college faculty and others as managers).

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  14. "That being said, it is true that we have to do a better job enlightening people about this."

    Yeah, good like with that one. Their self-interest conflicts with our self-interest. Plus try to explain how we co-manage the university (shared governance) but are "really workers." Except we are more equal than others: lifetime tenure, we elect our officers and work rules (operating papers), etc., etc. How do you translate that privileged status to anything else in the world?

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  15. I'm annoyed how Metro treats anonymous FA supporters as if their fears aren't justified, but anonymous FSN supporters as if they should face up to the FA bullies. The tenure-track faculty who I know worry that their tenure bids could be illegitimately derailed from any direction: from FA-supporting faculty, from administrators, and now from FSN-supporting faculty.

    And now some satire...

    Anonymous critics still are tearing the Faculty Association apart in the online discussion. That's fine. But please don't think all assertions made by digital cowards are true.

    There are many among the faculty who privately complain about the administrative leadership, but take no public stance because they fear retribution. They hope others will do the heavy lifting. That strategy will not work. For those who don't want to jeopardize tenure or continue damaging the reputation of SIU, it is time to take a stand. Join hands with your brothers and sisters in Faculty Association. Do it today, while there still is time to prevent any possibility of an economically disastrous dismantling the university's academic credibility.

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  16. Cynic,

    You seem to be trapped in a black and white world or a zero sum game. Categories like workers and managers are not so rigid - they can over lap or be blurry. And the public has a very strong interest in fostering an academic community, which even if they don't fully understand it, can provide them with independent research, expanded access to the arts, and professional training. I am not saying members of the public must agree with us in all matters, but our respective self-interests have significant overlap. If you don't believe we serve some higher good, why are you here?

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  17. "Categories like workers and managers are not so rigid - they can over lap or be blurry...?"

    The devil is in the clear-cut details. It is in the law. You can "deconstruct" labor language all you want but the FA - of all groups - is the most demanding of defining the meaning of "is" and everything else in the contract. It's the way the law is structured - FA doesn't trust the administration unless everything is in "black and white."

    Labor law does define the difference clearly: private colleges treat faculty as managers (Court decision) and many states (including Ohio) have legislatures pass LAWS defining workers as managers unable to strike, etc., etc. In fact, Illinois is unusual in having public sector employees the right to strike.

    So, is it black and white? On this point, it is. Ditto with FA demands for "transparency," "clear" language, blah, blah, blah.

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  18. it's always about the $$$October 13, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    I'm glad Gary wasn't told about the millions in extra money that was included in the last contract that went to union honchos--take a look at some of those salary increases--way more than 12%

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  19. Anonymous (11:16 PM):

    Could you give some examples?

    If it was more than 12% in one year, it will appear in the Board of Trustees minutes. Faculty Salaries from 2010 and 2011 are on the IBHE Web site and will show that the only increases were for promotions. Faculty salaries from previous years used to be available at the university library, but the administration has pulled them. Maybe you could file a FOIA request.

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  20. I guess more information will trickle out in the coming days, but what I heard earlier tonight at the FA membership meeting did not encourage me. At some point, and I would think fairly soon, we are going to trust the administration on SOMETHING if a contract is going to be won. Otherwise we are headed for a strike.

    Sigh.

    I won't cross a picket line, so I will honor one if we ever get there, but I would much rather prefer that we work out a compromise. And for that, we are going to have to trust the administration, AT SOME POINT.

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  21. And one more thing. I know all about the "ghost of 1973" when it comes to FE and why the union does not trust the administration. At the same time, a policy more in line with how other universities handle FE when it occurs is the best (I think) we are going to end up with.

    Again, at some point we are going to have to trust the administration on SOMETHING. What I heard this evening was not reassuring.

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  22. Disgusted, I was at the same meeting. And what I heard was not that there is a failure of trust or that the FA is being inflexible or unprecedented in its various approaches to defining FE. I heard more evidence that the Administration wants no language that makes it accountable for pretty much anything. The current BOT definition of FE is pretty circular.

    Metro appeals to common sense (although where any "sense" is in his consistently inaccurate an incendiary screeds is beyond me!). What I learned last night is that our Administration appears to have no interest in negotiating anything and no concern about a strike. Where is the sense in that?

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  23. Cynic,

    You can capitalize the words laws as often as you like. Laws and contracts are snap shots of a changing reality. Otherwise they would never need to be changed. There is no fundamental reason unions cannot be used to promote great 'worker' involvement in 'management'.

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  24. I was at the meeting last night too. I guess my perception is somewhere between Jonathan's and Disgusted's. I agree that without some level of trust a contract cannot be reached. The FE issue is a big one. I'd like to see a clearer criteria than the BOT team has offered. But there is no way to reduce such a decision to a formula.

    The BOT members are representatives of the people. Ultimately the people can decide if they no looker what academic institutions. We have to trust in our ability to persuade the people that what we do, and the seemly odd way we do it (tenure, shared governance & academic freedom) has value to them.

    So, I want a better, clearer contract, but in the long run we should do more to connect with the BOT members and the general public.

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  25. My response to the trust question has usually been a quip--I trust my banker, too, but that doesn't mean that my mortgage is written on the back of an envelope. There's no necessary correlation between distrust and insisting on transparency and accountability in a contract (the two things the FA bargaining team kept harping on). You can sign a legal contract, with legally binding (and therefore somewhat cumbersome) language, with someone you trust.

    There is, to my mind, a strong correlation between the importance of an issue and the need for transparent and accountable contractual language. I don't know about you, but tenure (to pick one issue at stake) is pretty important to me. It is at least as important as my house. I signed lots of paperwork for my mortgage, though I'm pretty sure most of it won't ever come into play. Unless, of course, I was suckered into some sub-prime mortgage scam. Luckily, the one thing you can't blame the FA for, I think, is signing on to something we don't understand.

    Collective bargaining can build trust or undermine it. If both sides fight fair and end up with a decent contract that both abide by, trust can grow.

    [I'll try to post an account of the bargaining report at the FA general meeting later this afternoon.]

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  26. "Laws and contracts are snap shots of a changing reality. Otherwise they would never need to be changed."

    Absolutely correct but not moving in the direction you would like -- most states wouldn't allow us to strike and those that did are passing laws (Ohio, Wisconsin) defining us as "managers" which means - in labor law - we can't unionize or strike.

    Karl Marx: "Men make history but not under circumstances of their own choosing."

    The FA has to understand that context. You ain't getting "industrial democracy."

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  27. Cynic, it would be safer to say some states are trying to pass such laws. I believe the Ohio law has been held up by pesky collective action. It is not in force yet and will have to go to a statewide referendum.

    Your claim of trends in the country seems a bit one sided and already out of date. The pro-union, pro-teacher push back against neo-liberal ideology is on the rise.

    The question remains: which side of that rising tide does SIUC want to be on?

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  28. True, but Cynic and Mike do have a good point. We have got to do a better job connecting with the public about why what we do as educators, and the unique labor system that we seek to protect, matters to them. I can see a situation, even here in Illinois, were a strike at SIUC to become protracted, of Speaker Madigan and Governor Quinn trying to resolve it. Look, Mayor Emanuel just got Springfield to pass a law requiring 75% supermajority votes on Chicago teacher union strikes. Even though the IEA has supported the Illinois Democratic Party over the years, I don't necessarily count on their support if it gets really ugly. I think we need to be a lot more realistic about this.

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  29. To clarify my thought some more on last night (since I just gave my initial thoughts before I went to bed last night and have had a chance to think some more about it): I heard two things last night. First, I heard the BOT not being willing to be flexible on joint declaration. This is a huge sticking point and could possibly derail the entire settlement.

    The second thing I heard was there was some broader progress in getting a conversation going, but again, nothing really specific. This is frustrating. At some point someone is going to have to extend an olive branch - that is trust the other side. How that actually happens is yet to be seen, and that worries me. Again, my solidarity will click in the moment the union decides (if they do) to go out on strike. I won't betray my colleagues like that. But I would really, really urge the bargaining team to be creative and avoid this if at all possible.

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  30. It should also be understood here that the administration needs to extend an olive branch as well - although we all cannot control what they can do whereas, as a union member, I have some say in what my union does.

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  31. Speaking of trust, there is something to be said for trusting our bargaining team. The union leadership is elected. The DRC is elected. The FA has negotiated several contracts in the past without a train wreck. I am not saying we should have blind trust. Go to meetings and voice your opinion. Tell your DRC rep or college rep what you think. Post you thoughts here. But keep in mind that the people bargaining for the FA are our colleagues and are quite experienced at this.

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  32. "You can't trust SIUC higher administration." That is something those of us who have been here more than 20 years have found out. Any agreement must be written down on a contract otherwise it is null and void as seen last night in the contradiction between what Rita is saying in her spin to the media and what is going on in the bargaining. As one faculty member said years ago when his department was facing closure, you'd better get was was said written down on a piece of prestigious stationary since that is all the value you are going to get. There will be no "olive branch" from the higher administration. Rita wants a strike so let's vote and give her one. If anything, it will be a blemish on her record and hinder her future career. She will be known as the Chancellor who provoked a strike for the first time in this University's history. We now have no other choice.

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  33. That really is a shame because, ultimately, a key sign of dysfunctionality is a lack of mutual trust. Not wagging my finger of blaming anybody for it, but what can we do long-term to fix this?

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  34. "Cynic, it would be safer to say some states are trying to pass such laws."

    As Jim Clark said at last spring's meeting, Illinois is one of 13 states that allow public sector employees to strike. That leaves 37 that do not. Some have binding arbitration or some other procedures, many others are "right to work" states. That drives the union crowd nuts in DC (witness Boeing case).

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  35. "Rita wants a strike so let's vote and give her one. If anything, it will be a blemish on her record and hinder her future career."

    It didn't work that way for Reagan and PATCO, did it? I don't think it will hurt her at all and, really, is that the point of a strike? You guys are really personalizing this strike. Haven't heard one mention yet of a single Board member. You know, the people Cheng takes orders from on things like strike preparations.

    They would argue that "democratically-elected" governors appointed them. See, democracy really is overrated....

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  36. No `olive branches', the contract which we will sign sometime in the future is the only olive branch worth having. You can't TRUST the admin at SIUC, but you can SIGN A CONTRACT with them. Dave at 9:24 is correct.

    Also, the current percentage of members of the Bargaining Unit which are paying members of the FA is about 275/644, so about 42%, more than a third more than Anon 1:34 said.....................

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  37. 2:46 PM said: "Rita wants a strike so let's vote and give her one."

    We do not know that. And if she does that is no reason to "give her one." When you start thinking you know what the other party's real motives are you are more likely to miscalculate.

    If negotiations stall again probably the next step is to set a strike deadline. That ups the ante while giving the bargaining teams a few more days to get back on track.

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  38. To Disgusted, Possible remedies are making Senate decsions mandatory on the administration and BOT so they can not ignore decisions and having democratic elections for BOT members not Governor appointments. Yes, we should not blame Cheng alone but the BOT especially Poshard who is destroying this university and the BOT member heard as saying we "should shove it to those over-educated faculty." According to SIUE cotacts Poshard was heard saying at a meeting that SIUE should be the "flagship campus" so Poshard is another person wanting a strike. That is why he appointed Rita. Why would you hire a Chancellor who has no experience in union negotiation and from Wisconsin? The writing is clearly on the wall here.

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  39. Not necessarily true. I am with Mike: the moment you think you understand other people's motives, you are likely to miscalculate. Let's wait and see and not see the world through conspiracy lens, okay?

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  40. This is not a "conspiracy lens" miscalculation but one based on decades of experience in this horrendous institution. Believe me, the worst is yet to come and engaging in the belief that the BOT are "decent people" and Rita is new to the job is another engagement in self-deception.

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