Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chancellor Cheng, the DE, and Freedom of Information

Today's DE has a story on their victory in a Freedom of Information Act dispute with the SIUC administration. While the administration was able to conceal many emails from the DE, they did have to release at least one email relevant to SIUC's policy on limiting reporters' access to administrative sources.

The DE got interested because administrative sources kept telling them that all interviews with the press to be funneled through Rod Sievers, spokesman for the university. Just who this policy applies to (i.e., whether all employees are supposed to follow it) isn't entirely clear--though if it is supposed to apply to all campus employees, some of us have been, ahem, acting contrary to university policy. Oh my.

Money quote, from the email released following the FOIA filing:

In that email, which the university released to the DE, Cheng tells Sievers to make sure administrators have DE reporters go through Sievers for their stories.
“We cannot have the DE kids shopping for responses. Please remind them all to go through you to coordinate official responses,” she said.

"DE kids shopping for responses" is a particularly nice example of contempt for our students. "Shopping for responses"--i.e., reporting, isn't something we want our kid reporters to do. The university has tried to escape via obfuscation: this isn't a "policy"--because only things they ask the BOT to approve count as "policies". And it's just an attempt to be more efficient, not an effort to control information. Of course it's an attempt to "coordinate" & control information.

To be fair, all organizations make some effort to control information. The FA had a spokesperson, after all. And we made some effort to inform our members of talking points. But we didn't try to tell our members that they couldn't talk to the press--thank goodness, or I would have been overwhelmed with requests during the strike (and many smart people wouldn't have said smart things to the media).

The university has also made an effort to prevent employees from contacting state agencies like the IBHE, again citing efficiency, and a desire not to overburden the state agencies will ill-informed requests--but no doubt also in a desire to control information flow.

The move to centralize control over information is one part of the consistent effort on the part of the Cheng administration to centralize power. Their seizure of full "position control" over hiring is the example most faculty are familiar with. There are arguments to be made in favor of centralized control of things. Here's an argument against it. We haven't exactly had a run of successful Chancellors of late. The incumbent's move to centralize power is thus double risky. First, given our decidedly mixed track record with Chancellors, the more power we rest in the office, the greater the risk is when we get a dud in office. And then there's the risk--or, rather, the near necessity--that each time we change Chancellors we'll see a sea-change on campus, in which new logos are the least of our worries.

Leaving more power at the college and departmental level is less risky, at least in the sense that one lousy chair or dean can only do localized damage, and deans and chairs are probably less able to implement root and branch change, given the various checks & balances over their behavior.

Who knows, perhaps our next Chancellor will believe in freedom of speech, encourage "the DE kids" to do real reporting, and empower deans, chairs, and faculty. That would leave our heads spinning in a new direction. Who knows?


  1. Centralization is generally a very bad idea, but I'm not surprised by her move to do this. Its in her genes to try and grab as much power as possible. She is already very unpopular with the students here, her latest gaff will make her more so.

  2. The FA would have been better off if fewer of your members talked. Maybe you should take some lessons from the Chancellor.

  3. Geez, Dave. It doesn't sound like anyone is trying to curtail free speech. It DOES sound like they are trying to manage the flow of information. Any large, or small, organization does that.

    Yes, as you mentioned, even the FA. And I know the FA does know how to offer "spin" to fit its own interests. I would hope that for all the union dues your membership pays, the IEA offers help and guidance for creating, and staying on, message. I'm sure you never tried to mislead a DE reporter in order to advance the FA's agenda. Right?

    This sounds like the kettle calling the pot.

  4. This thread has taken an odd turn. The story in today's DE is not about a conflict between the FA and the Administration. Nor is it about an organization simply attempting to "manage the flow of information." The story is about the Administration attempting to circumvent a basic principle of journalism--namely, that journalists be able to identify, pursue, and interview a wide range of sources. The email that was released following the FOIA filing makes clear that the Chancellor wanted to prevent DE reporters from doing just that. This should be worrying to all on campus--students, faculty, staff--who care about freedom of speech.

  5. Now I know what a 'midget' looks like. Dave Johnson shows a good example of himself.

  6. Yeah, the thread the day day that started out about marketing quickly dissolved into something else. But no one complained about that.

    Wadya gonna do?

  7. Gee, comments on this thread seem to have reached a 3rd grade level, leading me to remove a couple on a scatological theme (though "scatological theme" implies rather more in the way of sophistication than they possessed). I'll leave standing the claim that I am a midget, which may well be the most searing and brilliant piece of invective I've read in some time.

    Has anyone else noticed that not only the quantity but the quality of comments seems to have declined since the strike? I expected the former, but the latter is a bit of a surprise.

    Did I mislead a DE reporter during the strike? No. Note also that neither the DE nor my post claimed that the administration was misleading anyone, only that they were attempting to cut off access to information. Did I make the best case I could for the FA? Yes. Did I volunteer damning information? No. Did I (or the leadership more widely) attempt to cut off access to members of the FA? No.

  8. I have, on occasion (and especially during and just before the strike), spoken to the press about the FA and the labor negotiations. I did not have to seek a "superior's" approval to speak with reporters when they came knocking (as have some mid-level administrators I work with). I have never been chastised by my (union)leaders for speaking to the press without permission (as have some mid-level administrators I work with).

    So, yet again, we face another in the patented brand of false equivalency arguments against the FA. Or worse, an Alfred E. Newman attitude of "What, me worry?" regarding any and every action of the current Administration.

    By itself, one might (might!) be able to dismiss this latest bit of egg in the face of the SIUC Administration. But aren't we seeing patterns here that should keep us at least alert? This is an administration concerned most with the university's image, and quite comfortable with a cardboard facade over debris. This is an administration all too eager to centralize control and "manage" (if not outright silence) voices critical of (if not just curious about) its agenda. And this is an administration more interested in legal trickery for obfuscation than upfront transparency and accountability.

    For me, the "it's not really a policy" and the "we were just trying something new" defenses fall more than a little short. And I don't think I am alone in that opinion.

    As for the comments here, yes Dave, I agree. The quality has diminished. But I am still grateful for a venue that supports free speech and allows anonymous posters a place to vent and share opinions.

  9. Well, we all know the FA does everything right and the Administration does everything wrong.

    Been that way for years....no matter what the subject is or who sits in the chancellor's office.

    And Dave, whoever called you a midget should be banned from Deo Volente for life. There's no place for that. Just sayin'.

  10. If one wants to talk about the evolution based on bible, does he or her need to get a permission. If no, what do you think. Sue Obama?

    My point is what is wrong if some faculty members give students certain guild line for doing things right?

  11. What I couldn't understand is that some of FA leaders are always looking for something to attack. Do they want to be the boss of mafia?

  12. Dave,

    In your post, you act like superior judge, and picking up Admin everything. Remember you are not perfect either, one can pick something from you too. I certainly won't call you a scholar.

  13. Anon 6:38.

    "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Yes, the comments have deteriorated from the opposition since the strike but this is because they have lost and they know it. Rather than criticize an administration that has attempted to stop the student newspaper doing "investigative journalism", they go along with Rita's attempts to curtail freedom of speech and unearth the truth. It is amazing that Rita's pets wish to quash what a university should be all about: criticism and debate (Anon 4:30) so they engage in needless insults. This really shows the poverty of intellect on the part of those who quite happily complied with the 30 day firings and forced DL in the imposed contract so it is now surprising that they are now engaging in sniping.

  14. I can see the necessity for management of any body to stay on message (even those under Obama have to have statements pre-cleared - this used to be done by OMB).

    But the essential point is not about whom to ask questions; rather I thought it was about getting access to emails about an administration policy. THAT is a clear sunshine issue and the DE was right to investigate. Good for them.

    Given how bizarre and micromanaging the Ethics Act has become, I am sure admin's "risk managers" take that into account as well. For example, we had one question this year where there was a committee of people put together to make a statement. One person wrote the report and the others approved. The correct answer was to have all members write reports. It's getting to the level of really "better to say nothing" under state law.

    Meanwhile, the ethics act has done such a good job we have our free press tittering about the "lifestyle changes" our convicted governor will "enjoy" in prison. Sigh.

  15. Poshard is the one the FA needs to put all their focus on removing.

    If he goes, Cheng likely follows of her own accord. He's the emperor here. However, if you push, you have to make sure you have the strength to get it done. Otherwise...

    As for a replacement, my nomination goes to Richard Lariviere, who was fired by the Oregon Board of Education for fighting for students and faculty.

  16. Lightsaber's comments show that FA is simply a mafia. No matter who is the main Admin, he or she will be the target of FA. The last decade has been proved this claim. If Richard Lariviere were in Cheng's office, he will be targeted without questions.

    I am wondering what is going to happen if we let the FA leaders to be the top Admin. DO you think that things will become great??

  17. FA leaders love to play political games. They want faculty to view the union–not their individual achievements–as the source of their economic gains. As a result, union contracts typically base pay and promotions on seniority or detailed union job classifications. Unions rarely allow employers to base pay on individual performance or promote faculty members on the basis of individual ability. This is why if you are a serious researcher, FA is not what you want. Time will show that.

  18. The FA leader is sometimes one who "thinks he's God." A desire to "get ahead" or to be a "big shot" or any open manifestation of a wish to use the union office as attacking machine. Thus it is not surprised that they always play a destructive role in our community.

  19. "Blame the Union" posts abound by Rita's pets. What else would one expect? Poshard has been a very bad influence for SIUC spending money on sports and allowing academics to decline. He is also a plagiarist and has brought disgrace on this institution. No wonder Rita's pets are ignoring these instances of bad leadership and are engaging in the worst type of biased polemics to be found in Fox News. SIUC deserves better leadership. Poshard and Cheng have failed in this area so they should go.

  20. I love it how people are ignoring the simple fact that Dr. Cheng has demonstrated, yet again, profound contempt for the students of this university. Part of me is not shocked by this; after all it is part and parcel with the censoring of Facebook postings that occurred during the FA strike.

    On the other hand, on a more idealistic level, I AM shocked by this. That someone with such contempt for our students - let alone the faculty - still is the head of this university is astounding!

  21. Yes, Joe, it is. But remember she has the support of anti-union Faculty on this campus, plus the FSN who are oblivious (like the ostrich on the logo!) to the fact that she also holds them in contempt.

  22. What is the definition of anti-union Faculty??
    If someone disagrees with FA, then he or she is considered to be anti-union?

    As I understand, FSN does not agree with FA, but how the whole FSN is considered to be anti-union?
    Do you want more FSN such as FSN-1, FSN-2,....?
    Then FA is gone.

  23. I am one of FNS group, and I ma not against the union. But I am against its current leadership.
    The current leadership is the worst one among all faculty unions I have seen. They post EVERYTHING about Admin is negative. Is this fair?

  24. Perhaps Anonymous: "FA is the mafia and you aren't scholars" could get in a room with Anonymous: "Admin is Hitler and you're Rita's pets". Then they could shout inflamatory invectives at one another and this blog could reclaim a semblance of considered dialogue about our shared challenges.

  25. Dear Librarian: that section you copied is clear as mud. The point is if you don't receive "written or oral communication" (and the administration limits it to a few people) then you have nothing to say or report! So perhaps I should rephrase and say "it is better to HAVE nothing to say" because the information is limited to trusted officials. Reminds me of Sgt Schultz from Hogan's Heroes: "I see nothing, I hear nothing, I say nothing...." : - )

  26. Jonathan,

    Don't get me started about the ethics rules. Limiting the contacts to a few inner circle people makes it easier to know who the bribe should go to.

    P.S. You're fictionally on the edge of Godwin's Law. Or do you believe, as I do, that you're in the clear because Schultz was secretly part of the German resistance, and his incompetence was deliberate? :)

  27. Anon 4:22 Basically, that is the case since this is the worst administration for the past 30 years and everything they do is bad.If the FSN attemopted to decertify the union, then they nare anti-union and "Rita's pets."

  28. 9:06,

    1. I am just giving unsolicited advice to the Union. I don't expect them to take it. I have serious reservations about Poshard but if they don't present a solid alternate vision than they don't get taken seriously. I don't know where they want to take SIU.
    2. I don't think that mafia style leadership helps anyone.

  29. At one time in this country, there were few workplace safety laws, few restraints on employers, and incredibly exploitive working conditions that ranged from slavery, to share cropping, to putting children in dangerous working conditions. Unions, to their everlasting credit, helped play an important role in leveling the playing field for workers.

    However, as the laws changed, there was less and less need for unions. Because of that, union membership shrank. In response, the unions became more explicitly involved in politics. Over time, they managed to co-opt the Democratic Party, pull their strings, and rewrite our labor laws in their favor.

  30. ''Where unions go, disaster usually follows.''

  31. More quotes without attribution. See

  32. As a new-ish faculty member here, I'm wondering what can we *do* about some of these larger issues: censorship, inter-faculty relations, the push to corporatize (is that a word?) higher education, etc. These are issues that really do affect all of us no matter where we stand on the FA or FSN...

    I'm as frustrated as some of the earlier commenters are that responses have largely devolved into rather childish attempts to derail what could be a semi-productive conversation about real issues. I think this tone has driven away a lot of people who could be productive in these conversations. But we need to find a way to address these larger issues! How can we do that? What can we do besides complain about the current situation? I realize we as faculty are not all-powerful, but is there *nothing* we can do?

  33. Man, I don't get the whole Facebook censorship thing. Do any of you with Facebook pages allow anyone and everyone to post on your page? Does everything that goes up on your page stay on your page? Is your page open to everyone, not just your "friends?" Why can't the University control and moderate it's page as it sees fit? The University has no interest in controlling posts on YOUR page. If it did, now that WOULD be censorship. Seems to me that anyone - any business - yes, any university has the right to control it's own "property." So if you take something off YOUR Facebook page, you are engaging in censorship? Why don't some of you open your Facebook accounts to everyone and advetise as such. We'll see long it takes before you become a "censor."

    Clearly, this whole censorship thing is something the tin-foil hat types here have latched on to as a talking point. Much like the "if you don't agree with the FA, you're one of Rita's pets."

  34. The crux of the issue to me is that the university ought to be a special place, where we are supposed to be fostering critical inquiry among our students toward the world they inhabit. You are correct on one level: each of us individually might "censor" our Facebook pages. But that is not equatable to a university demonstrating to its students that their opinions simply do not matter. That, along with the "shopping" quote, is what truly bothers me right now. Unless we change this, and change it soon, this contempt for students is also a contempt for the core mission of a university.

  35. I find myself wondering if there is a need for a non-anonymous online discussion venue for the SIUC faculty and community. I get that DV allows anonymous posting for a reason, and that there is a purpose for such a venue. But I am ready for a venue that requires folks to own their positions and discuss without the safety of a mask. Yes, some might fear "retribution," and so self-censor. A little self-censoring now and then might not be such a bad thing.

    Of course, I recognize that such a venue is easy to create and likely already exists -- just not used all that much. I also recognize that just about anyone can build a mask on line. The truth is, as a big and messy community, we appear to prefer venues like DV to those other venues. Our Administration is not interested in providing or overseeing such an open forum. The other (i.e. not FA affiliated) faculty groups don't seem interested in creating such forums.

    So we end up with a site that is pretty representative of our culture. It's technically not an official union site, but the result of individuals who thought it was a good idea. Nobody is really offering an alternative although plenty are vocal in their complaints. And the behavior of all here is referenced as evidence of the site's owners' (and by extension, the FA's) failures. In essence, many a critical and anonymously masked response here boils down to "I am critical of you because you offer me an opportunity to criticize."

  36. I support the FSN and am critical of both the Administration and the FA. Bit of a sweeping statement. The reality is that I find some of the FA members' thoughtful, concerned, and cool-headed posts and personal interactions with me to be very helpful in terms of lessening my obstinance (Spelling, I know). Other FA members' posts and interactions with me have been less than ideal. I have found people in the administration to be both helpful and unhelpful although no-one in the administration has ever publicly harassed me or attempted to intimidate me. So, I can only go on my experience.

    I cannot support this union for several reasons. But I will stick with one for this post.

    I cannot and will not strike. Ever. If I cannot strike then I cannot, I understand, in good conscience, be a part of this union.

    Were I to strike, my students would not receive clinical supervision. Were they not receive clinical supervision, then they could not see their clients. This effectively comes down to client abandonment. I can imagine my students having to say: "Sorry, Client with Depression and Anxiety and suicidal ideation, I, your Counselor-in-Training, can't meet with you because there was no-one to clinically supervise me. Just keep it together for however long she's out on strike, will ya? It means you'll get much better care in the future. Honest."

    The bashing is going on on both sides. I agree with Dani, I want to "do" something. Yes, I get angry and hot-headed, too. But my decision to put my name on my posts was to force myself to be a part of the solution. I wonder the same thing, Johnny, but would MUCH prefer to stay here and read the posts that are not inflammatory. Also, I truly do believe that for some people, anonymity is needed for protection (I am very sorry to say.) For the vast majority, however, I think the protection needed is to offer an opportunity to engage in name-calling and vilifying.

    Usually, I read those and have to giggle. I just can't take those posts seriously from any perspective. Although, I don't like to see personal attacks on other people who have offered their names by those who have not. Doesn't see right, somehow.

    Just my musings. Kim

  37. Kim, The reason I mostly prefer to remain anonymous is that I have been hurt several times by administrators since I arrived on campus - and the reasons have been malicious and nothing to do with academic performance. Also, some people will probably snitch to administrators to curry favor and administrators are probably posting on this blog.I've been intimidated several times since I've been here so you've been lucky.

    However, by supporting the FSN you are undermining the gains of this union in protecting tenure and stopping all of us being forced into DL, to say nothing about the hideous, corporate top-down management that is affecting SIUC at the moment.

  38. Kim,

    Thanks for another thoughtful comment.

    One question. I agree with the basic logic of your post--if one would not strike under any circumstances, it makes sense not to support a union in a state where unions can strike (though I know some curious exceptions to this rule). But you have a special reason for not striking, reasons I think we'd all understand--not abandoning clients with serious medical issues. And it would be possible to address that issue, should you otherwise feel a strike was in order. You could strike--picketing, not getting paid, not teaching your other classes, etc.--but do the supervision that would allow one's students to continue their counseling, perhaps off-campus. We all recognize exceptions of this sort (another would be those whose laboratory animals would perish).

    I suspect, of course, that you have other reasons for not supporting the/this union--which we may get a chance to hear. My guess is that many on campus, even without the special circumstances you name, can't imagine striking. Perhaps some of them will change their minds after seeing that our strike did not destroy SIUC or destroy our relationship with our students (those students marching in support of faculty were testimony that in some cases, at least, that relationship had been strengthened).

    There are certainly nasty comments coming from both sides. Like Jonny, I've at times been attracted by the desire to force all to post under their real names. I find it particular irritating that we've started to get some comments which simply dredge up generic anti-union rhetoric unconnected to the specific conditions on this campus. But they remain a minority.

    And my guess is that requiring real names would eliminate much of the nastiness but would also stifle dissent, as many who are intelligently and civilly critical of the FA post anonymously, or at least under pseudonyms. More of the pro-FA people sign their names, so that forcing real names would serve largely to eliminate the worst vitriol on the FA side while leaving most constructive comments intact. (Of course the line between vitriol and substance isn't always crystal clear.)

    I suppose it may well be the norm that critics of the overall viewpoint of a blog tend more toward anonymity than do supporters, where anonymity is allowed, and so will be disproportionately affected by a requirement to reveal their identities.

  39. Dave, you should encourage posters to at least post under some sort of identifier. It would be easier to keep track of personalities. Monikers might be something like, "Happy FA member," or "Rita's Pet," or "The ghost of Henry Shryock." People would be free to post their true feelings without fear of reprisal, not that there would be any, and we can all get to know a "personality" rather than an anonymous poster. It would also help sort out the regulars from the lurkers and the hit and runs.

  40. Anon 2:34

    I am really bummed, but not surprised, to hear about you having been hurt by administrators. I've heard of intimidation from both administrators and FA members, and it is patently wrong in both cases. And I also would not post under my name if I felt I would be bullied. It was extremely hard to get help when I was being bullied as an assistant professor (absolutely nothing to do with the union OR the administration), and I would have posted anonymously at that time as well. I'm bummed and sorry about what's happened to you.

    For me, by supporting the FSN, I am asking for the current faculty to determine if this is the kind of representation they want. I am expecting the FA to do a kind of self study of their own to determine what they've done well and what they've done to damage SIU, the faculty, and the students. I want them to listen to the other 2/3rds of the faculty who choose, over and over again, not to join. I want honest, fair, thoughtful dialogue. I'd like to avoid accusations and vilification on all sides while we have that dialogue. You don't deserve to be intimidated, no-one deserves to be intimidated.

    The FSN couldn't get the full 200 signatures needed this round; but we got a good chunk of it. The majority of faculty did not know about the Illinois labor laws and the wacky way we have to go about decertifying a union. Now, we have time to look at other national unions, other local union models, other FS models, and hopefully, other out-of-the box thinking models for the next time we can promote decertification.

    Hopefully, there will be no need for the FSN in the future.


  41. Jim,

    Good idea. I like it when I can read lightsaber, beezer, and other peoples' comments by their nicks.


  42. Kim:

    your 67% `who choose over and over again not to join' is a very numerically inaccurate statement:

    Here are a few numbers:

    The current FA membership is 44% of Faculty, so 56% haven't joined, not your 67% `who choose over and over again not to join'. The 11% difference, is quite a lot of people, 65/70 Faculty.

    Many faculty (especially newer ones...busy with getting tenure, etc) have never even thought about joining the FA, so they are not in those who `who choose over and over again not to join'.

    Many who don't join the FA, (for various reasons, often financial), nevertheless SUPPORT the FA,, so they are not in your group `who choose over and over again not to join'.

    So, we are down to a much smaller % than your 67%.

    I suspect that `who choose over and over again not to join' is about 20/30%, these people are probably the signatories of the FSN cards.

    How many signatures did FSN get? What is a `good chunk' of 200? Do you know the exact number, because using words like a `good chunk' is more or less meaningless, and not very helpful.

    Sorry to sound harsh, but the numbers speak for themselves. Your 67% is clearly wrong.

  43. Anon 5:50

    Sounds like you have access to information that I don't have. My info must be out of date. How many members does the FA actually have?

    In terms of the reasons why people do not join the FA, you find my statement offensive. I actually agree with you. I can't make the statement that they all have the negative reasons for not joining. Nor, I would say, can you assume they are all not joining for the reasons you state.

    No problem with the harshness...it's part of our problem at SIU. My comment provoked. I apologize for that.


  44. Anon 5:50

    Forgot to answer your question. I believe 162 people signed the cards.


  45. The last data I know of is 275/650, I personally know of 3 people who have since joined. So perhaps 285/650 now. Its not perfect, but its a significant %. Afterall American Presidents are often elected with a lot less of a %.

    Its hard to gauge the support that the FA has amongst the Faculty, I would guess between 50-60%.

  46. Jim,

    Dave already has two different places on the page where he asks people to use their names or at least a pseudonym. One is directly above the comment box, and the other is over in the right panel. He also jumps in when things get heated and points out that most of the heat comes from that self-contradictory person named Anonymous.

    What more do you want Dave to do?

  47. So it seems that there are at least 300 Faculty who support or are members of the FA; the FSN crowd have a long way to go with their 162 before they reach 300. And even if they get the 200, they still have to win the decertification vote.

  48. @ 9:53 -- I would just settle for the vote! I would vote to decertify, but would accept the will of the faculty (and would then join of 50+% affirm their desire to keep the FA as-is).

    However, in order to get the fence-sitters off the fence (we all seem to be continuing our best efforts to divine what it is they want for their representation--often projecting our own desires...), the vote should "double-down" and include Fair Share. This way, fence-sitters would know that if they voted to keep the union (and if the FA carried the day), then they (and everyone else) would have to pay their "fair share"...

  49. While my situation does not share the same life-and-death consequences of Kim’s, she raises an interesting point: how can anyone who knows that they will never strike be in the union (at least, without feeling like a hypocrite)?

    I know that a number of people don't like the FA because of what they perceive as stances, personalities, agendas, etc. that are unique to the FA membership and/or its leadership. However, that’s not the case with me – my desire for self- (or at least, non-union) representation is more fundamental (I don’t have anything personal against the FA, its membership, or its leadership).

    I don’t believe that a union is an appropriate body of representation for faculty at a research university. A (fair) question raised (to others) in different threads has challenged this belief: If one believes that unions can be appropriate (and even helpful) mechanisms of representation in other venues—which I do—then what’s so special about research-university (RU) T/TT faculty? Why the high horse?

    Some have answered that there are a number of factors that distinguish the situation of RU T/TT faculty from (say) automobile machinists, including: the latter benefit from a de facto adversarial relationship with their employer and union/collective protection (as their employer would surely treat them like (and pay them) dirt if they could, and the nature of their positions lends them naturally to being treated like cogs in a wheel); the former are professionals like doctors or lawyers (bringing to bear a number of issues mentioned elsewhere); the former holds academic freedom as a bed-rock ideal (and thus, there is a natural abhorrence with forced collective behavior, but that lack of lock-step adherence to union action serves to weaken the union at crunch time); for the former, the nature of one’s position is defined first and foremost by one’s ideas—and those are unique to the person (meaning, that if a RU T/TT faculty member leaves (for whatever reason, fired, retired, moved, etc.), their work—their research directions, their course development, etc.—goes with them. So at least in that real sense, they cannot be exactly replaced).

    While I agree with all of that, there’s also a practical reason why I view union representation as inappropriate for RU T/TT faculty, and it’s more along the lines of Kim’s argument – the primary weapon of a union (unless the option of forced arbitration were available, per a previous thread’s discussion) the only means of exerting force in opposition to the actions of an administration /employer (“weapon”) is a strike.

    For the afore-mentioned machinist, the strike hurts his employing company (with the idea that such action, taken collectively, will hopefully drive a favorable agreement with his employer), at the price of also hurting himself (I apologize for being gender-specific) and his family (via his pocketbook). [continued…]

  50. [continued…] However, for RU T/TT faculty, the collateral damage goes much wider. For many, it is already bad enough that (innocent) students are negatively affected too—and thus feel that they could never strike in good conscience. [Certainly that’s how I felt about my students, although for myself I would never rule anything like that 100% out – a true existential threat to the university or tenure – which is not what we had here -- could in principle warrant a strike.] The types of students one has, I reckon, could also matter – the risk of damaging disruption for graduate students is arguably less than for first-semester freshmen.

    But that’s not all; the collateral damage does not stop with the classroom. RU T/TT faculty who strike also negatively impact their own career and creative works (not just the pocketbook), and more critically, *those of all the (innocent) people they are connected to*. For myself, that means my lab, my researchers, my collaborators at various other institutions, their students and group members, our various funding agencies, deadlines associated with deliverables, etc. It never ends.

    If I understand Dave correctly, the answer to such concerns would seem to be that one should strike by not teaching their classes and I guess, by not doing committee work (and say, walk the picket line at those times), but still do the other things we need to do. How would such a move not be hypocritical? (or, be at least as hypocritical as the FA members lamented by Mike who said they voted to strike but did not, and never intended to)? Shouldn’t a strike be all or nothing?

    My desire to represent myself in contract negotiations is real, but it’s my least important reason for not wanting union representation. I do appreciate the previous discussions by FA members (including Dave) in support of merit pay (and recognize that there has been at least a small inclusion of that in the past). I recognize that it can, in principle, work—as long as the membership can get behind it. However, at least in the abstract, this can be a tough sell to a union—factors that positively distinguish individuals can also work to fracture the common front of a collective. More practically, why should the rank-and-file support pay mechanisms that won’t differentially help them in the short term (particularly when it all comes from the same fixed pot of money)?

  51. Beezer, Chang and Poshard are out to destroy the very idea of a research university you believe in. I suggest you look at the latest issue of THOUGHT AND ACTION that deals with the corporate model being forced on to universities. This is the philosophy behind Cheng and Poshard's actions particularly involving the attack on tenure and the forced imposition of DL. The old idea of a research university is not held by administrators so they wish to eliminate tenure. Thus the only way to fight this is by joining a union and fighting back as a collective. If the 60s ideals are dead, so is the utopian world of the research university where faculty and administrators shared the same common goals. To preserve what remains of this idea of a research university (particularly in the light of Cheng's belief that anybody can teach the courses of a Ph.D tenured professor), then the union is the only way to fight this corrosive thinking. Remember what happened to Father Matt in Byron Haskin's WAR OF THE WORLDS!

  52. Beezer, thanks for the smart comments (which I'll now try to disagree with, of course).

    I agree with much of what you say about differences between university faculty and those people in lines of work we more traditionally associate with unions. But the argument works both ways: if the administration treats us like machinists, then we may need a union to defend ourselves. Whether the administration is treating us like machinists or not of course will be a debated point, but they didn't help their cause there by promising to find qualified replacements for us all.

    You mentioned doctors and lawyers as parallels for university faculty. Neither group is commonly unionized, of course, but both at least have the option of running, on their own or with others, their own practices. Lawyers make partner, and doctors in their own practice run their own shop. The FA is forever speaking of wanting to empower faculty to work in partnership with the administration--where that isn't just nice sounding fluff but expresses a desire to give faculty a real say in what happens on campus.

    Machinists' strikes also do "collateral damage"; other people in their supply line may be laid off; cars don't get made, sold, etc. Strikes are supposed to disrupt things. Strikes are, in fact, a lousy tool--which is why they should be a last resort. But they are, in a society which attempts to temper capitalism with a bit of democracy, a best tool we've come up with to allow employees to come to the table on something like equal terms with their employers.

    In actual practice, university strikes don't tend to do much actual damage. Strikers missed one week of classes, so most of their students lost one week of a 15 week semester. That's not nothing, but it is not the end of the world, either.

    One last thing: I do not advise people to be half on strike, half not on strike. Striking is in fact a full time job; while my job during the strike was higher profile than most, those on the picket lines from 8-4 were working just as hard. A few faculty have particularly sensitive, and time-sensitive research, counseling, etc. But for most of us a strike should be "all-in" (or all out).

  53. 5:23,

    Do we really have to impugn motives without citing evidence that the destruction of research is happening? Not all parts of the corporate model are bad. SIU is a University that is in great need of accountability and transparent leadership. Don't confuse this with a corporate model. This is not a corporate model, the model you cite is a political model in nature. The two are quite different. One lives on results the other is indifferent to results. There's no motive for eliminating tenure, why would they be that ignorant of where that would take SIU? Cheng and Poshard aren't. If anything, the corporate model is the model that decentralizes authority and the political model is the one that combines authority. Let's straighten our terminology.

    As far as distance learning, I sense that would simply be solved if SIU went for a disruptive model for distance learning. Surely you can come up with an idea for distance learning that could be implemented that would encourage faculty to use it and to actually have a model of distance learning that works? SIU could make such a quantum leap if it just came up with a new model that worked better. Why can't we do that? We just reject something out of hand here and don't come up with the great idea that could fix this? Let's do something that truly puts us on the map for innovation. The FA doesn't necessarily have to drag their feet on this. In fact, they can earn a lot of capital by inventing a model that is revolutionary, that is a great breakthrough.

  54. Lightsaber, Did not the imposed contract firing faculty with only 30 days notice drastically affect tenure and research as we know it? Nobody can engage in real research living under such insecurity and worrying about their jobs that may be eliminated at any moment at the whim of the Chancellor. Unfortunately, the corporate model followed by Cheng and Poshard is micro-management allowing no opportunity for others to contribute hence the hiring decisions now being with the Provost and not with the Deans of Colleges? Does this not affect research? Why is no money going into these areas rather than sports and adminbistrative salaries? Poshard has contemptuously referred to students as "customers" and university education as a "meal ticket to the middle class." That is the language of corporate bodies such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks not the utopian ideal you refer to. It is not surprising that in an era when one Republican candidate speaks about abolishing child labor laws and American citizens can now be arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned without trial (see the latest Senate ruling) that this type of authoritarian thinking is around and active at SIUC. Also, DL still has to be proved. It is associated with for-profit colleges with students who do not graduate and have huge debts. Cheng proposed it as a way to make money, nothing else. It has nothing to do with real education. See the latest THOUGHT AND ACTION for a critique of this system in one article.

  55. 1:22

    See, that's the problem. Instead of working on finding a distance learning model that can serve people and better faculty, we close the door on all innovation. Why?

    As long as we're reliant on a crooked and corrupt state that is wholly a political entity, faculty and administration both will suffer the same fate. That fate is the unemployment line. The imposed contract only solidified contractually the reality pushed on by above the Chancellor's, President's, and BOT offices. Ultimately we answer to the people. The real crux of the problem is the inability to manage ourselves as the 1B university in this state to the University of Illinois's 1A. The insecurity is not to blame by the administration. It is ultimately the state that causes the insecurity. This corrupt governor tried to close down the Mental Health treatment facilities in Chester before being defeated by the legislature. Do you not think he wants the same fate to befall SIU. We're next on the chopping block. It's not our central administration's fault. It's the fault of a legislature that values Chicago over Southern Illinois. That's why tenure is in danger. Not some nefarious plot by Poshard or Cheng. Please get a grip on reality.

    I support the tenure model fully as I support the College model of having strong, autonomous colleges.

    Do we have too much money going into administration and sports? Perhaps. However sports doesn't affect academics here to the degree people on this forum seem to believe. If certain faculty members here spent as much time teaching as complaining about sports, than it wouldn't be a problem. Try talking to the people in athletics. Do you think they don't recognize that without smart faculty they wouldn't be here?

    I just continually tire of having people not look at the big picture regarding the state. Corrupt leadership here is only that way because of corrupt leadership in Springfield. What we need to propose is a new compact of leadership where we again, like the days of Deylte Morris, take leadership of state higher education. Faculty here aren't proposing an alternate plan. In fact, any alternate plan, like my alternate plan to raise admission standards and cut fat from administration while lowering tuition, get ignored. Unbelievable.

  56. An alternative plan that embraces the concept of DL and for-profit colleges that cheats students of a real education, places them in debt, and results in low graduation rates is no positive alternative, just an act of desperation. FYI, spending on sport has increaded recently by 121%. Why are books still in McLafferty? Why are there empty shelves in the Morris Library? Why is the academic infrastructure falling apart? The answer is that money for these much needed functions of a University are going towards sports and unnecessary administrative positions whose high salaries are an insult in this period of the Great Depression. Rather than grovel before Springfield like (21st versions of Uriah Heep, let us get SIUC back on track to becoming a real university and avoid the latest, untried, quick fix technological gimmick that will soon become as enduring as Beta and Laserdisks.

  57. 2:14,

    You do realize that technology could be used to enhance the very virtues you say are important, right? Instead, you would rather launch ad hominem attacks, and likewise state that there is simply no innovative model of distance learning that could enhance the traditional learning model of a University.

    There is not any innovation out there? All distance learning is bad? Wow, that's cynical.

  58. This is the consensus of most reports on the subject. It will take time, perhaps years, to find if there is an appropriate model that higher education can use. Many new drugs take years to be tested and refined before they go on the market and the same thing should be true for dubious educational innovations.So, this is not an "ad hominem" attack and you refuse to read the issue of THOUGHT AND ACTION written by a Professor of Education that deals with this technology and how it can affect real learning as we know it. Cheng wanted to impose this model as a compulsory requirement without any discussion of the issues involved. Also, I was present at a meeting of the Faculty senate when it was discussed. Apart from one Senator who raised the issue of academic integrity, the entire debate focused entirely on how much money could be made. If you want SIUC to be the McDonalds and Wendys of higher education, then by all means embrace this latest move into an impoverished form of education that expert advice quite rightly rejects. Just let the University of Phoenix and its associates who harass homeless people into signing up for these courses that they will never graduate from and give them huge debts they will never repay in their lifetimes to go ahead with it.

    Also, you do not answer the scandal of empty shelves in the library. Don't books and journals matter, several of which are being "lost" in McLafferty. Once we had a very fine academic library. This is no longer the case.

  59. I attended one of the Dare2Learn workshops last Friday. D2L is definitely an improvement over our current BlackBoard (which isn't really BlackBoard). It will take a bit of getting use to and is not all that intuitive. Which is to say, students and faculty will need some training on how to use it -- and that will happen as much in the classroom as in outside workshops. So, anticipate using valuable class time to teach and reteach the online teaching platform.

    This technology should make offering attractive online courses more possible. As usual, we went bargain shopping for this service (although at still quite a hefty charge) and don't have all the services that come with the company. And of course we have outsourced to a "cloud" the actual server for the platform. That might be a good thing. Maybe.

    What struck me though was the general disarray of the workshop. Admittedly, it was the first of these, and I think Heidi Jung and JP Dunn will get better as they offer more of them. Even so, the Center for Teaching Excellence was not exactly putting on display excellent teaching. For all that they touted the platform's ability to assist with assessments by linking learning objectives to outcome assessment tools (sorta), the workshop itself lacked much real focus or clarity of learning objectives. And the two leaders didn't always seem to be on the same page about how the service would work, what it could do, and how best to use it (in either distance or blended learning).

    I have long maintained an interest in and support for online teaching and learning. But there are better and worse ways to do it. Doing it on the cheap to maximize profit is not the right way to go. It requires a significant investment of time and resource and expertise if we plan to do it well. The concern I continue to have is that we are not making any of these investments.

    We need reliable, centralized tech support. We need not to confuse tech support with "teaching excellence" by simply renaming (rebranding?) Instructional Support Services. I think the campus would benefit from a robust Center for Teaching Excellence that does not equate quality pedagogy with (second rate) technology. Innovative teach does not require (but may sometimes benefit from) devices with circuits.

    When I and others are critical of SIUC's current approach to DL, we are not Luddites "afraid" of technology. Rather, we worry that our University's approach is fundamentally flawed and all too representative of other problems on this campus.

    We are in dire need of so many different kinds of upgrades on this campus -- improvements we are not likely to see in the foreseeable future. Teaching technology (online and otherwise) will, of necessity, be a part of our future. Given our need to prioritize within ever shrinking and uncertain resources, we are best served collectively asking who we really are and how much of a role such technology will play in the work of this place.

    I don't have much confidence that we are really asking those questions as we are increasingly distracted by "the machine that goes PING" and the dollar signs it inspires in our leaders' eyes.

  60. Lightsaber (12/12 6:45 AM & 12/13 3:05 AM):

    I haven't ignored your suggestion, but I have been busy.

    I think the university tried that idea in 2010. Tuition was frozen, and fee increases were kept small. Other universities were raising tuition. At the same time, the university was adding discounts through alternate tuition rates.

    The university ran into trouble with the second half of your suggestion. In theory, lower tuition relative to other universities should have increased the applicants. It should have allowed the admissions office to be pickier about whom to accept. In practice, the lower rates didn't bring in many more high-achieving applicants. It may have attracted more low-achieving applicants. We got with the same type of that student we've been getting.

    The university could have raised the admissions standards anyway, but that really would have meant a financial crisis for the university, as enrollments declined. It also would have drawn attention from lawmakers, and it would not have been a good kind of attention.

    For coming up with a different strategy, I don't think the chancellor's strategy is that bad, as far as it goes. I think she has failed to communicate it. She could have been honest with us that her predecessors had tied up university money in ill-conceived construction projects and in sports. She could have explained that the easiest way she could find to get money for any new project, i.e., marketing, was through furloughs.

  61. [continued]

    As for what a "corporate model" is, I think the problem is a matter of agreeing on a definition. To me a "corporate model" holds the purpose of the organization to be to make money. Under the corporate model, regardless of what any mission statement says, if there isn't a profit at the end of the year, the organization has failed. Whether internal centralized control within the organization is part of the "corporate model" depends on whom you talk to. The people who use the phrase "corporate model" often are people who associate it with especially shortsighted corporations.

    In describing the chancellor and the president, the corporate model is a way to describe a mentality in which their main (only?) focus is on the bottom line.

    For example, as the chancellor and the president present it, the purpose of distance learning isn't to be innovative in educating students. The purpose is to bring in students who don't want to live in Carbondale, so we can have more students and more money. The issues of what the students learn and whether the technological and pedagogical support are there to educate distance students well seem to be beside the point to them.

    President Poshard's meal ticket statement is another example of the corporate model in his thinking. A university education doesn’t hold intrinsic value but only is valuable insofar as one can make money from it. Ironically, even if you buy into the meal ticket way of thinking, employers want graduates who are educated, not graduates who merely have degrees. If the university is to succeed, the graduates need a real education.

    The problem, as I see it, is that the president and the chancellor rarely go beyond talking about what needs to be done to bring in the dollars. If the university really is going to be a place where being a research university, having an inclusive student body, and being located in southern Illinois are not at odds with each other, what do we need to do? How can we hold underprepared students to high standards, give students the support they need to meet those standards, and still have time for research? I wish the chancellor would have taken some of the money spent on marketing and devoted it to paying scholars of education to visit and to teach us to teach. I wish the administration had asked during bargaining for faculty to attend mandatory attendance at pedagogy workshops rather than asking for mandatory attendance at graduation.

    I know that's not a complete strategy, but at least it's talking about education, one of the pillars of the university's mission, rather than money.

  62. I'm thankful for the thoughtful responses to this thread. There were some good points made.


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