Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tenure as a social contract

Here's an aspect of the tenure debate the blog hasn't covered yet. All the talk on campus and off has focussed on how valuable a thing tenure is for faculty, how it protects their job security and their academic freedom. But we faculty also know that tenure doesn't come easy, that faculty have to pass a rigorous test, and that other faculty are forced to make difficult decisions on many tenure cases. The Chancellor, to be fair, herself alluded to this aspect of tenure when she noted in her last town hall meeting that tenure was an "earned status", though she characteristically did not mention the faculty's central role in awarding, or denying, tenure. But her actions are undermining that earned status.

Experienced faculty readers will know how difficult tenure decisions can be. SIUC does in fact have pretty rigorous standards for tenure, at least in my experience, and we routinely turn down colleagues--essentially, we fire our colleagues--who have made and could continue to make real contributions to our programs. You know how it works: most often the tough cases are when a colleague is a fine teacher and does their share of the department's service work but hasn't published enough. We cast such tough votes precisely because tenure is supposed to represent a lifelong commitment on the part of the institution; this major commitment justifies high standards and tough votes. We uphold our side of the tenure system. But the administration is now, in at least two ways, undermining this system; they are, in my view, breaking the social contract we in academia have lived by for generations. After the break, I'll attempt to explain why.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Some union folks have put together the following "fact check" in response to the Chancellor's earlier email this week.  I post it below the break.  

Cheng: SIUC without faculty means "business as usual"

According to the Chancellor it would be business as usual around here without faculty, GAs, and support staff. I think that pretty much says it all--it's the thesis of the Chancellor's email sent out this afternoon, which I'll paste after the break. That's right, after describing the measures she'd take to meet a strike, she concludes:
In other words, it will be business as usual.
Business as usual.  I suppose it is what one would expect a campus CEO to say. Rather like an airline CEO saying, sure, it will be business as usual with the pilots on strike.

Yes, the police won't go on strike and students won't starve. And yes, some classes would meet with their normal instructors, those who choose not to honor a picket line. But if the Chancellor believes she can find "qualified instructors" to fill in for all the faculty members who would go on strike, then her definition of what counts as a "qualified instructor" is even lower than I thought. Business as usual without faculty: that sums up her worldview beautifully. It's just business: business as usual.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday roundup

Suzanne Daughton of the FA has a fine guest column in the DE on collective bargaining.

In a letter to the DE, Paulette Curkin raises concerns about the search process for a new director of the GLBT resource center. 

The Southern has a she (Cheng) said, he (Johnson) said article on the Chancellor's email. The author of the story (Codell Rodriguez) made a good effort to understand what I was saying, but readers of this blog would be better off just going to the source and reading my response to the email (which includes the text of Cheng's email). It is interesting that the DRC vote to call for a membership vote on a strike got just a "staff" story, but that an email from the Chancellor gets front page coverage. The Southern's editorial stance is pro-administration, which effects their decisions about what stories to cover and how prominently to cover them, but their reporters do endeavor to do a balanced job. 

The Southern also prints a neat letter giving some of the history of the bell-tower logo, and questioning why it had to be replaced.

FA voting procedure

FA strike authorization vote:

Wednesday (9/28) 9 am - 4 pm 
Student Center (Mackinaw Room)

Faculty members should have received an email from Randy Hughes giving procedures for the strike authorization vote next Wednesday (9/28). Voting will be open from 9-4 in the Mackinaw room in the student center (one of the river rooms upstairs above Starbucks).

The procedure includes what will seem a fairly convoluted means for absentee balloting--but the process is set up to ensure the integrity of the vote. You will need to hurry to get in absentee ballots via mail, so if you wish to vote for mail get to this as soon as possible.  The procedure may also be used if you want to have another faculty member walk your ballot over to the Mackinaw room on the 28th.

This is a crucial vote. And only dues-paying members can vote. If you get a completed membership form to the FA office in Carterville by 9/27, you will qualify as a member for the purposes of this vote. Information on membership is available on the FA website.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cheng's Counteroffensive

After a long silence, the Chancellor is again speaking on union issues, in a comment in today's DE and in an email.  I'll here try to respond to major points in order.  The full text of Cheng's email is pasted at the end of this post. 

1. The Chancellor has decided to start an unseemly fight about meeting timesI don't think it is in anyone's interest to spend our energies bickering about who turned down more dates. And if you do choose to go this route, at least get your facts straight: the Chancellor has failed to do so. But the whole issue is basically a red herring, and it is based on the false premise that meeting with the other side is all one needs to do to negotiate in good faith. While the pace of meetings can and will presumably pick up, the problem has never been that one side or the other is unwilling to meet, rather that the meetings thus far have not made sufficient progress. But below the break, before moving on to substance, I will squabble back. Skip to 2 if you'd rather avoid this silliness.

Today's cartoon

Cartoon by an anonymous SIUC faculty member. 
[Hey, the comments are anonymous, so why not the cartoons?-ed.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Why You Should Vote Yes on September 28th"

Natasha Zaretsky has asked me to post the following, and I've gladly obliged.  

I am writing this to all of my friends and colleagues out there who are struggling over whether to vote “yes” or “no” to strike authorization on September 28. I believe that you should vote “yes” on the authorization, because if we don’t fight back collectively, the imposed terms will become the new status quo—or the new normal. These terms will eviscerate our tenure rights, undermine our academic freedom, give the administration unilateral control over our wages, and bring an end to collective bargaining on the SIUC campus. I have become convinced that preparations for a strike are now our only option, and here I want to explain how I came to this position.

It was only last spring that I started tuning in to what was happening at the bargaining table. Prior to that time, I was not really paying attention. I was busy--as we all are--with my teaching, research, and family responsibilities. When the Administration imposed terms, I woke up, and I got scared. In particular, the “Reduction in Force” section of the imposed terms gave the Administration the right to terminate me with thirty days notice. I read this as the abrogation of my tenure rights. The imposed terms also gave the Administration the unilateral right to impose furloughs, which I interpreted as a direct assault on my collective bargaining rights. I also began talking with people in the other three local unions—representing the NTTs, civil servants, and graduate assistants—and learned that they were facing similar assaults on their job security and wages. All of these things scared me.

A couple of answers: COBRA and loans

Below the break, an answer to questions raised on this blog and elsewhere about IEA loans.  Here's a link to some further info on COBRA. By all means read the COBRA stuff for yourself, but it looks to me like the news there is good.

COBRA is expensive.  But if I've read the information properly, one has 105 days to pay for COBRA, and if one needs health care within that time frame, one can pay after the healthcare need and still get covered retroactively (otherwise, of course, the time spans the law offers for employees to elect to sign up and start paying would be rather meaningless). So the logical thing to do would be--assuming one and one's dependents do not have large, regular, recurring health care expenses, which of course is *not* the case for everyone--to attempt to wait out the 105 days without paying the hefty COBRA charge. If a major health care bill arrives, then one would have to pay the COBRA fee, but otherwise one does not. I did something similar back in the day when I was in between academic jobs (over a summer break--though I had a gap of a few weeks were I was vulnerable: but I was young, childless, and single).

Monday, September 19, 2011

The coalition holds

Now all four campus unions have approved strike authorization votes for the end of this month.  The DE has a story on the FA, NTT-FA, and ACsEs; and Kristi on her blog announces the decision by GAs.

None of these votes was easy to take. I'm sure there was healthy debate within each local. But the unions are moving forward, together--though I'm sure also that all are united in hoping that strike authorization votes don't have to lead to actual strikes.