Friday, September 23, 2011

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.

Dear Students and Parents:

As Family Weekend begins, I want to take the opportunity to update you on a developing issue on our campus.

You may be aware from recent media accounts that the leadership of a union representing some faculty members reportedly has authorized a strike vote by its membership for Sept. 28.  In addition, three other unions apparently are holding similar discussions.  Please be assured that I am committed to continuing good-faith negotiations and to reaching a fiscally responsible solution.  We have made it clear to the various union negotiating teams that we are available to meet at any time in an effort to resolve our differences.

There are a number of contract issues we are attempting to address in the context of the State of Illinois‚ continuing fiscal crisis.  At the moment, the state owes our University $100 million, so we must be cognizant of these very severe financial constraints.  We also are extremely sensitive to your concerns about tuition and fees.

Student success is our top priority.  In the event of a walkout by any of the unions, please be assured that we are committed to maintaining normal operations.  Classes will continue to meet as regularly scheduled and will be taught by qualified instructors.  Students in good academic standing scheduled to graduate will receive their diplomas as planned.

Nor will any University services be disrupted.  You can expect regular hours and staffing at such facilities as Student Health Services, Morris Library, the Student Recreation Center, the Student Center, and in University Housing.  Delivery of food to Residence Hall Dining will continue and dining services will be available at their regular times.  Saluki Express will maintain its regular schedule. Our Department of Public Safety will continue to ensure a safe campus environment for all.  In other words, it will be business as usual.

If you have questions related to this situation, several offices on campus may be able to help. Questions related to classes and academics may be directed to the Office of Provost at 618/453-5744.  If you have questions regarding other University services, please contact the Office of Dean of Students at 618/453-2461.

In addition, a website will be available next week where you will find additional helpful information and updates on the situation. 

We understand the concerns you may have.  I want to reassure you that our students‚ academic progress will not be disrupted and they will continue to have access to all the essential services they expect and deserve.  Students choose SIU Carbondale for a high-quality educational experience and we will continue to meet their expectations. 


Rita Cheng


  1. This is an appalling attitude. It shows her unfitness for this position as well as Poshard who regards university education as just" a meal ticket to the middle class." Both should go.

  2. Aren't you getting ahead of yourself? The authorization vote has not yet occurred and it could go down in flames. You seem to be presupposing the outcome of the vote!

    No Authorization = no strike = business as usual; so the Chancellor could still be right

  3. I have never had an employer treat me with so much contempt. Does she think the people who teach here are widgets? Our university deserves so much better than this.

  4. Well, you treat the Chancellor, Provost, President and pretty much anyone who does not agree with you with contempt, so why don't we just call it even and go home for the weekend?

  5. Of course a strike would have to be authorized by not just one but two votes (one by the membership, another, subsequently, by the DRC to initiate it). If the membership does not give the DRC the authority to strike, there won't be a strike--at least not until a subsequent positive vote by the membership. But I was assuming a strike just as the Chancellor was, in the sense of discussing what would happen in the event of a strike.

  6. "I have never had an employer treat me with so much contempt."

    When you threaten to go on strike...when you threaten to hinder the operations of the university...when you treat the chancellor and others with contempt...when you call anyone who doesn't agree with you a stooge of the administration...all over some perceived threats to tenure...well, you're not gonna get a lot of sympathy.

  7. Anonymous (3:07 PM) & Dave (4:03 PM):

    I understand that she wants to reassure parents and students, but her promise that university services won't be disrupted seems to presume that a strike is a fait accompli. That assumption seems premature.

    She writes, "I am committed to continuing good-faith negotiations." If that is true, it is possible that there could be a signed contract with the FA and no strike, regardless of the outcome of the FA members' vote. The possibility of that outcome would be a lot more reassuring to me if I were a student or a parent than the possibilities that she emphasizes.

    She could have sent a "we're working hard to resolve things but preparing just in case" message now and waited for a more clearly imminent strike for the "services will be maintained" message.

  8. Commitment to good faith negotiations means nothing. Chancellor needs to make commitment to work with faculty to avoid strike. No Lip Service.

  9. I spoke with mid-level staff for several support services today. They didn't seem too worried about their particular sections--very few of their workers were in the unions, and many subordinates have already stated they could not afford to strike. It seems to me that unless a large majority of the faculty strike, there may be some truth to the chancellor's statement, as nasty as it may sound.

    I am also tired of hearing about "bargaining in good faith." Since when is not caving to union demands "bad faith"? I realize the situation is complex, but given that the state owes SIU $100 million (and no prospects for that budget issue to go away in the near future, give IL's truly financial mess), dithering over the technical language governing tenure or the (from my perspective) ridiculous spat over Distance Ed looks petty, and if there's a strike, it will be bad press for the FA.

    It is perfectly reasonable for two sides to bargain in good faith and still not reach an agreement. Compromise is not always possible. Failure is not necessarily the result of "bad faith."

    If there is a strike, it will turn mean and nasty quickly, unless the administration caves--and I think the chancellor's shot over the bow indicates she is willing to have a fight. Even if there is some kind of compromise afterwards, what I want to know is how the departments will deal with with disagreement among faculty who make different choices during the strike.

    Given the track record I will make this prediction: NOT VERY WELL

  10. People who think that a strike won't be disruptive are dreaming. Any strike will be a big news story throughout the state of Illinois. This will be the first strike in the history of SIUC and a black mark on the current administration. Maintaining "normal operations" during a strike will not stop it from being a media event. Perception is what matters. Both sides need to reach a settlement quickly.

  11. As I drive past the site of the former Sports Stadium, I notice the ground being renovated. Where is this money coming from if the State owes SIUC $100 million and should it not go to other more worthy causes? SIUC has been an administrator's university for the past few decades and Cheng's pathological desire to engage in a fight with the unions rather than work in a co-operative manner is the latest manifestation of this attitude.

  12. @Anonymous 8:11 Generally, I would tend to agree with the spirit of your post. Education should be focused on more than it is. But I believe - correct me if I am wrong here please - that the money for that particular project you mention was earmarked already as part of Saluki Way. Now we can have arguments all we want about the propriety of Saluki Way, but the fact remains that it a) is a done deal and has been for some time now; b) the City of Carbondale and other sources of revenue for the project probably would want their money back if it weren't spent in the manner originally agreed to.

  13. I applaud Joe's honesty on Saluki Way.

  14. Joe: I also am tired (finally) of Saluki Way. But you're wrong about two things. More than half of Saluki Way was paid for by student fees, which could have gone to any purpose. And when the university's budget took a downturn, the city of Carbondale offered to divert its funding from Saluki Way to more pressing priorities. The university turned the city down.

    Once poor decisions have been made about what to fund, they often can't always be taken back. And Cheng didn't start Saluki Way. She has however been happy to continue it. So unless we see a change in priorities around here, I suspect will see more and more funds diverted from teaching and research to other "priorities": administrative buildings (more than $60 million is slated for two new such buildings, the latest phase in Saluki Way--which was, once upon a time, supposed to include an academic building); more money for marketing; athletics, etc.

  15. @6:58 PM

    "Good faith" is a legal term. It is somewhat ambiguous but not totally in the eye of the beholder. The BOT proposed to make a major change to the furlough and reduction in force parts of the contract adding two new articles (18 & 19). In good faith negotiations you would expect some back-and-forth on the wording. That has not happened. Rita uses the term "financial exigency" in her e-mails but won't put it in the contract. I think one can make a case that that is not bargaining in good faith.

    If you don't want to see strike contact the BOT yourself and urge them to authorize their bargaining team to negotiate in earnest. Write the DE and say how much you dislike unions but that realistically the BOT needs to get involved if we are to avoid a strike.

  16. Dave, thanks for the added information here. I was not aware of the City of Carbondale's magnanimity.

  17. I will say this, though. I am not sure how much good rehashing Saluki Way will do us right now. Nor, for that matter, arguing against the new Student Services Building that will be built soon in place of the Faner Parking Garage. I actually think that is a good idea; hopefully it will lessen the alienation that some students express to me about the "Woody Shuffle."

    Now new administration buildings in place of fixing classrooms/building new ones - that's another matter!

  18. Now new administration buildings *beyond the Student Services Building in place of fixing classrooms/building new ones... is what I meant to say.

  19. I really don't care so much for the bickering. What bothered me about the email is that she is trashing the University once again. She says we have money problems and that our faculty can be replaced. If I am selling a service, I would not state that my business has money problems and employees are easily replaced, i.e. not that great.

    So, if I am trying to promote the place, as a business or university, I don't think I want to tell all of the potential "customers" these sorts of things. It is just baffling to me.

  20. Dave Johnson said "More than half of Saluki Way was paid for by student fees, which could have gone to any purpose."

    Not true. Use of student fees is restricted to the original intended purpose of the particular fee. I don't recall there ever being a "faculty salaries student fee".

  21. 11:06: Sorry, I think you're wrong on multiple counts. The least important is that the BOT can change student fees from year to year. It can't take this year's athletics fee and spend it on salaries. But it could change fees next year.

    And of course once the university has launched bonds to pay for something like Saluki Way, it needs to pay them back. Sometimes spending decisions do indeed have long term consequences.

    But I never denied that. I said something else--and note the verb tense. These student dollars "*could have gone* to any purpose". Denying this puts you in good company, as this fallacy is as old as they come. As Aristotle notes somewhere or other, once I've tossed a ball into the air I can't untoss it. But that doesn't mean that I didn't have the freedom to toss it or not to toss it originally.

    Tuition is, in part, a faculty salaries fee. I'm not saying we should raise tuition through the roof to pay faculty more. I'm saying we should make sure that we spend our students' dollars wisely. A new football stadium was not the wisest decision, in my view. Now it's been made, and we're stuck with it. But the fact that we are stuck with it now doesn't mean that the administration had no choice in the matter then.

  22. Anonymous 11:06, The administration claiming monies are restricted for a specific use is a common reason we have heard at the bargaining tables for not being able to meet some of our demands.

    However, last Decemeber they attempted to layoff (partially or in full) 93 NTTs. The vast majority of these teachers were in the Southern Regions Early Childhood Program and in the Center for English as a Second language. SRECP is completely funded by state grants and CESL is a cost recovery program paid for entirely by direct student fees.

    Those teachers salaries were paid for by money that was not SIUs to take and put in their own accounts, but that didnt matter to the administration. They were going to do it anyway and would have if the NTT FA hadnt intervened.

    The university even made the CESL folks and multiple grant funded NTTs take furlough days and took those salary savings and put them in the universities accounts. We have already heard how many of these grant funding agencies are demanding their money back because it wasnt used for the purposes they intended it for.

    The university uses this "restricted money" argument when it wants to and ignores it when it doesnt.


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