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.

Cheng is quoted in the DE as saying that the union bargaining teams were not available over the summer:

Cheng said she is disappointed the unions will have authorization votes because they were not available over the summer and have only met four times this semester. 
“To get this announcement, after four meetings, seems unfair,” she said. “Their claim of not being flexible and bargaining unfairly is just untrue. The bargaining team for the university, I feel, is doing a fantastic job.”
There is similar language in the email.  The Chancellor believes she can prove that her team has been flexible by saying that they have been willing to meet the faculty, as if saying "we're not interested in that" makes you flexible, if you say it often enough. She then chose to bicker about which side turned down more meeting dates. The first sentence in her statement, if taken to mean, as it naturally would, that the FA team refused to meet over the summer, is demonstrably false. The FA team met with the administration on May 10 and 11, and on July 5, 11, and 12. Other summer dates were suggested by both sides, but scuttled when a member from one team or the other was unable to meet. My understanding is that the administration team could not meet in June, due to the absence of one of their members, and that the FA team turned down dates during the first three weeks of August due to the absence of one of their members. Cheng's claim that the FA is unwilling to meet during off hours is also false. I happen to know that the FA bargaining team met with the adminstration team on the Friday evening (c. 4-7pm) before the labor day weekend--because I happened to run into them at Starbucks as they caffeinated themselves in advance. Randy Hughes has written a letter to the editor of the Southern responding to the charge about summer meetings and I expect there will be a further response from the bargaining team. I am also sure that our team would be more than happy to meet with the administration team far more frequently than they have done so far this semester.

2. Tenure.  In her email, the Chancellor has essentially repeated her message from April. I have already addressed this issue at length. As I said there, current SIUC policy on tenure is unclear, but even under a charitable reading fails to provide adequate protection for faculty tenure as called for by the AAUP principles and procedures. And protestations by the Chancellor in an email do not carry any binding force: one must go by what is in the contract and by what is in BOT and SIUC policy (the latter to a lesser degree, as the contract trumps BOT and SIUC policies, and as such policies can be changed by the BOT or SIUC without faculty input--just as the BOT invented "unpaid administrative closures" last fall). And the FA bargaining team is wise not to give the contract a charitable reading, but rather to interpret it in the least charitable way: that's how one reads legalistic language. The essential element missing, to my mind, is adequate faculty participation in the financial exigency declaration itself and, still more pressingly, the need for faculty to have the "primary responsibility" (the AAUP's term) in determining which faculty would be laid off in the event of a bona fide financial exigency. This is an essential check on administrative power: a financial exigency declaration cannot be allowed to become an excuse to give the administration carte blanche to remake the university as it sees fit.

I continue to remain fairly optimistic that this issue can be resolved in relatively short order should the administration be willing to clarify its current policy and ensure a robust faculty role in declaring and implementing any cuts due to financial exigency. The FA proposal outlines an excellent way to make this work. If the Chancellor means what she says about tenure, this issue ought to be solvable. 

3.  The Chancellor confesses herself puzzled that the FA has made academic freedom a rallying cry. It is of course true that academic freedom is a broad concept, and that the administration is not attacking it on all conceivable fronts. To the best of my knowledge, the FA's major concern here (outside tenure) is related to distance education, to which we now turn.

4. Regarding distance learning, I believe the Chancellor has pretty clearly outlined the disagreement--though of course from her perspective, and without seeing the implications for academic freedom. The administration wants the authority to tell faculty that they have to teach distance learning courses. The FA regards this as undermining the traditional academic freedom given to faculty members to determine how they teach their courses. Most readers of this blog will understand the normal way things work. Roughly speaking, chairs have the primary responsibility to say which classes faculty teach, but faculty have the responsibility to determine how to teach the courses they are assigned. 

So even if I want to teach an advanced seminar and am tired of teaching Greek Civilization, for example, I can't refuse to teach Greek Civ (though I might have some case to make if my chair is punitively assigning me Greek Civ while others teach seminars--which she hasn't, I hasten to add). But if my chair tells me that I have to teach Greek civ using only primary sources, or using this textbook instead of that one; that I have to show one video a week, or no videos; that I must, or must not, use Powerpoint; that I have to emphasize the role of women and slaves in ancient Greece, or must instead concentrate on economic or political or military history--well, then she is impinging on my academic freedom to teach. Telling me that I must now teach Greek civ at a distance--via the internet, via a video feed, etc., is a pretty large intrusion into this sort of academic freedom.

5. Overload teaching. A formatting error in the Chancellor's email left me slightly unsure what she was saying, but I believe her position is that the administration should be able to pay faculty between 0.5 and 1.0 months in salary for each overload class. The FA has suggested a figure slightly above 1.0 months in salary. Given that the contract defines a full load as 24 credit hours per year, an additional three credit hour course would represent a 1/8 increases in one's workload, and therefore ought to give one 1/8 more salary. 1/8 of nine months salary is 1.13 months worth of salary. This position seems eminently reasonable to me. 

The board proposes a range from 1/9 to 1/18 of one's salary. This proposal of a range of a salary would induce a race to the bottom, in which departments desperate to cover extra courses (due to lost lines) would be pressured to get faculty to teach for half a month's salary. Or, perhaps, ambitious departments would push faculty to offer new courses to bring in more students--and you can bring in twice as many students per buck at half a month's salary. The Chancellor claims that her proposal would increase the amount of money available to faculty for overload teaching; as SIUC previously had no overload policy, I'm not sure what she means. (Perhaps she means that the old ULP scheme, which paid faculty by the head, often paid faculty less than a month's salary.)  

Summer courses are currently compensated via one month's pay: it is hard to see why the administration believes it is fair to pay faculty half as much for courses taught during the regular year. 

6.  Finances and salary. The Chancellor's modest salary increases, not specified here, would mean that FA members would not even recoup losses due to the furloughs last year in the course of their four year contract (the informal offer thus far, starting last year: -2%, 0%, 0.5%, 1%).  She congratulates the custodian's union on accepting a contract offer with raises rather higher than that (though over a different time period); perhaps, as negotiations proceed, we could expect to do as well as the janitorial staff. The FA salary proposal, to repeat, would tie faculty salaries to SIUC finances. Essentially, if SIUC overall revenues go up by 3%, we get a 3% raise. The key here is to ensure that SIUC does not continue to shift money from the classroom to other "priorities"--athletics, marketing, "non-faculty professionals", construction. As I never tire saying, SIUC spent $2.8 million less on faculty last year than the year before, and will spend still less this year, due to the hiring freeze. Tying faculty salaries to the overall budget would ensure that faculty's share of the overall budget does not continue to shrink, while not tying the university to fixed raises that could become problematic in genuinely difficult financial times.  

The Chancellor failed to mention her position that the university have the ability to cut our salaries via furloughs, perhaps because it is rather difficult to defend. Or may her email was already long enough, as is this post.  

[The Chancellor's email follows. The formatting is unchanged. As with other emails she's sent out, there are some glitches in the formatting as it comes through on my Mac. Here, in addition to the odd exclamation point and line break, there is a confusing formatting error: As indicated above, I believe the board's proposal is for overload teaching to be compensated at 0.5 to 1.0 months in salary, but on my machine the Chancellor appears to be using the Greek letter Π. I will therefore take this opportunity to invite her to join my Greek class.]  

To the University Community

I am happy to announce last Friday, the Service Employees International Union representing the custodians ratified a four-year contract. The terms provide for a 1 percent mid-year salary increase in January; a 1 percent salary increase in fiscal year 2013; a 2 percent increase in fiscal year 2014; and an increase in the fourth year to be determined by the SIU Board of Trustees. I believe that this Agreement protects the interests of and provides stability to the employees and SIU Carbondale for the next four years. Thank you to all the individuals who worked diligently to this end result.

At the same time, as you may have heard, the leadership of the Faculty Association has reportedly authorized a strike vote for later this month, and three other bargaining units affiliated with the Illinois Education Association are reportedly conducting similar discussions. The lack of significant recent progress in the negotiations is as frustrating to me, as perhaps it is to you. Please be assured that I am committed to continuing good-faith negotiations and to reaching a fiscally responsible solution with these and other unions on campus. Our bargaining team has repeatedly offered to meet evenings, weekends and early mornings. I have directed the members of our bargaining team to continue to make themselves available daily, including evenings, early mornings and Saturdays and Sundays. I encourage the Faculty Association to make that same commitment.

It is not my intent to negotiate through the media or through this forum.  However, members of the Faculty Association have raised several issues publicly that I believe require clarification or response. Notably I have in mind concerns related to the supposed destruction or elimination of tenure, academic freedom, and distance education. As a long-time tenured Faculty member, I understand the importance of the protections of tenure and the need for academic freedom. Tenure and academic freedom are the cornerstones of this University. I am committed to protecting these essential rights. 

Nothing in the Board‚s proposals eliminates or harms tenure or the Faculty Association‚s right to bargain any reduction in force. I want to make two very clear points related to tenure. First, tenured faculty may only be laid off under two circumstances: (1) the declaration of a financial exigency by the Board of Trustees or (2) a program discontinuation. Second, the proposals advanced by the Board during negotiations merely create and define the process to be used in the unlikely event a reduction in force becomes necessary. I would encourage you to review my message from April of 2011 for greater details and information on this issue. (

Members of the Faculty Association, including officers, have publicly stated that we are harming or eliminating academic freedom at the University. Like tenure, this freedom is essential to fostering the creation of new knowledge and the exploration of ideas. None of the Board‚s proposals modify the academic freedoms currently enjoyed by the faculty on this campus. In fact, it is important to note that both bargaining teams tentatively agreed to the contract articles governing tenure and academic freedom last February. These articles remain virtually unchanged from the prior collective bargaining agreement. Based on these agreements, it is a little puzzling that these issues are still being raised in statements to the public.

At the same time, there are issues that have been raised publicly on which we have continuing disagreement. Specifically, there has been considerable public comment by the Faculty Association regarding the issue of distance education. As most of you are already aware, SIU Carbondale is taking deliberate and purposeful steps to grow its fledgling distance education offerings. It is the Board‚s position that distance education course offerings should be treated the same as other course offerings including the development of courses and the assignment of courses as part of the regular faculty workload. However, the Faculty Association continues to insist that a faculty member should have the right to refuse to teach a distance education course.  Such a position would prove costly to the institution, causing an unnecessary need to add faculty or eliminate important course offerings to our students. The Board has provided proposed language to clarify that current contract languag!
e requires the University to consider Faculty interests and expertise among other things in assigning courses. In addition, we have put forth proposals that would increase the compensation available to faculty who elect to teach a course, including a distance education course, outside of their normal workload. That increase would permit faculty to receive ∏ - 1 month salary for these types of overload assignments. Unfortunately, the Faculty Association has insisted upon a rate above this already increased amount.

It is also critical that contract negotiations be viewed within the context of our financial situation.  You will recall that last fiscal year, we faced a structural deficit of $5.6 million. Thanks to sacrifices made by all employees, including unpaid closure days, furlough days, unfilled positions, and reductions in other-than-salary budget lines, we ended fiscal year 2011 with expenditures reduced to within our budget and maintained the ability to pay our bills over the summer 2011.  We entered this academic year projecting a balanced budget, though we remain in a fiscally uncertain environment with the State of Illinois owing our campus roughly $100 million.

Moreover, while we are turning the corner on enrollment of new students, the effects of past enrollment declines are still impacting overall enrollment.  We did experience a 1.1 percent decline in fall enrollment, which cost our University approximately $1 million in revenue.  Despite these financial challenges, we have brought modest salary increase proposals to the bargaining table. These proposals were designed to balance the various financial needs of the campus and protect against the need to impose a large tuition increase or implement layoffs while also providing a guaranteed salary increase to our employees.  We plan to continue good faith discussions with all of our unions.

I have instructed the bargaining team to continue to seek fair, fiscally responsible agreements with all of our bargaining units that are in the best interests of our students, our employees, and our University while protecting tenure and academic freedom for our Faculty.  And, we continue to pay competitive salaries and benefits, honor promotions, sabbaticals, and other faculty rights and protections.  As always, we encourage all represented employees to share their ideas and opinions with their bargaining unit and labor union leadership, as we work with these organizations to resolve these issues.


Rita Cheng


  1. Why has no one commented on her opening statement about the agreement with SEIU union? Any word from their representatives? I understand they represent physical plant and janitors??? So the lights will still be on?

    "the contract trumps BOT and SIUC policies" -- except it says that it doesn't contravene BOT policies.

    I don't have time (long day) to go into why Distance Ed pay might be 1/2-1.0 month. There is an interactive formula used to calculate pay (I'll find the link later). And there is an old rule that we can't earn more than 20% of our base salary DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR. The origins of the rule are hazy but there we are. I'm sure they would love to get it changed. As for summer, it is a "union free" period and administration can negotiate freely with individual faculty based on enrollment. But this is a long post and I'm sick of talking about Distance Ed.

    Last, if over half the faculty in FA are CoLA, this college is going to take a real hit. Any breakdown by college as to FA membership?

  2. After everything Cheng has been doing, do you really trust her? I don’t. Just because she is Chancellor, people tend to read her statements more than David Johnson’s or Randy Hughes’s. She is taking advantage of this to mislead everyone. I don’t know why people don’t see that she is spoiling SIUC, spoiling morale of SIUC faculty and staff, and spoiling quality of education at SIUC. No matter whether there is a strike or not, whether the contract is settled within next few weeks or not, damage has already been done. She has created friction between faculty members. Relationship between her administration and SIUC employees (except some of her puppets) is so damaging that it is hurting students. I don’t feel like going out of my way to help students the same way I used to do. If Cheng does not care about SIUC, why should I.

  3. Then why are you still here? Are you desperate?

  4. Dave,

    You buried the lead on this post. I already have forgotten most of it, save the one line that had me gasping with laughter.

    "Perhaps, as negotiations proceed, we could expect to do as well as the janitorial staff."

  5. And I love that you invited the Chancellor to your Greek class. Total genius!

  6. One one hand you blame your Mac for formatting errors, then on the other you suggest the chancellor isn't smart enough to do it right.

    In any event, it has nothing to do with contract negotiations. C'mon Dave.

  7. 8:30, ok, maybe rather than good fun this is petty, but haven't others noticed the same problem? I don't get these formatting errors in any other emails. I would think that someone in the chancellor's office or campus IT could get this fixed. As someone who's struggled with various formatting problems on this blog and elsewhere I (a) can understand that such problems can be a colossal pain to fix but (b) have generally managed to make the effort to fix them myself. This is the sort of formatting error I point out, gently, to students (say when their paragraph structure is lost on a blackboard post). Should I expect less of the Chancellor?

    But enough: I hereby vow to never again mention that the Chancellor's apostrophes appear as commas when viewed on an operating system employed by 1/3 of the users on campus (judging by the stats on this blog, at any rate).

  8. @Anonymous 8:36 PM

    If you don't like working at a unionized campus, why don't you get a job at a non-union college?

  9. @Anonymous 10:19am

    My comment was aimed at the previous poster who said they didn't feel like going out of their way to help students. I hope we can agree that this person should not be teaching anywhere. Do you disagree?

  10. Anonymous, 10:19. This is the type of reaction that Cheng has caused. It is a mark of despair and frustration. Could anyone ever again feel the same type of dedication if they have lost tenure, expect to be fired at the whim of administrators, and forced to teach online, distance courses which many feel is a travesty of higher education? Don't blame the victim for expressing this type of alienation but blame Cheng and her "pets" for causing it.

  11. I teach on this campus just like you do and I haven't lost any dedication to my students. If you are not dedicated to your students, you shouldn't be teaching. Period. I will not allow any administrator to make me lose dedication to my students. That why I won't strike.

  12. *That's* why I won't strike.

  13. @ Anon 2:31,

    I agree we should be dedicated to our students regardless of the admin's actions. I took your "you" of 8:36 to be aimed at the blog poster.

    However, striking is a right (although not an absolute one) in free societies. Students will be inconvenienced if there is a strike. They will survive however. And a strike may be the only way to protect tenure at SIUC which is necessary for a robust academic life. I hope the BOT won't let it come to a strike.

    Even if you won't strike you might take the time to right the BOT and urge them to negotiate. I realize that being anti-union (if you are) is not the same as being pro-admin (on these issues). Union and non-union faculty should work together on common concerns.

    -- Anon 10:19


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.