Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I Would Strike

To complement earlier testimonials from Suzanne Daughton and Natasha Zarestky, I'm finally getting around to posting my version, which was intended for the FA General Membership meeting back on 9/15. I didn't in fact deliver it there as we were running short on time. If it reads a bit like a speech, that's because that is what it was supposed to be.

My job here today is to say why, given the failure of bargaining to date, we should prepare ourselves to go on strike. The best way I've found to do this is to do it in the first person, to say why, if things do not change, I will go on strike.

I will go on strike if it is the only way to protect the values that led me to join the union in the first place. I believe that a strong faculty union is the only way to protect academic values on this campus, in this political climate, and with this administration. Only we the faculty can protect the principles we believe in: the idea that students are more than consumers in search of job training and more than sources of revenue; the idea that faculty must be free to teach their students, and to do their research in keeping with their own expert understanding of their academic responsibilities; the idea that shared governance must be more than a slogan, that it requires faculty to be true partners in shaping the future of this university. A faculty union cannot and should not do all of these things alone. But without the legal status and, yes, the power that only a union can wield, a power that rests, ultimately, on the willingness of its members to go on strike, only with a union do we stand a fighting chance of protecting the values we all believe in and making this a university that we can all be proud of.

I will go on strike if the administration continues to divert resources away from faculty and into non-academic priorities of its choosing. I am not ashamed to support our union's efforts over the years to secure fair compensation for faculty at this university. Total compensation for SIUC faculty still lags 6% behind our peers, according to the IBHE. Last year SIUC spent some $2.8 million less on faculty than it did the year before, and this year we are on track to spend still less money on faculty, despite overall higher revenues. So, yes, while I recognize that the economy and state budget are both in bad shape, I am proud to have my union fight to close the gap between what I am paid and what my peers are paid—peers who also work in the real world, and also face similar economies and similar state budgets.   

But salaries have not been a major issue at the bargaining table and are not the most important issue for me.  More important than the absolute salary figure we agree on is the very principle that my union has the right to negotiate a salary for me in the first place. This is obviously a core part of our collective bargaining rights, and the administration's imposed terms, and current bargaining posture, strip us of that right. I will go on strike if the administration continues to deny my union the right to negotiate my salary, if the administration continues to claim the unilateral power to slash my wages whenever it sees fit, through furloughs, administrative closures, or whatever verbiage the administration chooses to employ. My union is willing to negotiate reasonable fixed salary figures; it is also willing to establish a process that would allow SIUC to adjust salaries in times of acute financial stress, but only with the approval of the union. What our union should not and shall not do is to agree to cede total control over salaries to the administration, as the administration continues to demand. I will go on strike if the administration does not withdraw this demand and engage in genuine good faith negotiations about faculty salaries on this campus.

I will go on strike if the SIUC administration continues to demand the power to infringe upon my academic freedom to teach as I see fit, and if it continues to demand the power to determine my workload, by refusing to negotiate binding contractual language about distance education and overload teaching. My department chair has authority, within reason, to tell me which courses I must teach; but it has always been understood that I have the freedom and the responsibility to determine how I will teach those courses. Our union is defending us against the administration's efforts to claim the power to tell us that we must teach students via any means they choose, on campus, off campus, at a distance, via the web, over video. I am not opposed to distance education, and neither is my union; but we are opposed to giving the administration the sole power to choose which courses are taught at a distance and which faculty members must teach them. And we rightly demand the right to negotiate fair, transparent, and equitable compensation guidelines for those faculty who choose to teach such courses as an overload. 

I will go on strike if the SIUC administration continues to strive to undermine tenure on this campus. On any fair reading, the imposed terms give the administration far more power than it had in the past to fire faculty in the event of a financial crisis. The imposed terms fail to meet most of the procedural safeguards promoted by the AAUP, safeguards SIUC's own policies protected not that long ago. These guidelines were set in place to implement an agreement made by university professors and university administrators some seventy years ago. Under these standards the American system of higher education has become the envy of the world. But today's administrators apparently know better. Tenure is under attack on many campuses; it is not paranoid to worry that the terms our administration chose to impose last spring are terms it may well choose to make use of. When I went up for tenure, I took it very seriously indeed, and assumed that SIUC meant what it said when I was told that tenure was a lifetime commitment. When I evaluate colleagues going up for tenure now, as I am doing this very week, I take that difficult and sometimes painful process very seriously indeed, and hold those colleagues to high standards. The current administration's imposed terms are an affront to all of us, faculty and administrators alike, who have gone through the tenure system, and enforced the tenure system here at SIUC. 

This is no radical agenda. It is, in fact, a conservative agenda, in the best sense of that word. These are principles that have guided academia for generations. Unions' rights to collective bargaining have been in place for generations.  Our current crop of administrators believe that they know better; that they must have the flexibility, the power, to gut these principles. I disagree. That is why I will go on strike, if the administration continues to demand the power to disregard these principles.

Now by saying "I will go on strike" I have of course been engaging in a sort of rhetorical shorthand.  No one person decides that a union will go on strike, and there are no one-person strikes (or at least no very successful ones). When I say that "I will go on strike" I mean first of all that I will vote in favor of a strike. I mean also that I will in fact go on strike, if my union votes to do so.  I would do so, if that is the majority view, even in the unlikely event that I were in the minority voting the other way, because I believe in my union, and in the democratic process which guides it, and I recognize that we can remain strong only if we remain united.

A strike is a serious means to a serious end. But it is not the most serious of things. It is not, as some of the rhetoric on campus might lead one to believe, the moral equivalent of war. A strike would be a means to securing an agreement between faculty and administration--a collective bargaining agreement--and once that agreement is struck both faculty and administration have a duty to resume a professional relationship and indeed a cordial and productive relationship, one in the best interest of all of us who work at SIUC, and all the students who study here. A strike would indeed lead to disruption on campus; students would miss classes, though perhaps those classes would be made up. But this would not be the first or last time students miss class. A strike would lead to division between faculty on either side of the picket line; but professional and cordial and indeed even friendly relationships could and should survive a strike. I have friends on the faculty who will likely not go on strike, despite (or perhaps because of?) my best arguments to the contrary. I fully expect that we will remain friends.

But going on strike will still take courage. (As a classicist I'm used to using old-fashioned words like courage.) There are risks, particularly but not only financial risks, and though they are sometimes overstated, no one can know precisely how a strike would unfold or how or when it would end. So striking takes courage. There is another thing that will take courage, I suspect. Debating whether to go on strike will take courage. There will be rooms in which it will require courage to support a strike, and there will be rooms in which it will require courage to oppose a strike. Let us all have the courage to debate a strike in a way that is both true to our own principles and respectful of those with whom we disagree.

To close. I will of course listen, intently, to the debates to come, and there could be changes at the bargaining table that will affect my position. But one cannot base one's current position on what may happen or on what one hopes may happen in the future. My position is based on the current situation, and on the principles I've tried to sketch here. On the issues I've outlined above, progress at bargaining is essentially at a standstill. The current administration policy is utterly unacceptable. I am therefore prepared to vote to authorize my union to go on strike. And if my fellow union members join me in voting for a strike, and the union leadership thereafter sets a date for a strike, I will be there on the picket line, on that morning when a strike would start. I will go on strike if I must. I don't want to, but I will.


  1. Dave,
    I will be with you at the picket line. This fight is not for short term gains or loss, it is for the future of SIUC and our students.

  2. Nice post.

    Marcus (honorifics omitted)

  3. Dave,

    Would you please (re)post the FA's current list of issues/demands? Some time ago, RH posted a list of about 6 or 8 items the FA was standing firm on. I cannot find a copy and would like to see a current list before deciding how to vote Wednesday.


  4. I'm with Anonymous 1:52 here. I also need these to firm up my decision. But it would also help in our outreach to students.

  5. Dave, Thanks for your excellent post. While I still have hope that a strike can be averted, I will be right there with you on the picket line if it should come to pass.

  6. Ditto on Anonymous 1:52 and Joe Sramek: we were told at the Friday meeting that the info. would be up. Is it?

    Also, I got an email claiming that deans and chairs were asking people about the strike vote. Is FA going to file a Unfair Labor Practice charge before the strike? Any specifics? Or are we in "Joe McCarthy land" (I have here a list of names but I won't let you see it. Still, get scared and angry!). Just wondering.

    I looked up the IL Ed Labor Relations legal code and there has to be an implicit or explicit reprisal or benefit element. Even employers have first amendment rights though this is one of those grey areas.

  7. COMPLETELY unrelated, I posted nonpartisan, no-taking-sides list of "Happy Songs for the Strike Vote Blues" and will take nominations. The blog posting contains the embedded videos.

    Nominations welcome! (Remember, HAPPY, no angry, sad, or primal scream therapy tapes!). OR

  8. Anonymous (1:52 PM):

    Is this the one? It doesn't say anything about "standing firm" but it has 6-8 bullet points.

  9. Yes, that is what I was looking for.

  10. thanks for looking, but that's not the one I was thinking of. My recollection here is vague, sorry!
    I think it might have been pone of the strike watch announcements and a dimly remember that the last bullet might have been about fair share.

    Many, many apologies for not having a better memory of the list (goes with age), but that is why I would like to see a current list anyway.

  11. Try this list-- second to last is fair share.

  12. That's the one! Thanks!!

  13. Re administrators asking faculty about a strike: Randy Hughes sent out an email on this on Sunday. Some administrators, whether through ignorance or not, have crossed a line by asking faculty to tell them whether they would strike. The FA has written the administration's lawyers telling them to "cease and desist" from this practice. Best to nip this sort of thing in the bud, as I hope it will be. Randy did not name names, I assume, both to protect the faculty (or other sources--I don't know the origin of his information) who shared this information with him. Doing so also avoids public outing and attacks on administrators who may have been more guilty of stupidity than some darker intent. Should the practice continue now, it will clearly be a case of the latter rather than the former.

  14. I have typed about a half dozen different introductions to this post to tone down my reply. The previosu post tries to make it appear that RH’s email was restrained in that he “did not name names” and was “avoiding public outing and attacks on administrators”. To say you were putting a favorable spin on RH’s allegation is an understatement.

    The very specific allegation from RH is that: ”it has come to [his] attention that Deans and others in supervisory/administrative authority have been instructed to poll faculty and staff as to an individual’s potential action or opinion about a strike." Let’s apply a little critical thinking here. The only people who could “instruct” the Deans are the Provost, Chancellor and possibly the President. How could RH have knowledge of *instructions* from any of those to the Deans? Do you think that it is plausible that one of the Deans called him and told him? Hmmm, not so likely. Is it possible that someone in the Chancellor’s or Provost’s office has been reading emails or memos or other documents to which they were not supposed to be privy, and passing that on? IMO, also unlikely. (Whatever your opinion of the Chancellor and Provost, it does not even seem probable that they would be stupid enough to commit such an instruction to writing; and even if that were true and RH was receiving stolen information, he too would be in violation of the IELRA, but that too seems implausible). None of the above is impossible, but, at least to me, these scenarios seem implausible.

    Could RH have indirect information about such instructions? Possibly, but second-hand information would need pretty strong corroboration to support/justify such a serious and direct charge that higher administrators had “issued instructions”, and all of the above would apply to RH’s source(s) as well.

    Is it possible that a chair (or similar) has made some inopportune comments or said something that has been misinterpreted? Yes, absolutely, as you suggest. Many administrators at that level have little experience in labor relations and only indirect access to LR counsel. Such things arguably should not occur and should be addressed, but that circumstance is a far cry from RH’s charges.

    Is it possible that this allegation is based on rumor and/or innuendo? RH offers nothing supporting his allegation, only that “it has come to [his] attention”. Obviously the FA has an interest in making sure that faculty passions are as inflamed as possible at present, so a little exaggeration to stir the pot is not out of the question. So insinuations of “darker intent” spin both ways. RH could have simply said that faculty should be aware that they have no obligation to answer such questions if asked and that if they are concerned then they could contact the FA. But he did not - he went out of his way to make a specific and inflammatory allegation that such actions, if they have occurred, had occurred as the result of specific instructions from the higher administration. So I think it wise to take this allegation under advisement unless and until it is backed up by a little _actual evidence_. Show me the data. Sorry folks, with this much at stake, unsupported allegations in just not enough.

  15. Like many others here, I am struggling. While I absolutely agree with everything Dave has written in this post, I am also quite concerned by the ways in which I believe the FA has failed to faithfully and effectively reflect the best interests of the faculty. In particular, it appears to me that charges of "surface bargaining" and making misleading statements could actually be made in both directions. I have outlined the most notable issue below:

    The SIUCFA Fact Sheet ( that the bargaining team reviewed “several Faculty contracts from across the country,” that their goal was to include “meaningful Faculty involvement in decisions relating to layoffs,” and that the plan would ensure that “representatives of the Faculty and the Administration jointly participate in the declaration of a strictly defined condition of financial exigency.” These statements fail to accurately convey the full scope of what is proposed in the full Supposal (,%202011.doc).

    Key points from the Supposal:
    •“No Faculty member shall receive notice of non-reappointment under Article 11 during the academic year in which financial exigency is alleged by the Chancellor to exist”
    •“A state of bona fide and legitimate financial exigency occurs when four consecutive state audits demonstrate substantial and recurring financial deficits and continuing crisis which threaten the survival of SIU as a system, and substantial financial losses have been projected by generally accepted accounting principles to persist for more than two (2) years and threaten the continued functioning of the University as a whole.”
    •Also note the dictated terms: the mandated number of steps and requirements for timing at every stage of the process.

    It is difficult to understand how the SIUCFA can claim that its Supposal is based upon real conditions at comparable institutions. A quick review of a few key points in comparison to the policies of a few SIUC’s peers reveals just how out-of-step this Supposal is--especially in its attempts to cripple the administration in any attempt at a declaration of financial exigency and/or realistic and timely evaluation of programs. At the same time, the Supposal fails to provide the kinds of reality-based guidance and protection for faculty that are found in other institutions’ policies.

    Financial exigency plans at selected peer institutions (in declining order of favorability to faculty, most to least):

    Texas Tech:
    Note especially the involvement of faculty in the declaration and in planning for reductions, and the attention to reducing administrative and other non-teaching expenses.

    Auburn University:
    Kansas State:
    Similar to the Chancellor’s plan in the ability of the chief executive to declare alone, but note the standard for notification of affected faculty (Part VID): one year or as close to that as possible, with exceptions allowed for severe financial conditions. Note also the balance to be maintained among administrative and faculty positions.

    In short, while I certainly endorse the FA's opposition to the current administrative policies, it is difficult to support an organization that has not offered a realistic alternative.

  16. I'll respond right quick to 4:02, which I had to rescue from the spam folder (perhaps because of the bullet points, which seem to send off alarm bells).

    The FA supposal certainly aims to fully ensure full faculty involvement, and guarantee that the financial exigency is legitimate. That's what we would expect from the FA, I think. We once had a phony financial exigency around here, after all. What we should expect from the administration is more or less what anonymous has given us--i.e., an attempt to grapple with the details and figure out a process that protects both faculty interests and institutional flexibility. I'm praising anonymous, by the way.

    For the actual administrative response, as I understand it, has been "we're not interested". They're not interested, that is, in reaching agreement on a financial exigency policy--they want to dictate it. And their current policy, as I argued in my post on tenure some time back, is both (a) a mess and (b) fails to secure faculty the sort of involvement they should have to ensure that cuts made under financial exigency are made in a way that preserves academic values, rather than an opportunity for administrators to rebuild the university in their own image.

  17. Dave, thanks for your immediate response. I only wish that you could give me a little more explanation of why the FA feels that administrative excesses in proposals on their side justify the same from the FA. Sadly, I'm afraid that this pattern has contributed to a lack of sympathy for faculty--especially those with tenure--from people who do not already understand how academia works. I was, BTW, a long-time union member at another institution, and I am really surprised by the FA's strategy on this.

    I'm also kind of stunned by the lack of effective public education on the wider issues: explanations of why this is not just a matter of interest for the faculty themselves, but one of pressing economic and educational importance to the region and the state. I would like to offer you my own summary of talking points on this issue. Please feel free to use anything here in any way you would like.

    Why faculty hiring and retention matters—beyond its importance to individual faculty members and departments:
    -SIUC’s role in the economy of Southern Illinois:
    -67% of employment in Jackson County is directly attributable to SIUC (according to Census information), and SIUC influences the employment and economic situation throughout the region. A non-negligible portion of this employment is funded through grants.
    -In an era of decreasing state and federal funds for education, grant funding underwrites an increasing number of positions, and pays for an increasing amount of local and regional spending on contracted labor, materials and supplies as well.
    -Grant acquisition relies upon faculty expertise and experience.
    -The administration’s current (imposed) policy with regard to tenure and reductions in force threatens far more than a few faculty jobs; in a world where faculty members who are accomplished in grant acquisition can and will go elsewhere if their own professional future is insecure, this policy poses a substantial threat to employment throughout Southern Illinois.

    SIUC’s traditional mission for Illinois:
    -SIUC traditionally serves bright and promising students from throughout Illinois who may not have other options due to lack of adequate preparation and/or poor performance on the standardized measures that increasingly dominate public education.
    -These students typically lack both economic and educational resources.
    -In other words, if they are to succeed they need support for both tuition and expenses and academic and personal support services from well-prepared faculty members and staff.
    -These are students, in short, who cost more to educate, and for whose educational costs SIUC relies upon state and federal funds—which are increasingly undependable.
    -Therefore, enrolling more of these students actually increases costs since the additional per-head funding from the state—even if it is paid fully and on time—does not actually meet the total costs.
    -Thus, if we are to continue to fulfill this mission—(which I argue that we should, and which seems vital to improving Illinois's economic situation)—other means must be found to improve SIUC’s fiscal outlook.
    -In other words, the Administration’s current solution—to increase enrollment—is not only futile, but dangerous: it will further undercut SIUC’s fiscal situation while also threatening retention in an era of performance-based funding.
    -And the Administration's current strategy with regard to faculty and staff contracts further undercuts efforts to improve retention, as well as threatening the ability of faculty members and departments who will attract grant funding and help to finance support services for our students.

  18. I think you are missing the point. The absurdity of the 4 consecutive year plan has been discussed on this blog before. Dave's critique here is that the administration’s response is "we're not interested" . Well *of course* they’re not interested, it’s an absurd proposal! But even after it has been pointed out that its absurd, the FA is still pushing it.

    Its not the administration's job to offer another alternative. The authority to declare financial exigency/emergency is something that the administration already has _by statute_. So first, it’s not clear (to me) that they can negotiate surrender or sharing of that authority since that responsibility is vested in the BOT by the State; and second even if they could be persuaded to agree to a reasonable proposal (that is they concluded that such did not conflict with statutory obligations), The FA has not put up a reasonable alternative proposal. They (the FA) are simply insisting on a proposal that the Administration has already said it cannot accept and that many folks feel is inherently goofy. Under the FA plan an emergency could be considered if we had four consecutive years of (say) -5% budgets, but one could not be declared if we had a one year budget cut of -50% - goofy.

    That sounds to me exactly like what the FA is accusing the administration of, not being willing to give and take but insisting on one plan even though it is not acceptable to the other - in this instance, at least, for obviously sound reasons.

  19. The 2006-2010 contract has a Side Letter on "Lay Off and Financial Exigency." But it seems to be missing from the copy on the FA webpage. Does anyone know where it is?

    There is a more recent supposal of March 28. I'm not sure if it is any different from the January one 4:02 PM linked to.

  20. Here, FYI, is the contract at EIL for tenure track faculty. See Article 17.

  21. Thanks, Mike!

    Back when the imposed terms were first imposed, the chancellor told the Faculty Senate that Article 19 was standard language like the faculty at Eastern, Western and Northern had. It's useful to see exactly how Article 19 of the imposed terms is similar to and different from Eastern's Article 17.

    For additional comparison, see Western's Article 24.

  22. Clodius, despite his/her ill-omened Roman name (Publius Clodius Pulcher, perhaps? What a scumbag!), is really on to somethign in comparing (and contrasting) the Western article with the imposed terms. Two big differences: the imposed terms make no mention of financial exigency (precisely the point the FA has been harping on!) and the imposed terms do not say that the university has to make a reasonable effort to find employees work in other units.

    The lattern is a crucial part of tenure protection, which was enshrined in what my tenure 2.0 post calls the "original SIUC policy" but has been lost since. It basically means that if there's a financial exigency and your unit is targeted for cuts, you could still retain a job at SIUC if your expertise is needed by a unit that needs help. The imposed terms say only that that the BOT will "review" such opportunities: they do not demand that the BOT make any effort whatsoever to find you another spot.

    Mike, the full 2006-2010 contract, complete with side letters, can be found at the old website here.

    The imposed terms, of course, contain no such side letter.

  23. Anonymous 4:02: there's lots of food for thought in your thoughtful comment. I'll only manage (in the current rush!) to agree with one point you make, that the administration's assumption that more students simply means more money. We've got to attract students--including students from underserved socio-economic backgrounds--who we can successfully educate.

  24. Clodius,

    Yes, but 4:02 PM's point that the FA's supposal is rather Byzantine is a valid one. It seems there is room for a middle ground. I don't know what the discussions at the bargaining meetings have been like. I know they aren't supposed to bargain in the press, and yet the rest us want to know what has been happening especially if we are to go on strike. I will strike to make clear the imposed terms are unacceptable. But I would like to see more recent and varried supposals by the FA. The bargaining update site stops at April.

  25. Thanks Dave. But the side letter is missing. It maybe a computer problem on my end however as there are some pages at the end that are blank except for the word "graphics" and then a number.

  26. Sorry to be answering in more or less random order.

    Anonymous 6:08: The FA--here actually in keeping with current BOT policy--tries to maintain a hard and fast distinction between long term financial crises (which can amount to financial exigency) and shorter term crises (which do not). Hence the four year stuff. The reduction in force language, allowing layoffs (and termination) of faculty would apply only to a long-term crisis. But the FA also offered a supposal for short term crises, temporary pay reductions (more or less furloughs).

    I frankly don't know whether statue rules out meaningful faculty involvement in a declaration of financial exigency, as you claim, but I rather doubt it. Which statue do you have in mind?

    Good faith bargaining can be in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. But the FA has at least worked hard to put together a coherent set of proposals on matters like layoffs and furloughs. The administration's current tenure policy is incoherent, I've argued. And the essential point is that they don't want to have to commit to any such policy in a contract. One can understand why--administrators often don't want their hands tied by contractual language.

    But the FA has a legal right and responsibility to negotiate the terms and condition of employment. For faculty that includes, I'd say, not only furloughs (also an issue for all the other unions) but tenure. The FA doesn't have the right to determine what language on tenure goes in the contract, but it does, I think, have the right and duty to ensure that there is clear language on tenure in the contract (unless, as in the last two contracts, all agree to punt by signing a side letter which rules out action on certain aspects of tenure, as financial exigency).

  27. Almost a chat room tonight. My understanding is there was no negotiation on RIF (layoffs) over the summer or earlier this fall. Both sides agreed to concentrate on matters that they thought would be easier to resolve. There was some success in signing tentative agreements that left previous articles unchanged. And the two sides did at least clarify where they disagreed on distance learning--including on whether the administration should have the power to force faculty to teach DL courses.

    A strong vote on 9/28 can lead to more movement on the biggest issues.

    I will agree to critics of the FA in the following sense. If the FA demands administrative approval of its proposals on RIF as is, that would be pretty good evidence of an inflexible attitude. But I expect nothing of the sort. The details can be negotiated. The process can be streamlined. The key for the FA, I think, will be to ensure some basic principles: that faculty have a meaningful participatory roll in determining that a financial exigency exists, and that they have a still greater role in determining how cuts due to financial exigency are allocated. These are the FA's "interests" as I understand them (to allude to the "interest based bargaining" approach we've advocated and the administration has snubbed): any procedure that meets these interests should be acceptable. Any that does not should be opposed.

  28. Dave might delete the comment I'm responding toSeptember 29, 2011 at 5:42 AM

    To UPE's MBA Courses (3:26 AM):

    I'm struggling to decide if you are spam or if the suggestion that the chancellor is planning to offshore the university isn't as crazy as it seemed at first.

  29. Thanks to "Dave might delete the comment": I just did. That was a clever bit of spam, I think.


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