Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Me and Mr. Baggott

The office of the Chancellor attempted to disrupt the informational meeting the IEA unions held for students in Lawson Hall on campus today. They did not succeed; at least 250 students came to the meeting, and most questions and comments from those in attendance were quite supportive of the unions.

I was in the middle of the abortive attempt to disrupt this meeting, and I don't come out of it unscathed, but I'm going to give you the straight scoop, as there will be rumors about this and the story may get reported in the DE (which interviewed me about it). The moral of the story is as I report it in the lead, but like many such stories, there's something of a twist.

I was the guy who reserved the room in Lawson for the meeting. I did so the same lazy way I do most such things, by having our very competent civil service staff do the work. Get me a big room in Lawson on October 5 from 5-7, I said, and they did. I did not bother telling them the purpose of the meeting, which was a mistake, and the office staffer, asked to supply one, said "study session", as that's a reason I've reserved such rooms in the past. I subsequently learned that the staff member had reported this reason, but I did not correct it. In the past, when reserving a Lawson room myself (because the relevant staffer was out sick) for a meeting of the union's Departmental Representatives Council, I had truthfully but not terribly informatively said "faculty meeting" when asked for the purpose of the event.

So this afternoon at 2:30 or so an office staffer calls me to say that Jake Baggott (Assistant to the Chancellor) wanted to talk to me, as he had learned that I'd reserved the room, and was steamed about it. Yikes, I thought to myself, perhaps letting that meeting be called a "study session" wasn't such a good idea. Before calling Baggott back I called Randy Hughes (FA President), who called to my attention the following bit of the contract:
Section 4.07.  Association Use of University Equipment, Facilities or Supplies.  The Association may use University equipment, facilities and/or supplies, including but not limited to copiers, telephones, e-mail, and meeting rooms, if such usage has been pre-approved, in writing. Such use shall not take precedence over University needs and any materials used or other costs incurred shall be reimbursed by the Association if requested by the Board. 
I didn't know this bit of the contract until this afternoon. Technically, then, I was in violation of the contractual policy, as I'd not secured pre-approval in writing. Technically, of course, every time any of us has sent an email about union business without written pre-approval from the Board, we've also been in violation. This, at any rate, was what I thought Baggott was going to complain about. But when I talked to Mr. Baggott--and voluntarily disclosed the clumsy procedure I'd used in getting the room--he didn't complain about the procedure. I dwell on it here only because if asked about this incident now, he may note this procedural flaw.

This afternoon, he really just had one thing to say to me: "The room in Lawson isn't available for the purpose you requested it for". When I asked him if Lawson Hall was full at that hour (as I knew it could not be), he replied, "The room in Lawson isn't available for the purpose you requested it for". When I asked him if the FA was not allowed to meet in Lawson at all, he said he didn't really know, but that as far as today went, "The room in Lawson isn't available for the purpose you requested it for".  He really had that line down.

Mr. Baggott did very kindly suggest that alternative spaces were available on campus, and that he had tracked some of them down, though he noted that those known to him came at some charge (rooms in Lawson being free of charge). The one such room he mentioned was the auditorium in the Student Health Center. It so happens that this is the meeting room on campus that is the farthest removed from the room we were scheduled to meet in. And the meeting was two hours away. Perhaps, if pressed, he could also have suggested a room at SIUE. "I hope you're able to work something out," he said. "Oh, I'm sure you do," I replied, with equal honesty.

I then called the scheduling office to see if they could arrange an alternative room in Lawson for this or any future Faculty Association function, and was told by a staff person (who was clearly unhappy to find themselves in the middle of this mess--much as my office staff were) that any such requests would, from here on out, have to come through the Provost's office. Obviously this staff member had been contacted by that office and given new instructions.

As by this time there were less than two hours to go before the meeting, we simply went forward with the meeting as planned. To our disappointment, administrators clad in riot gear and supported with water cannons did not appear to remove the 250 students from the university classroom in which professors, GAs, and civil service staffers were attempting to tell their side of the story. No one at all showed up to ask us to vacate the room. So we held our meeting as scheduled, in the room I'd reserved ten days before.

The Chancellor can hit one button and email the entire campus with her take on negotiations with campus unions. I've got no real problem with that. While I've of course critiqued many of her arguments, and occasionally thought she may have crossed the line from spin into the less savory realm beyond it, defending administration policy is part of her job. But this awkward attempt to deny the unions the chance to tell their side of the story to students strikes me as one such venture into less savory territory--a territory in which one side attempts to suppress the free speech rights of the other. She and her minions are afraid of something, it would seem; afraid of us telling our side of the story, especially to students. They are afraid of losing control. Because this is their campus, after all, not a university that belongs to faculty, staff, and students. Many SIUC students apparently want to educate themselves about what's happening on this campus, and many may then wish to have a say in what is going on. That is apparently scary to some.

Ah, to think of what a great story this would have been if Baggott hadn't been bluffing!  But the only way to tell when someone is bluffing is to call their bluff. Bluffers want to win, after all, even though they do not deserve to, on the merits. Too much is at stake here for us to allow ourselves to be bluffed out of our rights.


  1. "The Chancellor can hit one button and email the entire campus with her take on negotiations with campus unions. I've got no real problem with that."

    Glad to hear you hold that view. Randy Hughes called her emailing "unethical" and "not what bargaining is supposed to be" (paraphrase). Apparently FA thinks it can talk and talk and talk for months but if Cheng talks, it is "unethical." Talk about the pot and kettle!

    Tonight I got a call from someone at FA asking if I was willing to poll my department for depth of strike support. I chuckled to myself and said my DRC chair is better suited....

    Strikes ain't for sissies is the lesson here. Management will make sure you walk inside every line in campus codes and FA will decry the "Evil Empire" led by that "Oriental despot" and her "minions." (All quotes heard here not uttered by me).

    When you threaten to "disrupt the normal operations of your employer" they don't (and shouldn't) take it lightly. Get used to it.

  2. Jonathan,

    Why the paraphrase? Is it that hard for you to dig up an email received earlier that day? What Randy actually wrote is not that far from your statement, "Strikes ain't for sissies is the lesson here."

    From Randy's email:
    "As we already noted in the Strike FAQ, faculty should be prepared for administration tactics designed to divide and conquer. Yesterday we all received an email from Chancellor Cheng twisting the facts concerning tenure and layoffs and the proposals made at the bargaining table. The reduction in force article, the language regarding layoff and tenure, is indeed currently being bargained. Faculty unity has brought these issues back to the table and we must remain united in order to secure a contract that protects tenure. We must not allow administration tactics to diminish the strength we have gained in unity."

    1. Note: paranoid is the chair of math department.

  3. Room requests now have to be screened by the Provost? Of course, they won't do this for every request but I hope everyone sees the silliness. The Provost is supposed to be the chief academic officer, not the head of facilities. Shouldn't he be working on making sure educational standards are high and not worrying about room distributions?

  4. To Jonathan Bean:
    I am confused by the role you are playing on this blog. You have raised some very important points in the past, but now that you've chosen to be "against a strike," you have taken on a finger-wagging, "the FA are naive idiots" tone. It seems like an abrupt turnabout...

  5. I personally appreciate Jonathan Bean's tone. If everyone in the FA were so open-minded and willing to reason, the divide between faculty on this campus might not be so wide.

  6. It says in the Southern that students were told "You have the power". They have no power in this situation at all since the FA is holding everyone hostage.

  7. I agree entirely with the importance of open-mindedness and a willingness to reason. I believe that most people on this blog are trying to understand the issues with a clear head and a sense of concern for the university. But there is nothing in Dave's reporting of an attempt to shut down free speech that deserved a sarcastic response. Many of us know these are contentious, tough situations. But to expect the FA to shrug their shoulders at an attempt to cancel an informational meeting is also naive and cynical.

  8. So is the fact that Anthony Hall was defaced with union slogans overnight some sort of retaliation for what happened, or didn't happen, at Lawson?

  9. As someone who is not involved in union activism, I am not privy to how Anthony hall was "defaced". If you're talking about flyers and posters, that is not "defacing," which implies graffiti, but rather the use of standard forms of speech. It seems like some folks in Anthony hall are having trouble with this concept.

  10. Graffiti was drawn on the building (albeit with chalk). The greater issues are that to do so those responsible had to place themselves at serious risk, and may have had to enter parts of the building to which they should not have had access. This sort of thing should be discouraged by all sides.

  11. There is an interesting juxtaposition to consider here.

    By Dave’s own admission, he screwed up here. It sounds innocent enough, but mistakes were made at multiple points in the process, including (inadvertently) misrepresenting the purpose for which the room was being booked, using university staff rather than IEA staff, to make the booking etc.

    Last week there was an incident where a chair/director apparently started asking faculty about the possibility of a strike. It now appears that that too was probably innocent enough (someone just did not know the rules well enough). The FA/IEA response in that case was to involve their legal team to issue a “cease and desist” letter (and to demand “proof of compliance”) and to issue a public accusation that the incident had occurred as a result of direct instructions by the administration. (Never substantiated)

    It will be interesting to see today what the administration’s response is to this event.

  12. Dave - This may seem trivial, but perhaps not. Is it acceptable for FA members to use civil service employees to FA administrative work (booking rooms, etc.). This seems to me to be an inappropriate use of office staff. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

  13. I've now heard that Jim Clark and a university lawyer, Deb Nelson, have confirmed how the policy should work: the FA can use university facilities, so long as we clearly say we're scheduling the room for FA purposes and the room is not needed for some more traditional educational purpose (i.e., we have a right to use rooms, but are at the bottom of the pecking order). I don't know if going through civil service staff is kosher or not--so I won't in the future. Both Baggot and I likely violated this policy; I violated the letter of the policy in what I'll regard as a trivial way and he broke its spirit in what I've characterized as a nefarious one (attempting to scuttle the meeting)--but let's hope that we've got this ironed out and it doesn't come up again.

  14. Anonymous (8:36 & 8:50 AM):

    If you are still reading this, if the property was defaced, why didn't it make it the campus police blotter?


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