Saturday, October 1, 2011

Progress? Not that I've heard of.

A quick bit of rumor control. I've heard there's a rumor that's going round, a rumor that has even been sourced to me, saying that there's been some "progress" or "movement" at the bargaining table between the FA and the administration. To the best of my knowledge there has been no such progress--certainly the report from the FA bargaining team at the DRC meeting I attended on Thursday night indicated no such thing, and that's the latest news I've heard. Nor have I heard of any progress with any of the other IEA locals.

The pace of meetings has indeed picked up, as the administration team has agreed to meet with the FA team during a number of evenings in the next week (and both sides met on Friday, I believe). But of course more meetings will only solve things if there is genuine flexibility and give & take on both sides.

And if there is any progress in the coming days, it will be due to the strike threat. That's obvious enough. The administration was unwilling to budge last spring, last summer, or in August or September. If they budge in October, it will be thanks to the strike threat. It is clear enough that nothing short of a strike threat will get this administration to move; we've yet to see if a strike threat alone will do the trick. I hope a strike threat does it, and that we don't actually have to go on strike. But only time will tell. And it is very clear indeed that letting up on the pressure would put us right back where we were last spring: with the administration imposing terms as it sees fit.

A strike threat and eventual strike, should it come to that, are means to an end: a sound settlement. The only reason for us to step back from our strike threat, from further planning for a strike, and from a strike itself, would be agreement on a new contract that is in the best interest of SIUC faculty, SIUC students, and SIUC. Reports of "progress", whether they come from the rumor mill or from claims made by the Chancellor, are no reason to let up before we have such an agreement in place.


  1. Dave,

    Can anyone tell me what the RIF language was prior to 2006? While I am not sure we will ever again get the total immunity from layoffs even for financial exigency (that was contained in the side letter of the 2006-2010 contract), it would be very nice to know what the protections were prior to 2006. If they were standard tenure protections found at many other colleges and universities (i.e., tenure amounts to basic job security with the exception in legitimate cases of financial exigency), and if that were proposed at the bargaining table, I could live with that. The current imposed terms, of course, are both unorthodox and completely unacceptable to me and other members, and that is why I reluctantly voted yes on Wednesday.

  2. One other thing: it would be a very perverse parsing of the word "progress," it seems to me, if all we got at the end of the day was standard tenure protections found at nearly every other college and university in North America. But I suppose at this point, being that we have all been through so much unneeded stress, I would accept that and move on.

  3. About the "remaining differences" discussed by Randy Auxier at the pre-strike vote meeting (two Fridays ago?):

    There was a promise to upload the differences in language between BOT and FA. Still waiting....

    Any word? I looked but can't find the information. It is frustrating (though not unexpected) that the FA seems to withhold information as much as the administration. Show us the differences as promised, s'il vous plait. Otherwise, the FA charges about BOT transparency reminds me of the saying "throwing rocks in a glass house" ...

  4. Joe, There was no "RIF" (reduction in force) language in the prior contract, nor any process for handling "financial exigency" (a phrase which appears neither in the prior contract nor in the imposed terms), thanks to the side letter which ruled out firing or layoffs on grounds of financial exigency. I've attempted to outline what I've called the traditional understanding of tenure protection (a la the AAUP). SIUC policy back in 1996 was pretty close to that. See my "tenure 2.0" post for the details.

    Jon, I've been in touch with the bargaining team about getting a version of that presentation on line. A few reasons it hasn't gotten on line: the bargaining team doesn't want to get too involved in the nitty gritty of bargaining in a public way (i.e., outside a membership meeting); bargaining is ongoing, so that any presentation would need to be changed, if only in subtle ways (so far!). And then of course there is the simple problem of someone finding the time to write this up. A bunch of us our working nearly full time on union business, and still have day jobs. The bargaining team among them.

    It is frustrating to hear one side say that there has been no major progress (the FA) while the Chancellor speaks of many concessions. How to judge who's on the level? Well, the FA's position is that there have been no major changes since the imposed terms (save for a number of decisions to leave the 2006-2010 contract unchanged moving forward). Full details on those terms and what they mean can be found on the FA website. In particular, there's been no agreement on RIF, furloughs, or distance education. If the administration makes a concession there you should hear it promptly--from the administration, if from no one else. While speaking several times of "many concessions" the Chancellor has, to the best of my knowledge, named not a single one.

    It is in the administration's interest, assuming they want to avoid a strike, to play up any concessions. I think their failure to do so is pretty clear evidence that they've made none. Going forward, I would think--this is just me speculating--that they would make and advertise some concessions (even if they are superficial) in an attempt to reduce support for a strike. This, again, assuming they don't want to provoke a strike in order to break it and the unions. If they plan to provoke and break a strike, we're in for a nasty ride.

  5. One update on very minor progress since the imposed terms can be found here.

  6. Dave,

    I am well aware that there was no RIF language, even for financial exigency, in the 2006-2010 contract. One of the first things I did when I arrived in the fall of 2007, other than join the FA, was read my contract backwards and forwards.

    The question I am trying to get an answer on is what was the status quo of 2002-2006? In a dream world, we would all like to get the "no layoffs period" clause from 2002-2006, but a) we are living in a very different economic climate than back then; and b) having read what other university policies are, that also is unorthodox. It is commonplace for universities to have the financial exigency escape hatch clause.

    My point basically is this: if the FA could bargain for the prior to 2006 policy, it should declare victory and move on to other issues. We're not likely to get the "no layoffs period" language and I am not sure we should be fighting for that. We should be resisting at every turn, of course, the RIF language that was imposed on us last spring.

  7. The last two contracts have had no layoff language in side letters. You're right that the situation has changed this time, and we're not actively bargaining for no-layoff language--though of course we'd be happy to take it! We agree with the Chancellor that tenured faculty can--barring a special agreement as in the side letters--be laid off in cases of bona fide financial exigency. But the devil is in the details, the details both of how the financial exigency is declared (ghosts of 1973) and how cuts are implemented.

    The FA supposal allows for layoffs in the case of a bona fide financial exigency. My "tenure 2.0" post linked to above outlines SIUC policy pre 2003 (it's what I refer to there as the "original policy"). That policy was pretty good (not as good as the FA supposal, and somewhat murky, but pretty good). But if we could get a clear policy in keeping with that "original policy" into the contract, I'm sure that's something the bargaining team would consider as well.

    In short, I think what you propose as FA strategy is current FA strategy.

  8. I am happy to hear that! I will keep asking questions on this blog as I come up with them, because you are far more clearer than others I have asked similar questions of in the past.

  9. Thanks, Dave. The devil is indeed in the details: the big fight is probably over the starred portion of this FA objective:

    "Stopping the erosion of tenure and the potential for indiscriminate layoffs by insisting that layoffs be conditioned on a *joint determination* of a bona fide financial exigency."

    Declaring financial exigency is pretty serious for management (from their perspective) so I hope FA doesn't insist on veto power with this "joint" language.

    I understand the immense amount of time Randy and others are putting into bargaining. The exigency/layoff clause is the one thing I think Joe, me and other would like to see put up: what was last BOT proposal versus FA???

    NOTE: Cheng did state publicly BOT will agree to insert language "clarifying" the exigency language. I join in Joe in hoping we get that and move on. But also don't forget the SH procedures -- that's the last refuge of administrative scoundrels to get rid of tenured faculty. But, right now, practically speaking the big issue is the exigency language. Take the prior status quo, no veto and I'd be happy.

  10. That last BOT proposal on RIF known to me comes in the imposed terms, but I would be surprised if RIF isn't discussed this week. If Cheng is willing to clarify exigency language--i.e., to put an exigency procedure in the contract, that's a step in the right direction, but of course we'd need to see the details they are willing to live with. The procedures following a declaration are at least as important as those leading up to one. The faculty should have an even larger role after a declaration (in deciding who gets fired) than before it, to prevent financial exigency from become a manufactured crisis the admin uses to remake the university after the latest administrative template.

    We all ought to be scrutinizing the FA and BOT positions as best we can, but best also not to bargain with ourselves, eh? If we all say we'll settle for X that's a good way to guarantee we get less than X.

  11. The BOT position has always been that that the FA is misinterpreting/misrepresenting the provisions of the imposed terms. They contend that the imposed terms define the _manner_ in which faculty can be terminated (30 days notice) in the event that the _circumstances_ under which faculty can be terminated (exigency or program termination), which are spelled out in detail, in writing, in SIU's policies and which have not changed in 2 decades, have been met. Those policies, as has been pointed out here before, already include provision for faculty (via faculty senate) involvement in the determination of when exigency circumstances exist and for participating in the decision to terminate a program.

    My guess is that the BOT will agree to clarify that position, because the provisions have been misinterpreted, but I doubt they are going to move away from that. If you want a total rewrite, buy new walking shoes...

    I agree with JB that it is also highly unlikely that the BOT will agree to FA demands that they (the FA) have a say in determining whether an exigency exists. There is no trust between the FA and the BOT, a circumstance for which the FA shares responsibility. What they see is a repeat of the FA response to the fiscal issues that led to furloughs last year. Do you really think that if the BOT feels that the a fiscal crisis that threatens the existence of the university exists, that they are going to want to wait around while the FA practices its version of "classical" accounting? Not likely.

    If you do actually want to avoid a strike (which for some here I tend to doubt), take clarification and declare victory because I seriously doubt that you will get more than that.

  12. Hey SF 7:46: Can you clarify what you mean by "clarify that position"? Are you predicting that the BOT will agree to introduce clarifying language into the contract? Or do you mean something else?

    Just trying to "clarify" what you are saying here. :-))

  13. My guess (I have no inside knowledge, just my take on the situation) is that the board will agree to add something to the contract to the effect that they will act in accordance with their existing and long standing policy. Its an easy out for everyone and it would allow that FA to declare victory since they will claim its a change in their (the BOT) position. If so, the FA should take it and run, otherwise its gunnabe a loooooong walk.

  14. P.S. I am not the first to suggest this, the suggestion was made weeks ago by someone else commenting on one of Dave's Tenure threads (don't have time to find it now) and its been talked about "in the halls" for the last few weeks as well.

  15. To Socrates Finger:

    Paranoid suggested a similar idea 5 months ago. So far, the administration hasn't bitten.

  16. The most important problem with the sort of solution SF outlines is that SIUC's longstanding policies (the plural is called for) on tenure are something of a mess, as I tried to outline in my post on tenure. The FA has an ambitious proposal to give faculty a greater role in declaring a financial exigency. Given SIU's track record there, and the recent precedent of coming up with "unpaid administrative closure days" in order to circumvent BOT policy on financial emergencies (with the connivance of the BOT), the FA proposal seems quite rational to me. It is of course possible to imagine possible compromises in which both sides could declare victory. If the Chancellor is at last willing--thanks to a strike threat--to sign off on contractual language that protects tenure, allowing her to say that she never meant to undermine tenure after all is small additional price to pay.

  17. "with the connivance of the BOT". Great choice of words. That will help move everyone towards a resolution! Obviously you have psyched yourself up for a strike and you don't want to be talked out of it. Enjoy your walk. I hope it rains on your parade. Long walks in the rain can help to cool tempers and clear heads.

    Are there any cool heads on the FA side that are willing to consider that they may NOT have cornered he market on being right?

  18. "The faculty should have an even larger role after a declaration (in deciding who gets fired) than before it"

    There are supposed to be procedures BEFORE a strike determining the order of who is laid off. The FA's first proposal was more detailed than the BOT but it basically came down to seniority with tenured people last and then determined by number of years of service. That's why Randy H. told me a year ago that it was highly unlikely to

    If (I suspect when) the BOT inserts the exigency language of their already existing Board policy, the FA will have to take it. Best they can get is more detailed layoff procedures rather than just untenured laid off first, tenured last (Board RIF and policy, as I recall). Given all the heat generated for a "strike," this would be a rather pathetic "win." Whoopee! We just got Board policy in our contract.

    There are other issues at the table but the FA has made this their Big Bogeyman. I suppose all political organizations work this way: Mencken once wrote that the "first duty of politicians is to scare the patient...." lol

  19. Missing words:

    "That's why Randy H. told me a year ago that it was highly unlikely to reach tenured faculty."

  20. Other universities in Illinois, e.g., Eastern and Western, have financial exigency language in their contracts. Someone posted a link to a Texas Tech contract with such language. Language like that in the contract would satisfy me.

    I have suggested compromise language on DL before. Mainly I think we should try to distinguish between a faculty member who just doesn't want try new things and one who really has specific pedagogical objections. In reality assigning someone to teach DL who is dead set against DL would be a disaster. Maybe the Faculty Senate could be entrusted with working out an appeal mechanism if a faculty member feels their academic freedom to control their courses is being violated.

    Let me ask this, if my chair demanded I use a certain textbook how would I appeal that?

    SF et al: Nobody wants a strike and Cheng is not out to break the unions.


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.