Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Silence of the Faculty Senate

The Faculty Senate this afternoon passed a resolution calling upon the IEA unions and the SIUC administration to "resolve their differences in good faith and with haste in order to protect the immediate and long-term interests of the university’s academic community." It did so without any debate, and without anyone mentioning the faculty group calling for the Faculty Senate to usurp the role of the FA and take control of negotiations with the administration (Faculty for Sensible Negotiations--FSN). I think what the Faculty Senate didn't say is the real story here. 

The executive committee of the Senate had spent over three hours hammering out the draft resolution, which is modeled on the very similar resolution passed during the 2002-2003 crisis. And the president of the Senate, Bill Recktenwald, was clearly worried that the debate might be heated; he limited debate to 30 minutes, and each speaker to two minutes. Instead there was all of one comment--noting the absence of the NTT union from the 1996 Memorandum of Understanding the motion began with. The motion then passed unanimously.

As the Senate's secretary, Jonathan Wiesen, suggested as he introduced the motion, its main purpose was to show the relevance of the Senate, the only body to represent the "academic concerns" of all faculty at SIUC. Silence on the part of the Senate during the current crisis would risk labeling the Senate irrelevant. As there was no debate in the Senate about the resolution, readers will have to determine its meaning for themselves. After the break, I'll discuss what the resolution means to me--and what the silence in today's meeting said about the FSN, the Faculty Senate, and the FA.

1. While emphasizing the Faculty Senate's unique role, the resolution reaffirms the Memorandum of Understanding that also gives the FA a unique role.

2. By calling for a quick end to negotiations, the resolution supports the unions' oft repeated emphasis that 460+ days of negotiations is enough.

3. The resolution says that both "a prolonged impasse" and a "possible interruption of the semester" would have both short term and long term deleterious effects on campus. We arguably already have had a "prolonged impasse" (though I don't want to get into the legal meaning of "impasse"). By equating the damage done by a strike with that done by stonewalling at the bargaining table the resolution implies that a strike is, at least in some circumstances, a legitimate response by the FA.

4. Most importantly, by assuming the status quo of negotiations between the FA and administration, the resolution completely sidelines the Faculty for Sensible Negotiation's move to replace the FA with the Senate (or with nothing). I heard on the radio this week (NPR) that the FSN is starting a petition drive to call for a vote to replace the FA with the Faculty Senate (or with nothing). But despite the fact that a number of those sympathetic to or leading the FSN are members of the Faculty Senate, no one made any mention of the FSN at this Senate meeting. The FSN has still made absolutely no effort whatsoever to coordinate with the Faculty Senate.

If I were serious about replacing the FA with the Faculty Senate, and wanted to prevent the FA from taking precipitous action I thought would harm this university (a strike), I'd have spoken up. I would have called for a meeting with the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, lobbied senators for support, and at least tried to get the full Senate to set up some sort of committee to study the possibility of having the Faculty Senate take over the functions (some of the functions?) of the FA. I would, in short, have been working overtime to provide faculty with a plausible alternative to the FA by showing that the Faculty Senate was giving my proposal serious consideration.

What are we to make of the complete lack of action on this? Well, using the same logic employed by the framers of the Faculty Senate motion, who feared that silence in the face of a crisis would show the irrelevance of the Faculty Senate, I can only suggest that the silence of supporters of the FSN, and that of the Faculty Senate, shows both that the FSN isn't ready for prime time and that the Faculty Senate would much rather avoid a contentious debate than wade into one. I don't want to impugn the integrity or commitment of the Faculty Senate or my colleagues sympathetic to the FSN. I have been, in fact, impressed by the work ethic and sense of responsibility shown by members of the Senate (certainly my overhasty statement in a comment earlier that most senators worked only a couple of hours a month should be rescinded, now that I've some glimmer of how much work many Senate committees do). And I do not doubt that those sympathetic to the FSN are indeed interested in fostering civility and raising morale on campus.

But if one thing was clear from the meeting today, it was that neither the FSN nor the Faculty Senate has any interest whatsoever in anything resembling negotiations with the administration. It's likely the presence of the Chancellor and the Provost in the room didn't exactly encourage debate on such matters, but still. (They were there by invitation, of course--and their willingness to stay until the end of the meeting is commendable, as I've heard that some past incumbents couldn't be bothered to stay after giving their own reports). Negotiations are too contentious; debate about such matters is hard. No member of the Faculty Senate had anything to say about negotiations, save for our unanimous approval for the resolution calling for a swift resolution. Rather than debate, we had silence. The group that says that it wants to replace the FA and empower the Faculty Senate was silent about its proposal, a proposal which would have robbed the resolution of any meaning.

It seems to me pretty clear that neither the Faculty Senate nor the FSN is ready for anything remotely like negotiations with the administration. If you want negotiations with the administration, you've got one option, the FA. Like it or loathe it, the FA is willing and able to negotiate with the administration, to debate with the administration, to speak up. The FSN was silent, and on the huge issue raised by the FSN, on its own future status on campus, the Faculty Senate was silent, too.

I myself was silent. I was, in fact, rather flabbergasted that we would not discuss this seemingly momentous proposal of having the Senate replace the FA. Perhaps had I been braver (or simply not at my first Faculty Senate meeting), I would have said something--asked, say, if this resolution, as I've suggested above, did in fact rule out the FSN proposal that we tear up the Memo of Understanding, junk the FA, and start from scratch. But the primary responsibility to raise this issue clearly lies on those sympathetic to the FSN and its proposal for radical change.  And they had absolutely nothing to say today.

The Faculty Senate has important work to do. But that work does not include negotiating with the administration.


  1. The senators probably stayed silent out of fear of being brow-beaten by members of the FA. Either at the meeting, or at another time. After all, dissenters who chime in on this forum are often treated with dis-respect.

  2. I've been on the Faculty Senate for a while now, and I never see a pro-FA person "brow-beat" anyone who is critical of the union. I venture to say that it is the FA folks on the defensive in a body that tends, as a rule, to toe the administration line.

  3. Didn't FSN say they want the Faculty Senate to pick another body? Their first message suggested the faculty senate would be a substitute but subsequent emails corrected and said "an alternative body" to negotiate. That's happened elsewhere as Faculty Senates have picked or sought representation, either local or national.

  4. Mike Eichholz's latest proposal is the Faculty Senate, or rather a committee of said body. "An alternative body" isn't much more developed a suggestion than an unworkable one (the FS), is it? If you are suggesting that we change horses in midstream, it it good to have a second horse handy. The FSN doesn't.

    The majority of the faculty on the FS are not union members, so fears of FA browbeating in the Senate strike me as pretty groundless.

  5. If a majority of the Faculty Senate do not belong to the Faculty Association, then the union probably is not representative of most of the faculty.

  6. My understanding is that all NTT Senators are also NTTFA members - save Bill Recktenwald who recently got mad, dropped his membership, took his marbles, and went home.

  7. David,

    The FSN non-presence the meeting is a sign of their lack of seriousness or willingness to actually do something beyond carping. The lack of debate at the FS meeting also speaks volumes. Does anyone recall the last they saw a room full of academics with a captive audience and time allocated to speak remain silent? How unlikely is that? If not for campus e-mail and a half-crazed newspaper editor at the SI, the FSN would be a non-entity.

  8. Speculating about the motive for Senatorial silence is pointless. One could just as easily opine that they refused to discuss the motion because the Chancellor and other members of the Administration were there -- and they can do so much more than just beat a brow.

    Beyond motive, though, this silence does speak volumes. Firstly, the safe route of a "plague on both your houses" hardly merits much discussion, does it? And the absence of any serious discussion of other "alternatives" on the (picnic?) table is also telling.

    I cannot take the FSN seriously until they offer, as Dave suggests, another "horse." Even then, I find it hard to take them seriously when they jump into this situation at this particular time with no real or developed consideration for an alternative to the FA. As Dave pointed out at their debut, they seem more and more to be the "Faculty for No Negotiation."

    But so, I'll join the Chancellor in thanking the Faculty Senate for their helpful input. Now, moving on...

    1. I never take Jonathan Gray seriously until he can show he is not the scab. But he did.

    2. Anon. 10:21:

      How right you are!

      Jonathan showed he was not a scab by showing up on the picket line each day of the strike and working on the blog each night.

      His expertise in speech communication were assets for the Faculty Association during the strike and are assets for the university all the time. Plus he plays a mean drum! :)

  9. This is not "The Silence of the Lambs" (Demme) but "The Silence of the Scabs."

  10. Oh pul-leeeze! Such hackneyed rhetoric doesn't get us very far does it?

    I must admit, though, I got a temporary chuckle out of it!

  11. I often wonder whether some the "scabs" rhetoric might actually be coming from FA opponents, just to stir up the pot.

  12. No. Anybody who crosses a picket line is a scab no matter how much they may deny it. Just read your labor history. Faculty are now workers, not professionals, whether they like it or not.


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