Lurking underneath all of this discussion is an inevitable tension between the ideal and the (for lack of a better word) "realistic." This dialectic resonates in the discourse and critiques of all parties, pro-, anti-, and netural-FA, alike. For my part, I care about the material consequences of this contract; I recognize that the contract is, as it always would be, a compromise between disputing parties. Actually, I shouldn't be so confident in that "always would be" -- our Administration seemed unwilling for nearly 500 days to entertain anything like a compromise until an actual strike took place. But all of us who honored or worked on the picket line knew that our "victory" would be only partial, that we were fighting for some limitations on Administrative power-grabs, for something we could call fair, for something at least somewhat responsive to our interests and concerns.
So yes, there is language in this contract that should cause some concern to the bargaining unit at large -- issues, perhaps, to be addressed in the next contract negotiation. But it could have been so much worse. I have heard nothing in the discussion so far that offers better strategies than the strike to modify this contractual agreement. The strike did not bring about a magical Utopia of academic freedom and faculty empowerment; nor was it a waste of time with no palpable effects; nor did it destroy the university entirely. In the post-strike struggle over its meaning, none of these realities should be ignored.
I, for one, am also not interested in losing sight of the bigger picture in squabbles over (nonetheless important) details. Overlooked on this blog was, I thought, a pretty important analysis of our labor struggles that appeared on SocialistWorker.org. Several may reject the ideological bent of this site; those are some of the same folks, I suspect, who doubt that a faculty union is actually a labor union. The article came out during the strike and so misses the final outcome, but I think it captures the bigger picture of what is going one here. I found this section particularly apt:
The key issues in the strike flow from SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng and SIU President Glen Poshard's attempts to impose a "corporate education" model on the school. As one student and Navy veteran asked in an open letter, "Is SIUC just after my government benefits after all? Like [the for-profit] University of Phoenix?"
"What is at stake here," said striking professor Jyostna Kapur, "is the education of working class and middle class students. The administration wants to cheat our students of a good education by trying to make us work for more and more with less and less at a time when working class and middle class students are going into debt for this education."I have long held that the bigger problem we face at SIU is a chronic problem with Administrative bloat that continues to turn the campus toward this "corporate education model." Anthony Grafton at the New York Review of Books offers a particularly cogent review of what is wrong with higher education. Some familiar friends are on his reading list, but his overall synthesis is measured and offers criticism for all involved. Consider, though, this observation of the changing tenor of higher education:
Even in these supposedly tight times, finally, well-paid administrators and nonacademic professionals proliferate—as do the costly extracurricular activities that they provide, from bonding exercises for freshmen to intercollegiate sports. The message is clear: no one sees classroom learning as a primary pursuit.Given the Administration's cavalier attitude about the number of classes affected by the strike or the credentials that "qualified" their occasional substitute instructors, I think it is clear that our current management has a very cynical view of what actually happens in classrooms.
SIUC's labor negotiations and the strike this fall happened at a time of considerable debate and heated discussion about the health and purpose of higher education nationwide. It occurred in a perfect storm of economic downturn, progressive uprising, and political pendulum swings re: collective bargaining.
We know that something important just happened here, and its significance cannot be measured in contract clauses alone. Nay-sayer's anonymous diatribes reinforce this significance by the force of their denial and the persistence of their postings. That said, this is also no time for the FA or its supporters to rest, to feel that the work is done. The compromises in the contract reveal the struggles still to be had. And the energy of the community suggests a strong desire among many campus and community groups to have a significant voice in the Chancellor's and President's vision for the future of this institution. Even the FSN and its supporters have a role to play in offering serious and sensible alternatives to the FA such that we might either pursue these alternatives or better understand what the FA can and cannot do.
Really, we all have a role to play in the future of this institution. The only losers in any of this are the people who feel they don't have such a role to play, the folks who don't see themselves in the picture.