Some closing thoughts on the conflict between the FA and the administration that culminated in last fall's strike.
I suppose the lead can be that less has changed, at least in relations between the FA and administration, than many of us expected. Many expected Armageddon. It didn't happen. Neither the FA nor the Poshard/Cheng administration has ceased to exist. Neither side won a clear victory, but neither has peace and goodwill broken out. Now back to business as usual isn't the worst of all possible results. The Cheng administration has not engaged in any significant retribution that I'm aware of (my relatively smooth approval to serve as chair is one sign of that for those who don't regard me as a traitor to the True Cause). Nor, so far as I am aware, has there been much in the way of action by FA stalwarts to punish their colleagues who didn't strike.
Of course that fact that nothing much has changed doesn't mean that a stalemate was inevitable, or that there aren't longer-term consequences of the strike and the conflict leading up to it that have yet to become evident. I still tend to believe that the FA faced a true existential threat during the strike, and suspect that putting an end to the FA was at least one result devoutly to be wished as far as some on the administrative side were concerned. It's also possible that had more faculty joined the FA strike, more effectively shutting down campus, Cheng could have been sacked. The fact that one emerges from a contest with the parties more or less where they started doesn't mean that the stakes weren't high in the first place, only that the contest came out more or less even.
Thoughts on possible longer term results after the break.
Long-term results are tougher to evaluate--as they always are. As far as the FA is concerned, I still think the organization came out of last year's struggles stronger than it went into them, though it is true that there was a certain level of exhaustion last semester. FA members were inspired by their ability to pull off the strike, despite their regret at having to strike. The strike, as it turns out, was rather more exciting and dare I say rewarding than I would ever have imagined. Again, this was likely a very contingent outcome: had the students not come out in support; had the weather gotten very bad very quickly; had the administration somehow managed to hold out longer without making the least compromise--we in the FA could be viewing the strike now as a noble but failed effort. That's not how we view it, for whatever that is worth to those of you who didn't strike.
It is fair to say that the FA's more obvious victories were defensive in nature: we defended tenure, and by successfully pulling off the strike we defended our collective bargaining rights, which are guaranteed, ultimately, only when a union can in fact manage a strike. We made some progress beyond defense on other issues--especially workload, though the details of the credit-hour equivalency process have yet to be worked out. Not bad at all, given both the national and the local circumstances, but hardly a earth-shattering victory for all that is right and true, from the union point of view. Ultimately the value of the strike may depend on the union's ability to grow in numbers and strength as it moves forward under new leadership this fall and beyond.
My feeling is that the strike was much more uncomfortable for those in the office than those on the picket lines. This largely because those who showed up for work did so from a vast range of motives, from principled objections to the FA's decision to strike and heartfelt concern for students' welfare through fear of administrative punishment and simple bottom-line calculations about lost pay. Comments can fill this in, should people wish to. Returning to work was more touchy for those of us who struck. But my own experience is that the initial awkwardness and tension has almost entirely passed. Almost all of my relationships with faculty who didn't strike are as positive after the strike as they were before--though of course those with faculty who did strike were strengthened by the experience. In my conversations with faculty across the spectrum I have been struck by what might fairly be characterized as a new-found respect for the FA. But of course my conversations will not be typical; people may be telling me what I want to hear, or I may be hearing only what I want to hear.
At present the administration is certainly acting like nothing has changed. The centralization of power continues apace. While this issue wasn't front and center during the strike--not being a matter for the FA contract, so much as a matter of the balance (or imbalance) of power between different levels of the administrative hierarchy -- it is obviously an issue that concerns many faculty, who by and large trust administrators more the closer they are to them (hence chairs are normally more trusted than deans, and deans more trusted than the central administration--though of course the individuals in these offices can break this pattern for better or for worse). I can't say how many people, from all points of view and from a variety of positions in the hierarchy, I've heard remark, with one degree of chagrin or other, on the range of decisions on this campus that can only be made by the Chancellor. I think many of them are troubled by this--though of course some are administrators who simply wish they had more power themselves. Certainly by seizing so much power the Chancellor has raised the stakes for her own role on campus: if she's making good decisions, we'll all benefit, but if not, we're in for big trouble. This centralization is not necessarily more efficient, as the Chancellor, despite her evident energy, can only make so many decisions each day.
Nor is there any sense out there that the administration is any more committed to shared governance than it was in the past. It does indeed seek input, as any sane administrators would, if only to improve their own proposals. But there's obviously been no sea-change here toward allowing faculty more of a partnership role rather than simply asking them to comment, and listening to their comments with a certain respect.
There has been no letup, from the FA's point of view, in the need to be vigilant in defense of the contract. As I've remarked here previously, in passing, the administration attempted to unilaterally change the way the student-faculty ratio is calculated in the contract; the Chancellor, to her credit, backed off when the FA filed a grievance on this matter. But backing off has not been the m.o. in most grievances, which continue apace. Of course some grievances are more warranted than others--this is in area where more transparency would be valuable, but where privacy concerns make it difficult. But I think it is fair to say that there has been no real change in the administration's attitude toward such matters. This sort of low-level skirmishing continues, with no sign of any sort of cease-fire, much less peace.
Of course the absence of peace, as I've termed it, could be blamed on either of the 'combatants'. The FA, for its part, has at various times discussed, internally, making more in the way of an effort to make peace with the Cheng administration. But it has done little or nothing on this front, in part because some in the FA don't want peace of this sort, which they see as a reward this administration has failed to earn, but more so because the FA decided that its limited energies after the exhausting conflict over the last year were best spent reaching out not to the administration but to other faculty. Hence the effort to hand-deliver contracts, with an attempt to engage faculty in a conversation while doing so. The effort was, of course, imperfect--not all faculty got hand-delivery, though I hope that almost all were at least sent a message offering an outreach conversation. We simply ran out of time and energy in the last weeks of the semester (it took unconscionably long for the FA and administration to finalize the contract and for the contract to be printed). Much of the rest of the FA's energy has been directed at trying to help faculty draft credit-hour equivalencies.
One would have hoped that an enlightened administration might have taken the lead in attempting to reach out to the FA. But that hasn't happened, either. Perhaps the administration can cite justifications similar to those I've given for the FA.
At any rate, the result is that there's been no real peace. Go back even to the end of the strike itself. While both sides made positive noises in their statements at the end of the strike (I remember painstakingly drafting the positive words coming from the FA, in a effort I referred to as Operation Kumbaya), there was never any handshake at the end of it all. Think about it: there was no signing ceremony, no picture to show the two sides coming together at the end of it all. Instead there was a ridiculously slow process to even get the contract finalized, a process which didn't exactly promote healing of wounds. The reasons this took so long--mainly the fact that the administration failed to make finishing the contract a priority, as one staff member was burdened with putting the finishing touches on all four union contracts--aren't as important as the result, which is business as usual, low level conflict and a lack of any effort by either side to increase trust.
In the longer run the administration may be in trouble--certainly Poshard has claimed that he's under siege by a hostile governor. He has made also some effort to enlist the FA among his enemies--via his false charges that Roger Herrin was somehow in cahoots with the FA. I have no clear idea of why the governor isn't happy with Poshard, frankly--which isn't to say I don't understand why anyone wouldn't be happy with Poshard, only that I don't know just what has ticked off the governor and his people. Presumably the strike didn't help, though Quinn isn't exactly in the pocket of the IEA, as his effort to slash pensions show. More important may be the complaint made by Herrin and Lowery: that Poshard is unwilling to provide them with the information they need to effectively do their jobs on the board. At any rate, in January Quinn will have the power to get Poshard ousted by appointing new members to the Board of Trustees. We'll see if he does so. Presumably Poshard's press conference was an effort to preempt the governor by making the conflict public, raising the stakes--at considerable cost to our already rather tarnished reputation.
Should Poshard be outsted, this would presumably not help Cheng, though I don't see why a new President would automatically sack her (despite the devout wishes for such to be case on the part of many on campus). In the longer run, then, the conflict with the FA may end up playing some role in the demise of the administration that provoked the strike. But surely other factors would be at play as well; fall enrollment numbers will be crucial, I suspect. If they rise substantially, Cheng's position will presumably be rather secure. If they fall, both she and Poshard may be out of time.
It is, on the other hand, harder to find any positive effect from the strike for the administration. True, the Cheng administration could have emerged worse off from the strike, had the FA managed to shut down campus more thoroughly and somehow force greater concessions. But as things went they didn't do terribly well, what with their false promises of business as usual, "qualified substitutes", and the Facebook censoring debacle. I suppose a Cheng's legacy, if positive on other grounds, can include her ability to weather the first strike in SIUC history (as if that strike was something that just happened to her); but weathering the strike will hardly constitute the basis for a positive verdict on her reign.
One other known unknown is the strike's effect, if any, on enrollment. It will be interesting to see if the administration blames the strike should enrollment be down again next fall. My guess is that the strike will have only a limited effect on enrollment--it was a lesser event in the lives of most students than it was for faculty. And of course even if one blames the strike for a decline in enrollment, one must then decide whom to blame for the strike.
So, to draw this long post to a close: the short-term results of the strike weren't nearly as great as expected (and feared). In the longer run the strike may well prove a positive for the FA, I think, though much depends on the FA's ability to capitalize on the sense of solidarity the strike engendered among members by broadening its support among faculty. While I can't see how the strike will help Cheng and co., it isn't clear to me that it hurt her terribly much. Nor is the impact on enrollment clear at this stage.
Ultimately the biggest question is what impact the strike had and will have on SIUC as an institution, where our institutional health involves more than enrollment numbers for the next year or two. Answering this question requires that we consider the alternatives. I think SIUC would almost certainly be better off had it not taken a strike for the administration to decide that it could live with AAUP guidelines for tenure (tenure was certainly the central issue that led most faculty to strike). This concession may in turn have set the stage for more in the way of peace rather than the status quo of low-level conflict we're left with. What would the results have been had the FA folded, or been crushed, and the administration secured the flexibility to fire tenured faculty? Well, I think the exodus of faculty would be even greater than it currently is; faculty morale would be even lower. Shared governance would be even more of a charade; more of the faculty who remained would opt out of devoting extra energy to the sort of service and administrative work required to make this university work.
Thus my judgement, few will be surprised to hear, is that the FA made the right decision--not only for the FA but for SIUC--in deciding to strike. And the administration made the wrong decision, both for itself and for SIUC, in provoking the strike.