Faculty leaders discuss shared governance, possible effects of faculty union
Editor’s note: The discussion about establishing a faculty union on the Urbana campus has accelerated in recent months amid efforts by the Campus Faculty Association to identify and sign up supporters. News Bureau news editor Mike Helenthal submitted the same questions to CFA leaders (below) and two critics of a faculty union, asking them to discuss shared governance and the pros and cons of establishing a faculty union at Illinois.
The Campus Faculty Association respondents:
Steven M. Errede, a professor of physics and member of the CFA organizing committee
Richard S. Laugesen, a professor of mathematics and CFA vice president
- Harriet Murav, a professor of Slavic languages and literatures and of comparative and world literature and CFA president
1. What has been the general campus reaction to the recent signature drive to form a union and what concerns have you heard?
The Campus Faculty Association is currently assessing interest in unionization among tenure stream and non-tenure stream faculty members, aiming to establish a separate bargaining unit for each group. Colleagues all around campus have welcomed us into their offices and shared their experiences. We are passionate about our teaching, our students and our research – yet many faculty members express concerns about lagging salaries, pensions, job security, health benefits and shared governance, as well as increasing class sizes, gender equity and diversity. Hundreds of colleagues have felt inspired to sign the CFA mission statement, a key part of which reads: “We respect the values of a merit-based, research-oriented university and our other core missions of outstanding teaching and service to the people of this state, the nation and the world.”
Our recent publication “We Support the Faculty Union” presents a selection of statements in favor of forming a union, from faculty of all ranks and disciplines. As one of our signers put it, a faculty union is about democracy (real participatory power for
everyone involved in the life of this university …), justice (for each individual regardless of background and rank), and unity (remembering that I am here not only for myself).
2. Are the recent changes in the state’s public-employee pension law a good argument for the formation of a union?
The pension-cutting legislation is bad for retirees, bad for retention of current faculty members and bad for recruitment of future faculty members. The university administration cannot challenge the bill in court. The union coalition We Are One Illinois has filed a major class-action lawsuit against the bill. Our unionized faculty colleagues at UIC are part of that coalition against the pension bill. Faculty members on the Urbana-Champaign campus must rely on unions to carry on the fight for us.
The inadequate Tier II pension plan that applies to faculty hired since 2011 was already a step backward. Last year, the faculty union at UIC proposed in bargaining a supplementary retirement scheme to redress the inequities of Tier II. The administration dismissed that proposal in short order, but must surely negotiate with the union on this issue in the future.
3. Can the Urbana Academic Senate and a union organization co-exist?
They can do more than co-exist, they can strengthen one another. At other unionized campuses the union and the academic senate work closely together. Many Campus Faculty Association members serve as senators on our campus and respect the potential of the senate for positive action.
A faculty union and senate have separate functions. In the senate, faculty can advise the administration on educational policy and academic standards. A faculty union would not play a role in determining curricula and would not influence promotion and tenure decisions or any other questions of academic judgment. A union contract, bargained and voted on by the local membership, would give faculty members a strong voice on employment-related policies.
4. How committed do you think campus administration and the U. of I. Board of Trustees are to shared governance?
The issue for us is not whether shared governance works within its primary sphere of influence over educational policy, but rather whether the faculty possess a mechanism to exercise authority over other aspects of their working lives. That is where we see the need for a union.
5. Was the demise of the Michael Hogan administration a good or bad example of shared governance?
We appreciate the efforts of everyone, including CFA members, who helped bring that disaster to an end, and yet the existing governance procedures that led to his appointment should have been stronger. The search process that hired him was extremely secretive. A union contract would secure improved transparency in university decision-making.
6. What can shared governance provide that a union cannot, and vice versa?
A faculty union can lobby our elected representatives in Springfield on issues of faculty concern, such as funding for the U. of I., procurement rules and pension benefits. A faculty union can negotiate for legally binding family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave and for better sabbatical funding. A faculty union can negotiate to raise salaries to match peer institutions, by means of contractually guaranteed merit pools, equity pools, salary floors and across-the-board raises. At research universities, union contracts explicitly allow individual faculty members to bargain for a higher salary based on merit, market conditions and outside offers.
These powers are all available to a union, but not to a senate, whose scope of action is very different.
7. The faculty union at the Chicago campus announced its intention to strike should negotiations fail*; how does this experience within the Illinois family inform the current unionization debate on the Urbana campus?
UIC administrators have failed their own faculty. Their lawyers do all the talking at the bargaining table. They fail to seek common ground on issues critical to the excellence of their institution, regarding quality of teaching and resources for research. They resist proposals to return a percentage of ICR funds to researchers. They refuse to discuss multiyear contracts for long-serving non-tenure track faculty members and they claim they cannot afford raises needed to bring salaries up to parity with peers – although their own financial statements show burgeoning surpluses to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The faculty union at University of Oregon successfully bargained its first contract in fewer than 10 months – because the Oregon administration bargained hard, but fair – and top administrators showed up in person to do the job. The administration’s failure to engage in meaningful negotiation at UIC is aimed, we believe, at dissuading faculty at Urbana-Champaign from supporting a union. We trust faculty here to stay focused on the long term.
8. How would having a union affect faculty recruitment and hiring?
A union will work to address the long-standing problems that have contributed to scores of excellent faculty members leaving our university in recent years.
We are inspired by Jeffrey King, a distinguished professor and the chair of the Rutgers University philosophy department (ranked No. 2 in the nation). In response to suggestions that unionization will spell the end of our excellence as a top research university, that we will lose our best faculty and that we will not be able to hire the best faculty, professor King writes that “Nothing could be further from the truth here (at Rutgers) … The union plays no role in decisions about salary levels in hiring. What the union does is push for the very best deal they can get for all faculty regarding benefits, cost of living increases and merit pay … So if I had the choice of eliminating the union tomorrow or keeping it, I would choose one thousand times out of one thousand times to keep it.”
*Editor’s Note: At press time, many UIC faculty members were taking part in the second day of a voluntary two-day strike and informational picket that led to the cancellation of nearly half of the university’s classes.