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Faculty leaders discuss shared governance, possible effects of faculty union

INSIDE ILLINOIS, Feb. 20, 2014   [ Email | Share ]

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 and two critics of a faculty union (below), asking them to discuss shared governance and the pros and cons of establishing a faculty union at Illinois.

Speaking against campus faculty unionization:

  • Nicholas C. Burbules, the Gutgsell Professor of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership

  • Joyce Tolliver, a professor of Spanish translation studies and of gender and women’s studies.

additional photo
Nicholas C. Burbules |
Photo by  L. Brian Stauffer
additional photo
Joyce Tolliver |
Photo by  L. Brian Stauffer








1. What has been the general campus reaction to the recent signature drive to form a union and what concerns have you heard?

We have heard multiple accounts of people being harassed by repeated visits until they get worn down and sign just to get rid of the hassle, and others have told us that they signed the “CFA mission statement” without realizing it would be represented as support for a union.

The signature drive has been characterized by a lack of transparency – even secrecy – that we would never tolerate in other important decision-making contexts. Union organizers were asked in a recent (Urbana Academic) Senate meeting to substantiate their claims that they are “near a majority” of faculty members, and whether in that claim they are mingling tenure and non-tenure track faculty numbers. They were asked how they can claim a near-majority if a card campaign hasn’t even begun yet. The leadership of the CFA present responded with stony silence.

The most important question they refused to answer was why they have chosen a private, one-to-one recruitment drive, where people are exposed to only one side of the issue, instead of open public discussion and a democratic, secret-ballot vote that allows all affected parties to participate.

2. Are the recent changes in the state’s public-employee pension law a good argument for the formation of a union?

Not if history predicts the future. Unions supported the Cullerton bill, which would have forced people to choose between their health insurance and COLA. The current devastating pension bill passed despite aggressive union opposition. The lawsuits against the current plan include union and non-union plaintiffs. The final court ruling will not be affected at all by whether this campus has a faculty union.

3. Can the Urbana Academic Senate and a union organization co-exist?

They might if a union would limit itself to its legal domain of wages, hours and working conditions, and allow the senate to continue its central role in campus governance and decision-making. But local organizers have consistently minimized the senate’s documented achievements and have made it clear that they regard the union as an independent governance group. They have stated their intentions to fold into collective bargaining many academic policy decisions that go far beyond “wages, hours and working conditions,” including admissions, financial aid, campus diversity and online education – all of which the statutes delegate to the senate.

4. How committed do you think campus administration and the U. of I. Board of Trustees are to shared governance?

The current campus and university administration are demonstrably committed to making shared governance work. A good example is last summer’s task force, where faculty members and campus administrators worked together to address major issues of salary, benefits, promotion and tenure, and other faculty concerns. Another example of productive collaboration is the plan for promotion paths and greater protections for non-tenure-track colleagues. (The CFA opposed these.) Our chancellor has said that she has never worked at a campus with such a strong shared governance system.

5. Was the demise of the Michael Hogan administration a good or bad example of shared governance?

It showed that the process, though not perfect, is self-correcting. President Hogan came here from a unionized campus and accordingly treated faculty members as adversaries that he had to deal with at the minimum level of accommodation. He had no appreciation for the strong tradition of shared governance at Illinois. Faculty opposition, within the senate and outside it, grew over time. It was a series of conversations with elected campus and university faculty leaders that led to his departure, followed by a smooth transition to the current administration of President (Bob) Easter, and the strengthened role of our campus chancellor, Phyllis Wise.

6. What can shared governance provide that a union cannot, and vice versa?

The University Statutes lay out fundamental principles and rights of faculty members, which must be respected by university leaders. They’re not open to renegotiation every few years, as union contracts are.

Union advocates who claim that the role of faculty members in shared governance is “merely advisory” ignore the reality of decision-making on our campus. There is virtually no area of campus decision-making where faculty do not play an active role through senate committees and the involvement of elected faculty leaders. Even in areas where faculty input is technically advisory, recent history has shown that administrators who go forward without faculty support do so at their peril.

Union advocates often say that the senate cannot deal with issues of wages and benefits. That is absolutely untrue: Elected campus and university faculty leaders have always advised the chancellor, provost and president on faculty salary and benefit concerns, and have input across the full range of campus budget issues. Because the shared governance model is collaborative, not adversarial, it encourages a much more cordial campus climate. And it will never result in our students being caught in the middle of a threatened strike, as is occurring right now at UIC.

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?

It shows how ugly and adversarial the collective bargaining process can be: It brings out suspicion, hostility, entrenched positions, public harangues and accusations – and, it appears, a likely strike later this month.

But it also shows the “Trojan horse” nature of establishing a union. If UIC faculty members had known that their union would fail to settle a contract for almost two years, during which they received no pay raises while the other two campuses did, would they have signed union cards? If they had known that their union representatives would insist on including a range of other issues besides wages, hours and working conditions in the negotiations – vastly complicating and slowing down the process – would they have signed? If they had known that representatives of the state union, who are not UIC faculty, would also be at the bargaining table, making demands based on their own interests, would they have supported forming a union?

The problem with creating a union is that you don’t find out these things until after it’s too late. There is no transparency in a process that asks for blind support, with no certainty about precisely what the union representatives will demand.

8. How would having a union affect faculty recruitment and hiring?

Faculty recruitment, hiring and retention require a great deal of flexibility to create an attractive package of salary, benefits and research support that is tailor-made to the faculty member. Some unions allow some flexibility in this regard, but overall the union process is bureaucratic and constrained by restrictions written into the contract. Department administrators across this campus have said that this would tie their hands. There are good reasons why none of our peer institutions (and competitors for faculty) has a faculty union.

More information:
Preserving Excellence at Illinois
FAQ on No Faculty Union
Joint Statement of Concern


*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.

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