Whose University?

We’re getting closer, minute by minute, hour by hour, to a fair settlement. Here’s the message Randy Hughes, FA president, sent out this morning as an update:

Progress to date. November 9, 2011

Today, Wednesday, November 9th, we’re still on strike. But there is good news, too. In twelve hours of negotiations, our bargaining team made progress on a number of fronts. We are near agreement on language that will ensure that we retain our right to pursue our Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge concerning the unilateral imposition of furlough days last spring. And there was also some progress on countering the inflammatory and disrespectful language in the BOT back to work proposal. But at 9:00 pm the two bargaining teams mutually agreed to break off work for the night and return to the bargaining table at 9:30 am on Wednesday.

Slow progress, while better than no progress at all, is frustrating. And we all want to be in the classroom rather than on the picket line. But it’s important to remember everything that our hard work and resolve has enabled us to achieve so far. We’ve protected tenure. We’ve ensured that administrators cannot force faculty to teach distance education against our own academic judgement. We’ve strengthened shared governance by strengthening the faculty’s ability to control their own operating papers. We’ve reached a workable compromise on overload pay. And we’ve established a schedule for dealing with procedures concerning Conflict of Interest and Sexual Harassment.

Most heartening of all may well be the incredible support we’ve received from SIUC students. Their support has not only helped us achieve progress at the bargaining table, but is a victory in itself – a victory for our university, its students, and the bond between faculty and students on campus.

While we’ve made much progress, several important issues remain. The BOT proposal on furloughs, while it has been improved since the terms imposed on us in the spring, still fails to provide adequate transparency and accountability. Their back to work proposal would not provide for the make up days we would like to offer to students whose classes have been covered by unqualified substitutes. While it contains new language protecting actions taken in support of the strike, it still gives the false impression that faculty have engaged in misconduct and threats. And the administration is still unwilling to offer us the same chance for securing fair share that it has offered other locals.

These issues are worth fighting for. And if we remain united in our commitment to securing a fair agreement, we have every reason to believe that we can reach one sooner rather than later.

On top of this, there were victories in Ohio as union-busting legislation was soundly defeated.

Unfortunately, we will probably have a real fight on our hands in Illinois. The IEA reports that SB512 — which would cut pension benefits for ACTIVE EMPLOYEES — moved out of committee yesterday. The pension systems for public employees are their retirement funds — they’re not eligible for social security (even if they paid into the system at another job). This came about because of a state failure to pay its bills — so why is the state trying to unconstitutionally punish employees for it’s own failures? Way to create jobs in OTHER states. I finish my degree in 2013. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m sorry to say this — because I really love Illinois, it’s my home — but I won’t be applying for jobs here thanks to the mess the state has made.

Finally, join us today at the Stone Center at 3pm. We want to let the Board of Trustees know whose university SIUC really is.

Strike Warning

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 446

Those of who reading this blog who are faculty, staff, and graduate assistants may have noticed over the past eight or nine weeks the unions have put out information under the header of “strike watches.” We choose that term to deliberately reference “watches” and “warnings” for the weather. In weather terms, a watch is:

“A watch means severe weather is possible during the next few hours, while a warning means that severe weather has been observed, or is expected soon.” [National Weather Service]

In my update to the graduate assistants today, I upgraded from a “watch” to a “warning.”

Like the FA, GAU has a date of September 30th for our strike authorization vote. It wasn’t an easy decision for us to come to — or any of the unions, for that matter — but we all realized two things:

1. Nothing was happening in bargaining. The university administration was content to delay meetings, not deliver promised information and language in a timely manner, and continue to impose what they want and veto everything we suggested. They were waiting for us to fold up and go away — completely.

2. We are stronger together. If GAs want the fees that degrade the value of the stipend we have to live on — we have to fight for it. If the tenured/tenure-track faculty want to protect tenure and academic freedom — they have to fight for it. If the non-tenure track faculty and civil service employees want real job security — they have to fight for it. But we’re not fighting alone, we’re all fighting together for those goals. If a strike happens, you would be walking the picket line with everyone in your department: faculty, staff, graduate assistants. We have nothing to be afraid of when we stand together.

I am not afraid. Are you?

In the news:
Unions to ask members for strike authorization [Daily Egyptian]
Faculty Association to vote on strike authorization [Daily Egyptian]
Strike authorization vote ahead at SIU [The Southern]
SIU faculty to vote Sept. 28 over whether a walkout is an option in ongoing contract talks [Chicago Tribune]
SIU faculty to vote on potential strike Sept. 28 [WPSD Local 6]
SIUC Faculty Union To Hold Strike Authorization Vote [Progress Illinois]
SIU Faculty to Vote on Possible Strike [WSIL TV]
SIU faculty to vote Sept. 28 on possible strike [Carbondale Times]

Upcoming Events:
Wednesday September 28: Faculty Association Strike Authorization Vote
Friday September 30: GA United Strike Authorization Vote

Spin

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 439

439 Days Without A Contract

439 Days Without A Contract

I really must congratulate the administration and, possibly, their new marketing firm. Maybe I’ve been wrong and it’s money well-spent. Sure, I think we might have been better off spending it on things that directly effect the education of the students paying tuition and fees (like getting books in the library, fixing classrooms, paying the people who work with those students and not administration) but I’m finally starting to see the light. At least now the money going to administration and outside agencies is giving us some good spin.

SIU officials encouraged by numbers [The Southern]
Graduate enrollment way down, numbers down overall, faculty and staff unrest, low campus morale, but, hey, freshmen enrollment is up and freshmen retention is up! We’re doing good! All these programs to attract new students and I’m really starting to wonder what picture they’re going to see when they get here. Is it going to be the rosy one with happy students who want to stay and engaged faculty? Somehow I doubt it.

Another big point of contention, at least for represented faculty, is language surrounding tenure. Check out Deo volente for very detailed analyses of the language and problems (if you haven’t already). But you should also be aware that the lessening of tenure protections (and the threat of laying off tenure/tenure-track professors) is very real and happening else. Inside Higher Ed has an article today, Going to Bat For Tenure, about protests at Western Nevada College in support of tenured faculty who are expecting to be laid off at the end of the academic year.

Word to the wise: just because Rita Cheng says “we don’t intend to do that” doesn’t mean they won’t. A verbal statement in the newspaper is not a binding agreement. A contract is a binding agreement. If you want some control over your working conditions — if you want some power in your own life — you’d better be ready to fight for it.

Upcoming Events:
Struggles in Steel: The Fight for Equal Opportunity, over 70 African-American steel workers speak about their struggles for fair treatment during both their 125-year industry as well as after shutdown
A part of the labor film series sponsored by the SIUC Labor Coalition
Sunday September 18, 2pm
Admission is free and family is welcome!

Is Enrollment Up or Down?

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 434

Last night, the Chancellor’s office released a rather confusing press release in which they assert that enrollment is both up. And down. Dave Johnson blogged about it last night and dissected the numbers better than I probably could, so if you’re interested I suggest you head over to Deo volente.

What I’m interested in about this press release are these two sentences: “Fall enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale stands at 19,817, due to softening enrollment in graduate programs” and “In graduate programs, new student enrollment stands at 554 or 10.5 percent fewer students than last year.” A ten percent drop. As a graduate student (and assistant) myself, I wonder what caused that. I have a few ideas:

1. Substandard health care
2. High fees/tuition
3. Economic instability in the institution
4. Economic instability in the state
5. A feeling that the faculty they would be coming here to study with won’t be able to devote time to mentoring because they are too busy “doing more with less” (to borrow the Chancellor’s phrase)

So, it sounds like we slowly holding back the creep in undergraduate enrollment — which is good news — but we’re losing the more experienced graduate students who are taking a look at the situation and running for better climates. Pretty scary, especially since there are plenty of small departments that rely on those graduate students/assistants for a large portion of their teaching (especially in the core curriculum). Some of the departments with the biggest load of graduate assistants have that load mostly because of teaching (I’m thinking of the English department and the high number of TAs teaching freshmen comp). The same goes for research intensive departments — a lot of the labor is coming from graduate students/assistants.

For the Southern’s take on it (remarkably similar to the press release):
SIU enrollment drops for sixth straight year
SIU enrollment down 1.1 percent; first-time undergrad numbers up

Upcoming Events:
All ACLU members and supporters are invited to participate in the Southern Illinois Annual Membership Meeting taking place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7th at the Lesar Law Building on the SIU Carbondale campus. The guest speaker for the evening, Rich Whitney, will give a talk entitled “Academic Freedom and Tenure: What Does the Constitution Protect?” Whitney is most known for his run in the 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial races, and was the first Green Party candidate for governor in Illinois history. He currently practices civil rights law in Carbondale, taking on an array of controversial cases and protecting constitutional rights. RSVP today to reserve your spot.
(We have been informed that Chancellor Rita Cheng has been invited, but her attendance has not been confirmed.)

Struggles in Steel: The Fight for Equal Opportunity, over 70 African-American steel workers speak about their struggles for fair treatment during both their 125-year industry as well as after shutdown
A part of the labor film series sponsored by the SIUC Labor Coalition
Sunday September 18, 2pm
Admission is free and family is welcome!

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 421

Lots of stuff going on in the news. I’m going to have to get a helper on this blog, sooner rather than later, now that classes have started and there’s actually a lot of SIU-specific news being reported! Anyone wanting to pitch in, email me directly at kabrown@gmail.com.

From the Daily Egyptian (both editorial):
New SIU logo hinders university image
Even the students don’t like the new logo, with specific critiques from an Art and Design student. He makes a good point though — how is the tacky logo going to reflect on programs like… oh, Marketing, Communications, or Art and Design that teach students how to do things like make logos? Probably not well.

Who’s the manager of the tightwad department?
A call for a “fiscal responsibility office” at SIUC, answerable only to Cheng and Poshard, to try and manage “doing more with less.” Interesting, of course, is that the “less” here is not less administration…

From the IEA:
Education quality is theme of IEA radio ad
The IEA’s radio campaign resumes, so you might hear teacher voices in the region soon.

Pension talks to resume in Springfield
It looks like the unions are invited to a sit-down in Springfield in September about pensions and pension reform. There are also “meetings scheduled” between September and October, of which some I really hope are open hearings for members to speak out.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 420

A short update today; I’ve got a lot of links and probably won’t provide much commentary (unfortunately, the rest of my day is likely to be spent dealing with vehicle failure).

Rich Whitney is going to give a talk entitled “Academic Freedom and Tenure: What Does the Constitution Protect?” to the ACLU 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7th at the Lesar Law Building on the SIU Carbondale campus.

Illinois likely site of next fight over public employee benefits [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
Something all of us already knew but an interesting outsider perspective on the upcoming pension reform fight. I don’t recommend reading the comments, though.

Voice of The Southern: Don’t throw art, music education under (budget) bus [The Southern]
The first Gary Metro editorial I’ve read in about six months I actually find myself agreeing with! While Metro’s topic here is how budget cuts shouldn’t effect art and music in K-12 districts (and they shouldn’t) some of the things he says applies just as well to higher education too.

SHG grad Sambursky resigns from SIU coaching job, hires lawyer [State Journal-Register]
Either I missed it in the Southern last week when this happened… or the Southern didn’t cover it. More information on the athletics debacle, including the answer to my question about the whole thing: what exactly Moccia did to start it, which was apparently to tell Sambursky she couldn’t be an effective head coach because she has a young child.

Freshmen enrollment on the rise [Daily Egyptian]
Freshmen enrollment looks good for this semester. Cheng cites the marketing blitz prospective students are treated to. Personally, of all of that I bet it’s the phone calls and personal contacts that do it — plus, as several of the students interviewed point out, knowing friends are at SIUC.

Unions 420 days without contracts continue negotiations [Daily Egyptian]
In contrast to the happy tone of higher enrollment… we’re 420 days without a contract. This DE article highlights that, some of the issues the bargaining teams are dealing with… and a very strange quote from Cheng that seems fairly disconnected from what the unions are talking about.

Finally, I’ve heard reports that there’s going to be some protests of the cutting of the bus route that goes to Evergreen Terrace (home of many graduate students and international students). If anyone has more information about this, let me know!

Day Two

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 419

Performance-based funding is here! Apparently Rita Cheng and accounting professor Allan Karnes are both on the steering committee. The Daily Egyptian’s article was light on specific metrics, but the emphasis on graduation and retention should give readers a clue of where this is heading. Those of you doing a really close reading will also note that the metrics (and goals) are only for undergraduate bachelor’s and associates degrees. What metrics, if any, are there for graduate education? Certificates? Degrees? Do advanced degrees (which, like a 4-year degree are becoming increasingly necessary for high-level jobs) not matter?

As many questions as I have about the direction the state is going for performance-based funding, I suppose I’m grateful we’re slightly better off than our K-12 colleagues — we’re not teaching to the test under No Child Left Behind (or as many K-12 teachers I know refer to it, Every Child Left Behind). Standards aren’t a bad thing nor do I think performance-based funding could be a bad thing either. But when one single metric is used, often without regard to university mission or the social situation, I start to worry a little.

Central Michigan Faculty Strikes; University Plans Classes [Inside Higher Ed] and Judge orders CMU faculty to end strike [Detroit News]. The faculty at CMU have been without contracts since June 30th, were unable to resolve conflicts with the administration before classes started — and they began the year with a strike. Good for them.

But think about that — they’ve been without contracts since June 30th 2011. We’ve been without contracts since June 30th 2010. The only way these open contracts will be settled is if we force the university to come to the table with a real interest in bargaining and creating solutions to the issues each local has left. CMU faculty went on strike to do it. Now’s the time everyone here at SIUC really starts thinking about what we’re willing to do and how long we’re willing to let this go on. I know my patience with the administrative shuffle is wearing pretty thin.