UI profs' plan would address faculty concerns

URBANA — Two University of Illinois professors who earlier this year squared off in a debate about faculty unionization have proposed a plan they say could address many of the concerns raised by their colleagues in recent years.

Randy McCarthy, a mathematics professor, and Nicholas Burbules, an education professor, both members of the academic senate, have asked leaders of the senate this week to assemble a group of faculty to meet with administrators in an attempt to tackle ongoing issues, including faculty salaries and how academic programs are reviewed. The group would then produce a report by the fall.

The proposal was presented at the end of the senate's last, and packed, meeting of the academic year. The senate is a group of about 200 elected faculty, 50 students and eight academic professionals that advises campus leaders.

Animal sciences Professor Matthew Wheeler, who is the senate's chairman through the summer, said he expects the executive committee to discuss the proposal at an upcoming meeting, if someone brings it up. Burbules said he intends to.

The proposal — for an ad hoc faculty committee to meet with administrators on ten different issues — comes a few months following a senate debate on a sometimes-contentious issue: whether faculty should unionize. In the last year, the Campus Faculty Association, which is not affiliated with the senate, has been meeting with professors to gauge interest. They're still knocking on doors and talking with people; a formal card campaign has not been launched yet, according to Campus Faculty Association officials.

Both Burbules and McCarthy said their opinions have not changed about unionization — McCarthy spoke in favor of a faculty union on the Urbana-Champaign campus and Burbules opposed collective bargaining. But as McCarthy said, "let's give the administration a chance."

After the February debate, Burbules said more than one faculty member posed the question: Why are we arguing about unionization when we could be discussing the issues and how to better address them?

"Randy, like me, is a senator. We're committed to the process of shared governance, to making the processes work better ... to coming up with strategies for moving forward," Burbules said. Shared governance is the concept of faculty and other employees advising administration and being part of decisions.

"The bottom line is, the unionization effort ... is a symptom of underlying problems," McCarthy said. And the debate on campus about pros and cons of unionizing can distract from a conversation about how to tackle the tough issues facing the campus.

"We're asking senate leaders and administrators to set out a process and come back with an explicit public plan with solutions," said McCarthy, who said he is speaking for himself, not the Campus Faculty Association. After faculty review the report, it will then be up to them to decide if the response addresses their concerns.

According to the proposal, the list of issues includes the following:

— Examine salary disparities among faculty on campus and peer institutions.

— Protect pension and health care benefits and promote new policies that will ensure the financial stability of the programs.

— Identify and resolve any unfair practices in the tenure-review process.

— Review family-leave practices.

— Develop consistent policies for budget review from departmental to university level.

— Ensure the campus' response to new opportunities does not come at the expense of transparency, appropriate consultation and review by authorized governance bodies.

— Prevent "short-circuiting" of due process or faculty rights when academic programs are being evaluated, which may involve program reductions.

— Develop a realistic plan to address deferred maintenance issues on campus, including classroom, laboratory and office renovations.

— Protect, and perhaps expand, tuition-waiver guarantees to faculty.

— Maintain mutual respect between faculty and administration; ensure the processes of shared governance.

The issues raised in the McCarthy-Burbules proposal have been raised for years by the Campus Faculty Association, said association member Susan Davis, a communications professor.

"There have been a lot of committees over the years," she added.

"It's important to note that the senate is strictly advisory," said James Barrett, a history professor who is president of the Campus Faculty Association. The best way to address salary disparities and improve benefits, family-leave policies and other "classic issues covered under the scope of a collective-bargaining agreement," he said, is with a legally binding agreement negotiated by a faculty union.

At the meeting earlier this week, Chancellor Phyllis Wise told faculty she welcomes the opportunity to gather data on the issues outlined in the proposal.

"These are questions that are important to the vibrancy of the institution," she said, adding that she sees no reason to delay moving forward with trying to address the concerns outlined in the proposal.

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