UIC illustrates why UIUC should reject faculty union

UIC illustrates why UIUC should reject faculty union

By Joyce Tolliver and Nicholas C. Burbules

Less than two years after its formation, members of the faculty union on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus are already calling for a strike.

We have maintained that a faculty union would be detrimental to this campus, this University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. None of the universities that we identify as peers (and competitors) is unionized — in fact, private universities, who are among our toughest rivals for faculty, cannot be unionized.

Now UIC is showing what can happen at a unionized campus.

According to the UIC United Faculty website, a strike at UIC would require unionized faculty members to refuse to attend "classes, committee meetings, and other university functions." Participation in the strike would be expected of all faculty members in the bargaining unit. According to UICUF, "There is no such thing as being partially on strike. ... We do not have a 'Get Relief from Strike' card. ..." Since faculty members on strike would be withholding their work, their pay could be docked for those days.

The timing and strategy of a faculty strike could hardly be more ham-handed. In states around the country, there is a backlash against public employee unions. As we have just seen in Illinois, public employee pension programs are already considered overly generous. Faculty salaries are well above the state average, and after years of tuition increases our students, their parents and citizens generally will not have much sympathy with a strike that bemoans the tough life of university professors and sacrifices students' education to demands for more money.

So why is the UIC faculty union resorting to a strike threat? Their website identifies four main issues:

"[1] A living wage, multi-year contracts and a real system of promotion for a high quality non-tenure track faculty.

"[2] Faculty control of governance and curriculum through the Senate, including expanding its role in budgetary decisions.

"[3] A commitment to improve students' learning conditions in classrooms, labs, and access to support.

"[4] A compensation proposal that truly recognizes faculty taking furloughs and freezes in the past and moving forward is based on merit, responds to equity disparities and compression."

Several of these have already been dealt with through shared governance: the option for non-tenure-track multiyear contracts, faculty control of governance and curriculum, and faculty participation in budgetary decisions are already part of the University of Illinois Statutes and General Rules, which apply to all three UI campuses

On our campus, a "real system of promotion for high quality non-tenure track faculty" is already being developed, and last summer's senate task force proposed a compensation review committee to address salary inequities, compression and other benefits issues. Our campus has already made significant progress on salary issues, including specific targeting of internal and external equity concerns.

Our campus' experience shows that with a strong senate and effective faculty leadership, these issues can be, and have been, resolved within the framework of shared governance.

Some issues enumerated by UICUF, such as student learning conditions and student support, are clearly outside the legal domain of union jurisdiction over salary and working conditions. We see the same tactic on our own campus. The Campus Faculty Association website says that if we formed a faculty union here, it would deal with admissions, graduation rates, faculty diversity issues and tuition rates — all of them important issues, but all of them squarely within the domain of shared governance rather than collective bargaining's legally defined sphere of wages and working conditions.

The demands being made at UIC, some of them echoed by faculty union advocates here, ignore the accomplishments of shared governance in addressing tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty concerns, and constitute direct interference with academic policy matters that are explicitly authorized to the faculty through the senate. On this campus, significant progress has been made on all these issues without a union, without union dues and without strikes or threatened strikes.

Faculty don't have to threaten to strike in order to make progress on the issues being cited. And a faculty strike would damage the reputation of the entire university and cast a harsh light on all faculty who work at this institution, as well as interrupting the education our students have already paid for. It seems that, at UIC, the faculty union's primary concern is union power and the expansion of collective bargaining's proper role. The last thing we need on this campus is an echo of those strategies.

Joyce Tolliver and Nicholas C. Burbules are faculty members on the Urbana campus, and co-authors of the blog No Faculty Union at Illinois.

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Biomed84 wrote on December 14, 2013 at 11:12 pm

For all the author's discussion about shared governance and unions they miss the curical difference - shared governance bodies are only advisory (unions have legally binding contracts).  A university administration can chose to ignore any policies Faculty Senates propose and if they do the faculty are without recourse.  Administrations generally don't do it all the time to avoid conflict, but will on bigger issues (the slick ones will hide behind explanations that the budget's don't allow it).  The alleged voice that shared governance grants faculty is illusory.  The most famous case comes from Idaho State where when the Senate started disagreeing with the president he simpled dissolved it.