By Robert W. McChesney
I have been a professor for 26 years, first in Madison and, since 1999, here in Urbana-Champaign. The public research university system has been very good to me, and very good for the people of this state and nation. I love this university and I bleed blue and orange; that is why I support the formation of a faculty union.
I understand some of my colleagues believe that there is no place for faculty unions at universities. I too thought that for much of my career. These universities had large roles for faculty in governance.
Most of the administration came from the ranks of faculty, and many in administration made a career at the same university. There was real institutional loyalty, and the loyalty was for the public service function of the university.
There still are people like that today and we have a number of them in administration at UIUC.
I respect them, and I believe they have sacrificed their research and teaching to advance the university. But they're a dying breed in the rapidly changing university environment.
In this new world, administration positions and salaries have grown sharply while faculty positions, salaries and influence have stagnated.
Today's top administrators hopscotch from job to job and have questionable loyalty to a place that may soon be in their rearview mirror. With declining public financial support, administrators are looking to locate and satisfy donors and partners with deep pockets. Meanwhile, faculty members play a smaller and weaker role in determining the course of the university.
A faculty union can formally reassert faculty's role in the administration of the university. It can protect our interests and see that we are not abandoned behind closed doors.
By merely existing, a union will force administrators to take faculty concerns seriously.
In the next decade a series of crucial decisions are going to be made that will determine the ratio of tenured-faculty to adjuncts, the role of technology, and class form and size. The type of career many of us have enjoyed at Illinois may become unthinkable for younger scholars.
In all of these cases the faculty is the one constituency has the greatest concern for protecting and expanding the quality and public service nature of the university experience. But in these tumultuous times, our voice is weak.
There is an old saying in politics: If you're not at the table when decisions are being made, you're what's being served.
On individual matters, a union can see that faculty can get due process.
Everyone I know can cite cases where faculty members have been mistreated and either had to consider hiring expensive counsel, swallow the injustice, or leave the university. The existence of a union with a small staff would have resolved all these problems quickly and efficiently, before they escalated beyond a point of no return.
If we are going to have effective faculty governance and effective participation in university affairs, there is no better option that I can see than a union.
Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.