CFA President Promotes Collective Bargaining to Mitigate Against “Corporatization” at UIUC

CFA President Harriet Murav spoke to the YMCA Friday Forum on October 14th, urging faculty to come together in a union, suggesting that collective bargaining provided an avenue to mitigate against the “corporate, for-profit model that has taken hold at UIUC” and many other institutions. The full text of her speech follows.

Verticalization or Unionization: What’s Better for Education?’

“In its deepest and richest sense a community must always remain a matter of face-to-face intercourse… Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighborly community.” —John Dewy, The Public and Its Problems, cited by Jean Gregorek, “Liberal Education after Antioch” in AAUP, Academe Online

I’d like to thank the organizers of the YMCA Friday Forum for inviting me to speak in this important series on “The Future of Learning: Is Public Education Under Siege?” The Y’s Friday Forum is itself an example of the “face-to-face intercourse” and “neighborly community” about which John Dewey wrote in 1927. No matter what our field, we’re here at UIUC because it offers us, unlike many other large universities, a neighborly community.

My talk explores the ways that a unionized campus, with collective bargaining rights for faculty, can help protect and help grow the university’s core mission. I will argue that unionization mitigates the negative effects of the verticalization of administrative power and the corporate for profit model that has taken hold at the University of Illinois and at college campuses across the country and the world.

I am happy to be a part of this campus, a model of what a land grant university can be like, a campus whose distinction in research vies with the best private institutions nationally. My own research in Russian and Yiddish literature has flourished here, supported by an extraordinary intellectual environment, including colleagues in Slavic, Comparative and World Literature, Jewish Studies, History, and English, and by the best research library in the world. Nurtured by this environment, I just published my fourth book, titled Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia. I’m very proud of this work.

There is a direct link between who I am as a scholar and professor and as President of Campus Faculty Association. I believe that unionization will enhance my success as a teacher and scholar and, moreover, will support the neighborly community upon which teaching and scholarship depend.

One of the most important sources for my work is the Russian literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975). Bakhtin teaches me that the object of my study—literature—is not merely the repository of data reflecting its time and place. Bakhtin teaches me that indeed any statement or utterance is not merely the communication of information, but rather an act that affects both you, my addressee, and me, the speaker. I engage the work, letting it transform me, and I engage you, the one to whom I am speaking, and I leave these interactions transformed. Communication does not only convey a message, the message changes speakers and addressees; it creates a new situation for everyone involved. This is the ideal of teaching and learning to which I aspire. Changing the situation by the very processes you use to bring about the change is also what unions are all about. Every discussion that we have about unionization brings about a more open, deliberative, transparent, and democratic campus culture.

For some of you, the idea of a unionized campus may conjure up the image of a union thug busting into your seminar on hydrodynamics, or on Melville, for example, to force you to teach the physics of fluid flow or Billy Budd from a labor perspective. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Can or should a union interfere with curriculum or other dimensions of educational policy? Will a union erode the preeminence of a research university such as ours by undermining merit pay? (Hasn’t merit pay already been undermined on this campus?)

The answer to the first two questions is a resounding no. What a union can do is grant faculty a voice in campus decision making, directly strengthening the hand of the faculty senate. Binding contracts on faculty wages mean that state funding reductions do not lead to higher workload or furloughs. Union control over base pay co-exists with merit pay controlled by academic departments.

What dimensions of the core mission can a unionized campus enhance? What is our core mission? Traditionally, it has included research, teaching, and service, in that order of descending significance, but lately, a new, fourth element has appeared, “economic development.” I’m going to bypass the traditional formulation of the university’s core mission in favor of something else, something far more ephemeral and fragile, namely, the face-to -face dialogue among faculty, between faculty and students, faculty and staff, and among students. I’m defining faculty in the broadest possible sense, to include non tenure-stream faculty, academic professionals, lecturers, and anyone else who teaches. And by students I include graduates and undergraduates, although my focus is on undergraduates in particular. According to John Dewey, not only education, but citizenship and neighborly community depend on this face-to-face encounter. Let me reiterate Dewey in light of Bakhtin’s model of speech pragmatics: the engaged encounter is the moment when the community gets created. I recognize my dependence on you, whether or not we agree on a particular issue.

I name this encounter, wherever and whenever it takes place, as the educational unit. The EU, educational unit, cannot be translated into any numerical terms. It occupies no particular space and takes no definable amount of time; an EU can take a matter of seconds, or it can take months or even years. It can take place between two people or among two hundred. This is in contrast to one instructional unit (IU) which equals one undergraduate credit hour or 1/4 of a graduate unit. You might expect that in a numbers driven campus environment, high IUs would attract high numbers of support dollars to departments who produce them; in fact, this is not the case here, or at most other universities, as Christopher Newfield’s research shows. A strengthened faculty senate, supported by a unionized campus, could take steps to correct this problem. Let me go back to my own perverse metric, EUs, Educational Units, and give some examples. I teach a Writing II lecture and discussion course of about 100 students, CWL 241, which covers Homer to Shakespeare, and my theme is the changing meaning and scope of forgiveness that these basic texts engage. We had a discussion recently about whether forgiveness meant wiping the slate clean, as if the injury never took place, and one student said, “this is fantastic; I’ve just heard seven different definitions of forgiveness!” That instant equals one Educational Unit.

Last year and the previous summer I was in frequent contact with a premed major who wanted to talk to someone about her future. She had taken Dostoevsky with me and the same CWL 241 course. She told me she loved dance, and was interested in the issues of ethics and morality that both the Dostoevsky and the CWL 241 raised, but was confused as to how to sustain these interests in med school. I advised her to seek out med schools that included medical ethics and diversity courses. I expressed surprise that she had no one to speak to in her physiology and other pre-med courses about these questions. The issue wasn’t courses or programs, however. The student wanted to talk about herself, about who she wanted to become, to try out in tentative ways, different versions of herself. I’m sure you have had similar experiences. You’ve had face-to-face encounters with students from other disciplines or even colleges (as in my two examples), and you were left marveling over the extraordinary and fragile moment during which the student—and maybe you too—were open, even, vulnerable to some other new possibility of who they and maybe you were and could become. You don’t have to be in the Humanities or Social Sciences to make these moment possible, but they are less likely to happen in courses that enroll 700 students—a workload issue that a union contract can explore.

These two Educational Units, one that took a few seconds and the other 2 years have no measurable worth. According to the standards of efficiency, performance, efficacy, and maximum impact that are enshrined in our campus strategic plan, and in our allocation of teaching positions, including TAs and faculty, it is not even clear that I should be teaching the courses that produce EUs. My Dostoevsky class enrolls only about 35 students; the CWL only 100. These are dismal IUs. From the perspective of outcomes assessment, a derivative of the new managerial model, the Educational Unit has no merit.

I’d like to consider the outcomes assessment model in more detail. It’s one of the very few evaluations of undergraduate teaching that our campus engages. I’ll take a generic outcomes assessment plan from a typical language and literature program such as my own. The goals defined by the plan might include: 1) students improve their language ability in the target language; 2) students acquire knowledge that enables them to function in a culture other than their own; 3) students develop their analytic skills; 4)students gain factual knowledge; and 5) students gain skills in writing and oral communication. These are all laudable goals. The yardstick of success for all 5 categories would presumably be students’ performance on examinations, possibly also a writing portfolio that could be tracked over the course of the undergraduate career. Who would give these exams and who would assess the writing portfolio? That’s another workload issue.

It’s hard for me to understand how the outcomes assessment model that I have just sketched gives any indication of the success of our teaching or the value of an undergraduate education at a Research One university such as ours. It’s not clear that a student needs to be at this or any university to do well on the assessments that this model envisions. The student could be in high school, or the student could be enrolled in online courses. I’m not suggesting that the outcomes assessment model was designed by university administrators to make language and literature programs redundant. Absolutely not. I helped to write the outcomes assessment plan I just described. The model of education that outcomes assessment implies undermines the rationale for residential university education in the first place. The outcomes assessment model makes the neighborly community of the university unnecessary; it removes the extraordinary potential for teaching and learning in the unpredictable moment of face-to-face encounter—among students, among students and faculty, among faculty and faculty–irrelevant. Students and faculty come to this university– whether they are in the sciences, fine arts, humanities, or social sciences to be part of the neighborly and scholarly, or, research community that UIUC offers. Teaching, and learning, scholarship and research cannot take place in isolation. A 2006 climate survey conducted at UIC showed high level of dissatisfaction with the “level of like-minded colleagues” who do similar research, and who could provide advice, and an even higher level of dissatisfaction with departmental atmosphere, including feelings of respect, integration, and participation. The data are not in yet from our upcoming survey on campus climate; I do not know even if the climate issues I just touched upon will be included. But let me go out on a limb and say that the diminished level of respect, integration, and participation that I feel over the past ten years at the rank of Full Professor in my college and on campus as a whole might well be matched by colleagues in different colleges and at lower ranks. The way to improve satisfaction with regard to feelings of respect, integration, and participation—in other words, the way to create our neighborly community anew—is to work together, collectively.

The outcomes assessment model, and its implicit and very impoverished paradigm of learning and teaching– is only a piece of the bigger managerial picture that we are now facing. The rise of the outcomes assessment model on university campuses is only one dimension of a dismaying national and global trend. We here at UIUC are experiencing this national trend in the policies of system wide centralization initiated by the Board of Trustees and President Hogan; these policies embody the campus strategic plan promulgated by our previous president and current administrators.

To gain an understanding of the broader significance of this trend, I turn to an interview published in Inside Higher Ed with Randy Martin, the author of a new book, Under New Management: Universities, Administrative Labor, and the Professional Turn. Martin describes a sweeping change in how we think about our work as university professors brought about by the new dominance of “managerial protocols that [aim ] to enhance performance based on external measures of productivity and efficacy.” Whereas in the past, “faculty and disciplines” enjoyed self-governance, and university administration remained separate from faculty and the disciplines, according to Martin, more recently, “the separation has eroded” and “campuses and faculty have been subjected to a race to improve rankings and translate what they know into standardized measures of worth.” The erosion of the separation between administration and the disciplines is evidenced on our campus in the centralization of hiring allocation. The decision as to what faculty positions to allocate used to be in the hands of the Deans of the various colleges, who presumably had knowledge of the disciplines in their colleges. Recently however, allocations decisions have shifted to centralized committees not elected by the faculty and to the Provost. Yes, we have a budget problem, and the number of positions has necessarily been reduced, but the definition of the positions has been taken out of the control of faculty in the disciplines in which allocations are approved. Let’s flesh out this picture with a hypothetical but very real scenario. Standardized measures of worth include, for example, the number of patents produced by university faculty, and the pressure to produce more patents could influence hiring priorities away from pure mathematics and science to more positions in applied mathematics and science. This is where a strong faculty voice in university decision making could play an important role to restore discipline based control over positions once allocated.

Let me give another example of the erosion of the barrier between the disciplines and the administration. The 2007 Illinois College Unit Strategic Plan for the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research states as its first goal: “maintain and improve services for research, technology transfer, and economic development.” The new Office of the Vice President for Research, according to its website, ” assumes the responsibilities formerly performed by the Office of the Vice President for Technology and Economic Development.” The new configuration is not a departure from, but rather an institutionalization of the prior strategic goal. The trend continues. The change in administrative personnel, from one president to another, has not offset, but rather, augmented the managerial model. Economic development is an object of study and research in such disciplines as economics, history, political science, and others. The prominence of economic development , not as an object of research, but as an actual practice–as the primary goal for a centralized office of research, and the conjoining of the office of economic development with the office of research reveal that the administrative agenda of entrepreneurship has invaded the disciplinary stewardship of the definition of research goals.

My argument thus far has been that the managerial model, which includes the centralization and verticalization of administrative power, leads to the erosion of disciplinary control over research and the definition of positions already allocated to departments, and produces the stunted outcomes assessment model of undergraduate education. Another example of the erosion of disciplinary and Faculty Senate control is the President’s draft proposal on educational management, which would undermine campus and departmental decision making, shifting that power to central administration. An external consulting company was contracted to produce the proposal; on-campus faculty experts in educational policy were ignored. The fragile and numerically insignificant but infinitely valuable moment of face-to-face encounter, which I have whimsically called an Educational Unit, cannot survive long in this environment. Verticalization and the managerial model are bad for education—both our own continuing education as research scholars and the education of our students.

Unionization, in contrast, is good for education. We can help redress the increase in administrative power that erodes faculty and disciplinary control and impoverishes education. We can collectively push back against the for-profit model that proliferates professional masters programs of dubious intellectual quality. We can bargain for dimensions of shared governance, broadly and specifically speaking: for example, that effect program assessment and program closures, program financing, patterns of kinds of hiring (more TT in proportion to NTT). Unions have impact on campus decision making by bolstering the role of the Faculty Senate. AAUP contracts in Ohio and Michigan, for example, have articles that protect the Faculty Senate’s role in shared governance and the faculty’s control over many academic issues. They also have a grievance process that can be used to back up those rights if the administration violates them.
Collective bargaining agreements, which ensure faculty participation in campus decision making, are the best way to protect and enhance the face-to-face encounter on which education, citizenship, and neighborly community depend. The reason is simple. Collective bargaining agreements are not the creatures of off-campus labor agitators, who impose contract provisions on an unwitting faculty —the putative union thugs, to whom I referred earlier, who insist that we teach hydrodynamics, Melville, or anything else from a labor perspective. Collective bargaining agreements are rather the product of innumerable face-to-face conversations among faculty, who find out from each other what their colleagues’ interests and concerns are. You make the union; you define its goals; you shape its agenda. If your interests and concerns are opposed to mine, we talk about it; we search for common ground to improve the university for us both. Changing the situation by the very processes you use to bring about the change is what unions are all about. The open, democratic, deliberative and inclusive campus community gets created in the very process of talking about it. The home of democracy is the neighborly community, says John Dewey. A campus union can be that place where our neighborly community, a little bruised in recent years, can recover and reinvent itself.

Published by CFA

The Campus Faculty Association (CFA) is an advocacy organization for faculty and other campus workers committed to shared governance, academic freedom, and a strong faculty voice on campus.

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