Campus Faculty Association pushes for union to protect academic freedom

Published in the Daily Illini on 9/25/14

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2014 12:45 am | Updated: 1:42 am, Thu Sep 25, 2014.

The Campus Faculty Association believes the creation of unions will help protect University faculty members’ academic freedom.

Some members believe that unionization could have helped resolve the controversy over Steven Salaita’s recently rescinded job offer at the University in a more straightforward manner.

 According to the organization’s website, they aim “to create an open and democratic university by balancing the power of the administration with a strong faculty voice, through an open process of collective bargaining.”

A union for full-time non-tenure-track faculty, Local 6546, was created earlier this year by CFA. However, the union is still in its early stages and hopes to have a contract by sometime later this year. 

Dorothee Schneider, member of CFA and the Local 6546 steering committee, said due to the way the controversy is being handled, “The University will have to pay both in dollars and in reputation, whatever the outcome.” 

Schneider said that the renewed interest from the Salaita controversy could help with efforts to form a union for tenure-track faculty and improve how unionization is perceived in general. 

“Many now see the union as an expression of who they are as educators here, and not as some other organization that interferes.” Schneider said.

Many CFA members have recently been wearing buttons to identify themselves as part of the organization, to show their support for the group’s goal in creating the unions.

Schneider said the unions would install a regularized process to clarify how to resolve disputes with professors. 

She said a union would provide a much clearer path in following employment law and employment contracts, since the faculty would be working under a contract in a union. 

On Sept. 11, the Board of Trustees voted 8-1 to deny Salaita’s appointment to join the American Indian Studies program. 

Although the University never officially hired Salaita, CFA believes Salaita’s position would still have been protected in such a union.

CFA is collaborating with the American Association of University Professors to investigate the board’s decision. 

Bruce Rosenstock, president of CFA, said that unionization would protect the academic freedom of faculty at the University. 

“The only way to protect faculty against this kind of heavy-handed abuse of power is for faculty to have a contract that stipulates exactly how and when tenure is vested, and what the rights of the faculty members are when they’re fired,” he said. 

Rosenstock said tenure itself is not enough to guarantee academic freedom, which is why he believes faculty should unionize.

“(Faculty members) are not protected academically. Academic freedom is not a law,” he said. “Academic freedom is simply what people agree to abide by.”

Rosenstock explained that the AAUP can investigate violations of academic freedom and can censure universities, but they are unable to compel a university to re-hire a faculty member that has been fired. When a professor is dismissed, he or she is able to fight the decision in court, but with far less bargaining power on his or her own than as a part of a union.

“We are living in a time now where academic freedom is under threat, and the only way to defend it is through a union,” Rosenstock said.

Eric can be reached at news@dailyillini.com.

http://www.dailyillini.com/news/article_d85bb8ee-444f-11e4-8237-0017a43b2370.html

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