Where We Are Now

Dear CFA Members and supporters:

As the end of the semester draws near, and after three turbulent months, CFA wants to reflect on where we as a faculty are now, and how a faculty union could make a difference.   We face the following persistent problems.

Board of Trustees (BOT) Overreach:  In the last year, the Board has forced administrators to violate the University’s statutes, and created an embarrassing international scandal. The BOT has interfered in the decision-making processes of committees, departments and schools, leaving the faculty damaged and trying to clean up the mess.

In response to well-organized faculty pressure, the BOT recently backed off its insistence that lecturer James Kilgore be barred from teaching on campus. Faculty protests gave a Provost’s ad hoc committee strong backing as it examined Kilgore’s hiring and firing and recommended he be allowed to teach. But nothing stands between faculty members and the next micro-managing Board.

A faculty union contract would ensure due process and help avoid procedural violations. It would help protect the campus from embarrassing scandals caused by capricious decisions. A union is the only effective defense we have against a Board of Trustees that wants to participate directly in hiring and firing.

No faculty members sit on this unelected BOT, but a faculty union would give us strong legal representation before it.

Transparency and accountability: Crucial decisions are made in secret. One of our outstanding peers, the University of Wisconsin, announced the finalists for their presidential search in January 2014, and faculty, students and staff were able to ask the finalists questions in a statewide video conferenced public forum. In contrast, our own presidential search was conducted behind closed doors. We are optimistic that Dr. Killeen, who has extensive experience with unionized campuses, will improve the campus labor climate. But town hall meetings with the search committee are no substitute for direct interaction with candidates for high-level positions.

A faculty union could mandate greater transparency and greater faculty participation in key decisions.

Academic Freedom: A major academic freedom issue threatens our excellence and ability to do our jobs.

Hundreds of letters from prominent scholars and national academic organizations have protested the barring of Prof. Steven Salaita from campus. Despite international protest, nothing has changed. While we await the reports of faculty committees on the Salaita matter, the BOT have made it clear they will not change their decision. A new and vague doctrine of civility has been asserted as a standard for evaluation in hiring and promotion decisions, but the Administration has refused to say how such evaluation will be implemented. The campus is at risk of censure from the AAUP.

A faculty union contract could ensure tenure and academic freedom are respected, and that hiring and promotion decisions are made on the basis of scholarship and teaching, not on the basis of collegiality or extra-mural activities. A union can make sure faculty are hired for their scholarship, and not barred because of their politics.

Faculty numbers are still down while student numbers are up substantially over the last several years and tuition is still higher than at most public universities. In 2008-09, there were 2027 tenure-stream faculty members at UIUC and 31174 on-campus undergraduates. By Fall of 2014, with the addition of 31 net new faculty, tenure-stream faculty crept back up to 1880. Meanwhile, students on-campus have reached an all-time high of 43603 (up 200 from last year).  Many of these new students need extra help in adjusting to the US university setting. (1)

The administration’s plan for replacing tenure-stream faculty is inadequate because it does not factor in normal attrition rates. The erosion of faculty is bad for learning, bad for teaching, and bad for training graduate students. No matter what discipline or field we are in, classrooms with 700+ students don’t work.

A faculty union with a contract could help create a strong program for hiring.   It could protect small classes, because class-size is a work-load issue and subject to collective bargaining. A contract can help ensure that no one teaches hundreds of students with just a few graders assisting.

Diversity: Unbelievably, the university is failing to meet the Project 500 goal set back in 1968 of enrolling 500 African-American freshmen. In the fall of 2014, only 356 freshmen are African-American, a steep decline from 2013. Fewer than 5% of UI students are African-American. (2) In 2013, only 5 freshmen, or .1% were Native American, and 744, or 10.1% were Hispanic.(3)

A faculty union could help: Improving salaries and benefits can help greatly with recruitment and retention of minority faculty. Incentives for departments to recruit students from underrepresented populations can help improve student diversity. Another tool is to reduce UIUC’s tuition, one of the highest among public universities.

Respect for campus labor continues to decline, while the administration wastes money fighting legal decisions.

The University has created the perfect Catch 22 by simultaneously refusing to recognize CFA local #6546, the newly formed non-tenure stream faculty union, and at the same time freezing their salaries on the grounds that they are covered by collective bargaining. The University continues to treat clerical and service workers with disdain. In 2012 the administration hired union-busting law firm Clark, Baird Smith to attempt to negotiate away a federal arbitrator’s decisive ruling in favor of Graduate Teaching Assistants. The attempt failed and the administration had to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition it should never have charged in the first place. As the administration continues to try to do away with graduate tuition waivers, huge sums are being spent on union-busting lawyers, who keep losing in court. According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act, the administration has spent more than $35,000 since May 2014 to fight CFA local #6546. (4)

A faculty union would give the administration an incentive to treat all union workers with respect, and help create a supportive learning and research environment. Again, we are hopeful that Dr. Killeen will take a new approach and recognize the right of public employees to union representation.

Pension protection: In a strong decision, a Sangamon County District judge has declared the pension-slashing SB1 unconstitutional. (5) The bill was fought in the courts by a coalition of unions (the We Are One Coalition), including the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and retirees (the State Universities Annuitants Association) This coalition – not the Administration and not the Academic Senate – fought for us, and won for us. Next the lawsuit will proceed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

We need a new way of talking to each other and a new way to solve our common problems. We need a faculty union.

JOIN CFA’s CAMPAIGN. UNITE FOR THE FUTURE.

Sincerely,

Campus Faculty Association