Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to deconstruct the rhetoric and strategies of faculty union advocates at the University of Illinois. A consequential decision like this must be based on facts, not spin. Right now only one side of the argument is being presented to faculty. This blog represents the other side of the argument.

Sunday, November 10, 2013



On February 4, 2013, the Senate sponsored a debate between senators Randy McCarthy and Nick Burbules on the pros and cons of faculty unionization.

You can find links to both presentations in the right-hand margin here.

The Campus Faculty Association gave high visibility to Randy McCarthy’s presentation, but responded obliquely to Nick Burbules's presentation by reframing the points he made as "Myths about Faculty Unions" -- straw men for them to knock down.

Here are the “Myths” from the CFA website, and our responses:

Myth #1: “Unionization is unprofessional.”

Many professionals in addition to college professors are unionized and have improved their lives and working conditions with collective bargaining contracts. Doctors, lawyers, screenwriters, dentists, nurses, actors, musicians, engineers, librarians, teachers, journalists, and many more professionals belong to unions.

There is a large scholarly literature on the history of the professions, and how certain occupations secured certain occupational privileges, including high status and better salary. As these authors show, by and large these developments had nothing to do with being part of unions.

Some professional groups have formed unions, true, but many of the most important and influential professional associations (such as the American Medical Association, the National Society of Professional Engineers and – yes – the American Association of University Professors) are not unions. And their broad membership and credibility come from the fact that while they advocate for the rights and responsibilities of their members, it is not within a union framework. You’ve heard of the AMA – how about the UAPD?

No one (in this country) talks about doctors going on strike.

The myth here is that unionization is a no-cost choice with only benefits ahead. Any honest, serious consideration of the issue would have to consider what might be lost as well as what might be gained.

To take one example, the state of Illinois has passed a law requiring all state employees to keep a detailed record of their working hours: administrators and staff of the University of Illinois already do so. The only reason this requirement hasn’t been imposed on faculty is the argument that tenure-track faculty aren’t like regular employees. Would faculty unionization erode that argument?

Would specific union strategies like rallies, protests, and real or threatened strikes affect the way the legislature, business leaders, and citizens of the state of Illinois view us? Would public faculty demands for higher salaries alienate tuition-paying parents and taxpayers?

Some facts: In 2012, the median annual salary in Illinois was $46, 983, which represents a decrease of 4.56% when compared to 2009. The average tenure-track faculty salary on our campus last year was $106, 733 and for non-tenure track $60,300, an increase since 2009.

Myth #2: “If we have a faculty union, we’ll lose status…. ”

Faculty unions don’t destroy universities or their standing. The rankings of universities like Rutgers and SUNY have risen since they unionized faculty more than 40 years ago. There is no evidence that faculty unions negatively affect membership in the American Association of Universities or the rankings of research, graduate and undergraduate schools.

Note that our peers at Oxford and Cambridge, and at the University of Toronto in Canada are unionized, as are university professors in most other countries, including those at internationally ranked universities.

The fact is that very few AAU universities are unionized, and none of the universities we would identify as peers (and prime competitors for faculty). Private universities have (according to TIAA-CREF) a 24% average salary advantage in hiring away our best faculty without unions. Citing universities in other countries is irrelevant, because the funding and general structure of higher education in other countries is significantly different than in the United States.

Yes, the rankings of some of the universities mentioned have gone up after unionization. But, as we try to remind our first-year students, correlation does not imply causation. That’s another myth.

Myth #3: “If we have a faculty union, our ‘stars’ will leave!”

It is unlikely that our star professors will leave if we form a union. Faculty leave UIUC for a range of reasons. In the last few years, many have taken early retirement out of fear of diminished retirement benefits. Other reasons include salaries that are lower than peer institutions, program cuts, surging workloads and rising class sizes, heavy service demands and repetitive program reviews. All UIUC faculty members know we are doing more with less, and the centralization of funding means we will be asked to do even more in the future. . .

Well, our CFA colleagues can say that they think it is unlikely that top faculty will leave if the campus unionizes – but the fact is this is what many of our top faculty members have said. We disbelieve them at our peril.

Certainly we lose good people for all sorts of personal and professional reasons. The implication in this posting, however, is that unionization will make the situation better and not worse.

But this is another myth. The fact is that no one will know that until after a union decision has been made. By then, whatever the consequences, it will be too late because the decision to unionize is virtually irreversible. Analogies made to other schools that are dissimilar to ours obscure rather than illuminate the issues.

[Continued here]

*** This blog is a jointly authored project by two people who believe that the campaign for tenure-track faculty unionization has damaged morale and divided our campus, and that a faculty union, if ever established, would erode academic quality and undermine our highly successful system of campus shared governance, which has earned nationwide praise.

We speak for ourselves. We have no organization behind us, we don’t ask for funding, we don’t pay national hired guns to come in and make the case for us.

We want to start a different campus conversation about faculty unionization, which we believe will be more thoughtful and substantive when people have all the facts.

We welcome and will consider postings from others expressing issues and concerns about faculty unionization. We know that many faculty are very upset about the possibility of working on a unionized campus.

If you see any information here that is inaccurate, please tell us and we will correct it.

If you share our concerns and want to help, please forward these postings to your friends and colleagues, and urge them to do the same. ***