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



We are reviewing here six “myths” identified and challenged by the CFA that they attribute to their critics. (The first three are in Part One, linked in the right-hand margin.) We argue that these misframe and oversimplify the issues, and exemplify certain “myths” themselves.

Myth #4: “Union advocates aren’t interested in excellence. They would destroy our merit based system and make everyone equal.”

The CFA is interested in excellence. That’s why we talk about class size, the growth of insecure adjunct jobs, allocation of faculty lines and research money, faculty salaries and benefits, and health and safety. In our conversations around campus, we are routinely asking for input about what faculty can do to improve the quality of education and research at UIUC―the centerpiece of excellence.

How would a union preserve our system of merit-based salaries? Under collective bargaining agreements, faculty at other research universities have decided to create merit raise pools over and above basic increases, to be distributed as department heads decide.

On the other hand, everyone should be treated fairly and decently. We could negotiate to raise the extremely low base-line salaries of non-tenure track faculty.

What faculty member, administrative or not, union advocate or not, doesn't support reasonable class sizes, competitive salaries and benefits, safe and healthy working conditions, teaching and research excellence, and fair and honest treatment of all employees?

It is a myth that without a union there is no one to advocate for or pursue such priorities.

Faculty working in shared governance, and in units across the campus, have been fighting for these goals for a long time (some of these faculty might also be union advocates, but that doesn’t make them uniquely union issues). And the administration is listening: more classes with enrollments under 20 and a 50% increase in research funds for faculty in humanities, arts, and social sciences are two of the goals found in the Chancellor's Strategic Plan for 2013-2016, for example. This year saw a nearly 5% average salary increase across campus, even higher in units that have traditionally lagged behind their peers.

The relationship of faculty unionization to excellence is ambiguous: it is the nature of unionization to have a leveling effect, in salaries and in other respects. The CFA is saying here that, if we were unionized, most salary increases would be across-the-board, and only a portion (to be negotiated) set aside for merit. How would that hinder the flexibility of unit executives to reward deserving faculty or negotiate with faculty being recruited elsewhere?

Most faculty would have no rights to negotiate over their salaries at all: that would be done for them by the union.

It is a myth that creating a faculty union would guarantee significantly higher salaries. Cary Nelson, former President of AAUP and a strong faculty union advocate on our campus, says: “[R]esearch shows that, although unionized community college faculty earn more than their nonunionized counterparts, full-time unionized and non-unionized faculty at 4-year institutions earn about the same.” (“What Unions Do”).

About the same? Huh. And we would be curious to know if this comparison takes into account the dues paid out of faculty salaries on unionized campuses, or if their net salaries are actually lower.

Myth #5: “Dues will be excessive, and unpredictable from year to year.”

Not true. We will be setting our own dues by majority vote. Union dues don’t change until members vote to increase (or decrease) them.

Dues vary from union to union. Some unions assess themselves a flat rate, in others dues are a percentage of salary. For example, at Rutgers, union dues are .75% of a person’s salary. Typical faculty union dues are about 1.25%-1.5% of gross salary.

Dues go to the local, state and national affiliates to fund the union office and staff, lobbying, union-related campaigns, policy research, member education, legal costs to represent members, and research for negotiation and enforcement of the contract.

What is excessive apparently depends on who is charging and who is receiving. In 2010, when non-administrative faculty members at UI gave up 2% of their salaries, on a one-time basis, to help save staff jobs (administrators gave up an even higher percentage), many of those who are now advocating for a faculty union were outraged: a 2% cut! But it seems reasonable to these same people to require their colleagues to pay nearly that much every single year for the privilege of being in a union.

And don’t forget that all faculty will have to pay some level of “fair share” dues to the union even if they don’t want to be union members. How "fair" is that?

Moreover, no one knows what the amount of these dues will be until after the union is formed. Don't like it then? Too late!

As for where the money goes, nobody is talking about the fact that a large amount of the union dues goes to state and national organizations. That’s a lot of money, from a large campus like this: which may explain why state and national unions have invested so much of their own time and resources, including sending in their own organizers, to try to get a faculty union established here.

Myth #6: “We don’t need a union: we have shared governance.”

“Shared governance” means that faculty, students, and administration shape decisions affecting the educational and research missions of the university. Shared governance gives faculty the major and definitive role in academic decision making at the level of the department and school, and in the Academic Senate.

While a union and collective bargaining would strengthen shared governance, and the roles of a union and the Academic Senate may overlap, the two organizations would not and cannot play identical roles.

Only the Senate can define and approve academic programs, such as majors, minors or master’s or doctoral degrees. Only the Senate can evaluate the intellectual strength and validity of research initiatives, such as centers or institutes.

On the other hand, the Senate does not have any say about wages, benefits, workloads, staffing levels, hiring initiatives, health and safety, working environments, contracts or notices of appointment. A union can negotiate these issues in collective bargaining for a contract. All of these very much affect the quality of education and research on our campus. A union can lobby for increased public spending on higher education, and for improved faculty benefits. The Senate cannot do this.

A fuller engagement with these arguments can be found in Nick Burbules’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, linked in the right-hand margin. But here we need to clear up some misinformation.

It is not true that “the Senate does not have any say about wages, benefits, workloads, staffing levels, hiring initiatives, health and safety, working environments, contracts or notices of appointment.” One of the standing committees of our Senate is devoted to Faculty and Academic Staff Benefits; another one, the Senate Committee on Campus Operations, is charged with engaging campus administration on the academic environment and our working conditions generally. On our campus, the faculty Campus Budget Oversight Committee makes recommendations to the Provost about the budgets of each College. As for staffing and contract issues, the language of faculty Notices of Appointment was changed last year as a direct response to a request from the University Senates Conference, and, in most Colleges, hiring priorities are approved by the elected executive or advisory committee. All of these matters are indeed addressed through shared governanceno bargaining sessions necessary, and no annual dues charged!

And while the Senate and its leadership do not engage in collective bargaining, we have frequent discussions in committee meetings and other venues with campus and university officers, advocating for tenure track and non-tenure track faculty.

It was the Senate that pressed to approve multi-year contracts for non-tenure track faculty, and we are currently working with campus administrators to strengthen grievance procedures for them. The recent campus decision to allocate additional money for faculty salaries over and above the President’s authorization, and to target especially long-standing shortfalls in the arts and humanities, came partly as a result of frequent conversations with Senate leaders.

It is a myth that only collective bargaining can address problems with salary and working conditions, or that only unions can resolve them. These issues can be addressed through either shared governance or collective bargaining, but with very different strategies – one more collegial, the other more adversarial.

What faculty union advocates don’t tell you is that if a union were formed, shared governance discussions about these issues could not continue: it is the union position that would limit Senate responsibilities to narrowly-construed “academic” matters. In practice, at many universities unions have also deeply involved themselves in academic matters as well – to take one example, debates over online education, which many unions see as a threat. As Burbules concludes, “In all this, the union contract can define and limit the role of the senate but not vice versa. These are in no way equivalent or symmetrical roles. You cannot claim to be 'strengthening' shared governance if you take rights and responsibilities away from it.”

*** 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. ***