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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014



The Campus Faculty Association’s latest blog posting is a real piece of work. Despite their repeated proclamations that they support the Senate and shared governance, they are now claiming that every major achievement of the campus over the past few years is really . . . all because of them.

Written by two people who had no direct involvement with any of these policy changes, the argument is, not surprisingly, ill-informed. But it also shows that the CFA simply can’t bring itself to give any credit to the Senate or to the members of the administration for honestly caring about the campus and trying to do what is best for faculty. 

Out of respect for those who have dedicated their time and energy over the years to actually changing policy, rather than standing on the sidelines hurling complaints and criticisms, we feel compelled to correct the distortions and untruths in this self-serving account:

LAST YEAR, CFA’S ORGANIZING CAMPAIGN REALLY BEGAN TO PAY OFF. Because of the certification of a faculty union at UIC and the real possibility of a faculty union at UIUC, the campus administration finally began to take steps to address long-standing problems.

The entire posting is beset by confused chronologies and wobbly logic. First of all, most of these initiatives predated the latest CFA organizing campaign and UIC’s union, as we will document below, and were the direct outgrowth of Senate initiatives and proposals. Second, the article is confused over whether the proposals are good things that CFA wants to take credit for; or whether they are sham proposals that really don't amount to much and that are “anti-union” in their intent. 

We have news for CFA: it really isn’t all about you.

IN 2013 WE SAW:
— a modest public salary program (2.75% merit raise pool plus a 0.5% pool for compression, market, equity, retention), and a non-transparent, behind-the-scenes “targeted” salary program for some faculty and units. These targeted funds went largely to areas where faculty have been dissatisfied with their salaries and have supported the union campaign.

First, this summary of the salary program substantially understates what the campus has actually done. The actual average salary increase on this campus was over 4%, and has been an average of 4% going back three years. This is a significant commitment, representing a long-term effort at campus equity and competitiveness. But according to CFA's version, salary increases are really all about buying off pro-union sentiment.

So, if salaries lag in certain parts of campus, that is a sign of an out-of-touch and unjust administration. But if an effort is made to address the problem, that is a sign that the administration is trying to hurt the union effort. 

This is the kind of “you can’t win” logic that CFA has made itself known for.

   a new compensation review committee announced by the administration (and appointed by the usual top-down process) to study our lagging salaries and benefits. More than talk is needed — already last year our salaries lost ground to big insurance premium hikes.

This new committee was the result of a faculty task force proposal made last summer, created publicly and through the Senate process. It was not top-down and not an administration initiative. Local and campus newspapers all reported on the Senate's formation of this committee, and we find it inexplicable that representatives of an organization that includes some Senate members don't know this.

The CFA isn’t worried that this committee will fail; they are worried that it will succeed, because if it proves to be an effective advocate for faculty salary and benefits, as we expect it will, it will show once again that a collaborative, shared governance approach works.

—a $500 increase in HAAS grants to faculty in the Arts and Humanities.

The HASS (Humanities and Arts Scholar Support) program was first set up in 2008 under President Joe White, in direct response to concerns expressed by the faculty members of the University Senates Conference. The recent increase in funding represents additional support for a program that has been around for years. At no point was this program ever discussed in terms of union issues. We know, because we were there.

—our notices of appointment changed back so that we can no longer be furloughed at the whim of the Administration — until the next time they want to change our terms of employment unilaterally.

The original change to the NOAs was made only after faculty review and approval, during the depths of a budget crisis that looked as if furloughs might be necessary in order to avoid extensive layoffs of employees in support positions. Right or wrong, it was not done unilaterally, much less on a whim; there were extensive discussions with elected faculty governance groups (which included CFA members). And when that decision proved to be a mistake, it was, again, in response to an initiative by the faculty members of the University Senates Conference that the provision allowing furloughs was removed from NOAs. The process had nothing to do with unions. The NOA changes, and the story of how they happened, were all publicly explained by the Senate chair in 2013.

— the Administration floating suggestions on how departments might choose to reorganize the titles, wages and working conditions of non-tenure track faculty. Non-tenure track faculty deserve more than recommendations: they deserve a binding contract that guarantees improved wages, terms of employment and working conditions.

This reform was initiated in direct response to a recommendation from an earlier Senate task force, working closely with the Senate Committee on Affirmative Action, which issued its report in 2011. It has been an ongoing topic of discussions which are about to result in a set of new campus policies – not just “recommendations,” but new written policies that will transform the working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty. Again, the concern of CFA is not that this process will fail, but that it is succeeding.

— an announcement that the University will hire 500 new tenure-stream faculty by 2020. But when one factors in normal attrition (through retirements and resignations), total faculty numbers could still end up below what we had in 2006 —except with thousands more students to teach.
Anything “the administration” does is always too little, too late. The chancellor and provost announce 500 faculty lines, with a net increase in the size of the faculty, and all CFA can say is that they want 500 net new hires. Given state funding realities, a commitment to hiring 500 net new faculty, at competitive salaries, with startup packages, would make it impossible to also address salary equity concerns for current tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty. But buttressed with phony numbers from Howard Bunsis, the CFA persists in encouraging the illusion that we have plenty of money to do everything we want to do, with no hard choices ahead.

  in the wake of the pension-slashing legislation SB1, the administration will study how to improve pensions, especially for the highest-paid employees.
One wonders exactly what the complaint is here. Since the university – like any hypothetical campus union – has limited influence and control over what the state eventually decides to do on pensions, the only responsible position is to try to remedy the inevitable pension cuts with a supplemental retirement plan under the university’s control. This is not a program designed “especially for the highest-paid employees.” In discussions about this program, elected faculty leaders have been told that any plan implemented will be designed to benefit all current and future employees.

—some fine talk about improvements in the status of women, but no public, in-depth study of gender inequity on this campus, nor commitment to best practices toward achieving equity.

 — plenty of p.r. about inclusiveness and diversity, while the number of under-represented minority undergraduates continues to fall.

“No public in-depth study of gender inequity on this campus”? The Chancellor’s Office has commissioned at least three of these in the last decade, and the Gender Equity Council is now a standing campus committee which reports regularly to the administration. The maintenance of  gender equity in salaries, and documentation of targeted efforts to address apparent inequities in this and other categories, are part of the performance review that the Provost's Office carries out for each unit every year. Again, we find it disturbing that people who make sweeping claims about the nature of major campus policies are so ill-informed about what those policies are and where they actually came from.

In addition, monitoring and addressing campus-wide inequities in faculty salaries is one of the explicit charges of the faculty Compensation Review Committee, which the Senate has set up this semester (and which the CFA deplores). 

Finally, campus progress on issues of diversity and inclusiveness are part of the public presentations given by the Chancellors at every Board of Trustees meeting. These issues are on everyone’s radar screens; the CFA has no monopoly on a commitment to equity and inclusivenessthough they talk as if they did.

We would all like to see faster progress on these issues, and undoubtedly more can and should be done. But it is deeply unfair and cynical to suggest that these issues are being ignored or just mentioned as “p.r.” The honest answer is that many campuses
– even unionized ones – are struggling with these issues and that they entail complicated choices and tradeoffs that are far from clear-cut. Sound-bite slogans and oversimplifications don't begin to solve the problems.


Yes, we do. In fact, since most of them predate the formation of a union at UIC and the latest CFA campaign, we know they would have happened anyway. As we have documented here, some were decided well before the union campaign even started; others were decided recently, but grew out of discussions that began years ago, and that had absolutely nothing to do with union campaigns.

Some of these initiatives and proposals for more study came out of the special “task force” that met during summer 2013 for the express purpose of deflecting union organizing at UIUC. The task force presented some sensible ideas, but could make only recommendations, with no guarantees of action and no force or permanence. The Academic Senate cannot act on compensation and benefits for faculty.
Finally, as the CFA knows, that task force was proposed and co-chaired by Randy McCarthy and Nick Burbules, the two faculty members who presented the pro and con arguments on faculty unionization to the Senate in 2013. The symbolism and the substance of two colleagues setting aside their differences to propose a process that could realistically and concretely try to address a range of faculty issues, including salary, benefits, promotion and tenure, and some non-tenure-track concerns seem to be deeply threatening to the CFA cause.

We realize that some CFA members were upset when the formation of the task force was proposed to the Senate, and they argued vehemently against it. It is to the credit of the Senate that the majority of those voting supported problem-solving over posturing. The resulting task force process included a large number of people representing the full gamut of positions on unionization, who came together around the task force proposals. That’s what the Senate is for. 

Representatives of CFA have consistently characterized the task force initiative as “anti-union,” even though it was co-conceived and co-chaired by their own pro-union colleague Randy McCarthy.

The CFA likes to talk about “unity,” but in fact their approach is deeply divisive and polarizing. As a former Republican President liked to say, “You are either with us, or you are against us.”
Apparently, the CFA wants faculty problems and discontent, because that creates more fertile ground for their recruitment. It is in their interest to paint a picture of the “failure” of shared governance (even when it is actually succeeding) because that supports their claim that we need a union to “strengthen” it. 

As the CFA posting shows, anyone else's effort to improve the circumstances for faculty isn’t a good thing – it is something to be attacked and denigrated. This is classic organizing strategy: “heighten the contradictions,” because perceived bad conditions are better for motivating collective action. That is distorted and counterproductive thinking, and it helps no one.

*** 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.***