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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014



I joined the Rutgers faculty as an Assistant Professor in 1994. My politics leaned slightly left, and so I was pretty excited that the faculty was one of the few where tenure-track professors were unionized. In some senses, Rutgers is the flagship for unionized faculty. Most schools with unionized tenure-track faculty are second tier, at least in engineering, with the possible exception of Penn State. Rutgers was at least a top 25 engineering school, and several other departments were nationally ranked. I went in with a very positive attitude towards the union.

That all changed almost immediately.  We were in the middle of a four-year salary freeze due to the inability of the union and administration to agree on a deal. Salaries were pretty good, but no raises for four years was disappointing. I delved into the negotiations, assuming that the union demands were reasonable and fair, and that the administration was trying to exploit us at every turn for their own benefit. The literature and updates that I was getting from AAUP on the negotiations cast the administration in the most unfavorable light. They were demonized mercilessly. But I knew a lot of the administrators through regular interaction. Many had been faculty before. They didn’t seem like the devils they were cast as. The state of New Jersey was in a bad situation, and money was tight. The administration’s initial offer seemed reasonable and fair to me, and I’d have taken it - if I had a say. But the union held out, tying an agreement to all sorts of tangential issues. As the state budget got worse, the union’s position proved increasingly untenable, and the faculty were grumbling. After four years, the union was forced to accept an offer that was worse than the original offer from the administration. And we never made up for the four years of no salary increase. Interestingly, new hires during the salary freeze period received starting salaries that were incremented every year, so an assistant professor hired four years after I was hired was making nearly 20% more than I was.

During that period, anti-union sentiments were very strong, and many faculty were looking for a way out, but unfortunately, once the union is installed, it’s almost impossible to go back. Another union (I think it was NJEA) actually made some headway in a card drive where they advertised that, if they got enough cards, a vote would be held where “No Union” would be one of the options. We were tempted, but few trusted any union enough to think they’d give up on unionization once enough cards were signed. AAUP viciously attacked the competing union in print with what I recall as petty and non-substantive insults. For a while, we (the faculty) received email and print briefings on the dispute from both organizations, and the whole thing was childish and sad. It was simply a power struggle that revealed quite clearly the political nature of the union.

The more I found out about the restrictions of a unionized faculty, the less I liked it. I knew our chairperson very well. He was a tireless advocate for young faculty, for a diverse faculty, and for our department in general. He worked extremely hard to bring in new faculty and retain existing ones. But his hands were tied in the area of salary. When I told him that I wasn’t too happy about a stagnant salary (despite bringing in a large number of large research contracts to the university), he was sympathetic but told me there was little he could do (outside a miniscule merit pool) to help me. Nor could he ever possibly erase the difference in salary between me and the newer professors hired years later during the freeze. Furthermore, we strived endlessly to bring in underrepresented minorities and women to the faculty, but we could not go the extra mile and offer them the high salaries they were getting from other schools who could give special salary offers for diversity candidates.

My understanding is that some of this flexibility was ceded by the union after I left, but the damage was done. Several of our department’s best young faculty left – including two who joined the University of Illinois. 

I can’t say I was a big fan of being forced to pay “fair share” dues, either, especially when I didn’t have voting rights unless I paid extra for official membership. Dues didn’t just go to negotiations, either. They went to a very active political advocacy program. This last year I asked Lisa Klein, head of the Rutgers Chapter (and a friend of mine), what political activities are sponsored by member dues. Though she was quick to point out that no campaign contributions come from dues, she confirmed that they do support: generation and circulation of questionnaires to candidates, collection and processing of results at chapter meetings, dissemination of election endorsements (issues and candidates) through electronic or paper newsletters, support of the Rutgers lobbyist, and support of the AAUP lobbyists (via the portion of chapter dues that go to the national office). The union generated endorsements for all state candidates, including those who have essentially no impact on the university.

That all being said, I think the worst part about the union was the divisiveness it instilled as a necessary part of its existence. Every union communication included jabs at the “administration,” impugning their motives, and vilifying them at every opportunity. I guess this was required. If there’s no enemy, then there’s no reason for a union to be there. But the “enemy” in this case, was typically other academics, most of whom had been professors or who were professors simultaneously. They were people we worked with on proposals and issues. They were our teammates at the university who took pride when things happened that made Rutgers great. We all celebrated together if we rose in the rankings, and felt the disappointment when scandals hit or rankings fell. But the union had to build up the conflict through its constant propaganda, making it an “us versus them” situation. And it was often effective. It was not uncommon to overhear faculty speak out against the generic “administration,” mostly citing how “out of touch” they were with the regular faculty. I think part of this was due to the totally unrestrained vitriol the union could spew, while the administration had to reply in extremely measured and careful responses. In such an argument, the voice of the extremist gets heard disproportionately. The end result is that the atmosphere at the university is poisoned, and instead of focusing on teaming and common vision, we end up bickering and fighting more.