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, March 4, 2014



News accounts of the faculty strike at UIC have highlighted the demand for higher salaries for full-time non-tenure-track faculty members. The news that UIC employs some full-time NTT’s at a yearly salary of only $30,000 is upsetting to many of us.

We note that the average salary for non-tenure-track faculty members with nine-month contracts on our campus is twice that: $60,300, considerably higher than the national average of $51,374, in a geographical location where the cost of living is fairly low.

More detailed salary numbers for our campus were provided by the News Gazette 

$58,711 for the 240 NTT faculty on the teaching track
$64,793 for the 65 on the research track
$76,697 for the 58 on the clinical track 

We are proud of the campus’s efforts and accomplishments in this area, compared to the horror stories we read about on other campuses. But there is more work to be done. We think its important to address the unacceptably low salaries still being paid to some non-tenure-track faculty members, their lack of promotion paths, and the lack of clear processes and criteria for hiring, evaluating, reappointing, and dismissing non-tenure-track faculty. Thats why we worked with other Senate leaders and the Provost’s office to help develop a set of proposals that would advance and support colleagues working off the tenure track on our campus -- including an attempt to find a better descriptor for them than a label that defines them in negative terms. Frankly, we think such new policies are long overdue.

At the same time, we want to draw attention to the unfortunate politicization of non-tenure-track issues on our campus. The campaign to unionize tenure-track faculty at Urbana has been around for at least four decades. But during all that time, the status of instructional and research staff who work off the tenure track scarcely figured in the campaignuntil just a few months ago.

Before the Summer of 2013, the concerns of campus academic colleagues who work off the tenure track were rarely mentioned in the current and earlier websites of campus faculty union organizers. We do believe that the commitment of tenure-track union organizers to advocate for our non-tenure-track colleagues is sincere. But they have not always shown it in their support of Senate initiatives addressing those concerns.

For example: when the proposal to create a Task Force on Faculty Issues and Concerns was first brought before the Senate last spring, CFA members in the Senate challenged the right of the Senate to explore these issues, but never said a single word about adding non-tenure-track issues to its charge.

When the Task Force issued its report in September, the Senate suddenly heard repeated complaints from some of the same people that the report was flawed because it did not address NTT issues. If these issues were so essential, CFA could have raised them when the Task Force was first formed, but they did not. Something seemed to have changed over the summer.

The irony is that despite its charge, the Task Force actually did delve into some NTT concerns. But the CFA still continued to denigrate its accomplishments.

Another example: in 2010, a Senate ad hoc committee spent several months studying our hiring, reappointment, and dismissal practices for non-tenure-track faculty, and made several recommendations for regularization of these practices. Members of the Office of the Provost built on those recommendations and recently issued a draft policy document outlining promotion paths for specialized faculty members and mandating that processes of evaluation, reappointment, and nonreappointment be made explicit.

These proposals were discussed and endorsed by a wide range of campus groups, including two Senate committees and Senate leadership. Yet they were dismissed by union advocates:
Jan 27: 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.
And when the Provost proposals were brought to the full Senate for review, the predominant response of CFA Senators was critical, and they blocked an effort to vote on even a broad endorsement of the principles embedded in the report.

Yet, again, something shifted: less than a month later, CFA members started redefining their position as supportive of the proposals, though they wanted to propose modifications to them:
Feb 21: CFA is encouraged by the steps outlined in the Provost’s draft report about “specialized faculty”. A number of faculty – some CFA supporters and some not – spoke up at a recent Senate meeting to propose basic improvements to the plan. The Provost’s office has responded positively to some of these. We are fostering further discussion, to make sure there is input from NTTs across campus on this issue. We hope the document can be finalized and issued soon, as CFA strongly supports the benefits it will bring to all non-tenure-track colleagues.
We applaud this reversal of CFA’s position, and their willingness to work within the shared governance framework to propose improvements to the proposed policies, rather than just criticizing them as insufficient. 

But the simple fact is that all current campus policies addressing non-tenure-track concerns began with or were developed through the framework of the Senate and its processes, usually without – and sometimes despite the resistance of – union advocates.

And recent assertions by the CFA notwithstanding, many of these initiatives, such as the successful pursuit of multiyear contract rights for non-tenure-track faculty, long preceded the current union campaign.

Undoubtedly, there is still work left to be done, including much-needed conversations about the underlying causes for the gradual increase in reliance on non-tenure-track faculty to teach undergraduate classes, and how to deal with those trends in effective and equitable ways. These are matters that require thoughtful deliberation among tenure and non-tenure-track faculty, along with institutional leaders, within a framework of shared governance that encourages constructive collaboration. 

The status of non-tenure-track faculty members should be an ongoing concern of anyone who cares about the quality of education and research at the University of Illinois. Respect for these colleagues and their contributions to our campus demands that they be recognized and treated fairly. That is the aim we have been pursuing through the Senate, with clear and demonstrable success. To make the concerns of this group of colleagues just one more plank in a union campaign platform, without acknowledging the very real progress we have made on this issue so far, is unworthy of them and of our campuss commitment to excellence and to equity in the workplace.

Update: The new campus policies for non-tenure track (specialized) faculty are final: http://provost.illinois.edu/communication/25/ProvostCommNo25_SpecializedFaculty.pdf.
***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.***