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, March 9, 2014



On the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois, a large percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty reject the formation of a collective bargaining unit to represent them. Colleagues who have publicly expressed this position come from virtually every academic field and from a wide range of personal backgrounds and ideological positions. In fact, you could say that the rejection of the tenure-track collective bargaining campaign has been a truly unifying, spontaneous grass-roots effort: individual allegiances to one political ideology or another have taken a back seat to a common conviction that, far from making our campus a better place, collective bargaining for those in the tenure track would damage academic quality and create an adversarial campus climate that would lower the quality of our working conditions.

We are already seeing indicators of what that adversarial campus climate would look like.  

Union advocates have taken to consistently characterizing any questions about the merits of unionization as “anti-union,” and even sometimes as right-wing. These are not just labels attached to positions, but to people. Those daring to take the other side have been called everything from “anti-union activists” to right-to-work “propagandists” to “reactionary” to “racist, sexist, and elitist,” simply because they do not support the formation of a collective bargaining unit for tenure-track faculty members on our campus. 

We feel no need to justify our own progressive credentials or to respond to absurd allegations that we’ve gone over to the dark side and are now lackeys of the Koch Brothers. We trust the majority of our colleagues to recognize the difference between reasoned debate and personal attacks. 

But the deeper point is that it is precisely BECAUSE we are progressive academics from the working class that we oppose unionization for UIUC tenure-track faculty members. We know through experience what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck, to not know whether the doctor’s bills will be covered, and to come home bone-tired from a day of physical labor. We have worked in jobs where talking back to the boss meant getting fired, where the time we spent in bathroom breaks was carefully monitored, where there was serious risk of physical injury, where we were grateful for those days when there was time to chat with co-workers. We know what it is like to work in a job where workers really do need a union to fight for fair wages, to make sure overtime work is paid, and to promote safe working conditions. 

It is because we have had those experiences that we understand and appreciate the contributions made by labor unions in the history of this country. As minimum-wage workers, we benefited directly from many of those advances. And because we have had those experiences, we know that tenure-track professors are very far indeed from being exploited workers who need a collective bargaining unit to provide “voice” for them. The simple fact is that the life of a tenured faculty member, especially at an elite university like this one, is one of the most privileged jobs imaginable: extremely flexible hours, little to no supervision, an almost entirely self-directed work load, and a nine-month salary that, even at the lower ends, is well above the national average

This doesnt mean that there arent serious problems and inequities to work on, especially for our non-tenure-track colleagues. But it seems incongruous and insensitive to say things like the following:

“I teach, therefore I am exploited 

“Faculty ARE workers”  

“It has never been clearer that universities are more like other workplaces than different from them.”  

We can only imagine how claims like this sound to the many people who work very long hours at dangerous or demeaning, low-paying jobs – some of whom can only hope that their children will attend college one day. There are times for university faculty to advocate for and stand in solidarity with the working-class; but not by denying our privileged status and pretending to be as oppressed as those whose working conditions many have never experienced. 

We have talked elsewhere in this blog about the polarizing discourse of union advocates that “You are either with us or against us.” There is another aspect of that rhetoric. It rests on the simple-minded assumption that all aspects of progressivism stand or fall together: that everyone who supports income equality, rejects racism and sexism, advocates for the right of individuals to love whoever they want and to define their gender as they wish, must of necessity also support unionism in all forms, in all places, and under all circumstances. It’s a stance that assumes that, for every issue, there is a right side and a wrong side to be on, a stance that demands, in the words of the classic union song, “Which side are you on?” 

It’s a disciplining tactic that demands that all good progressives fall in line, and stands in stark contrast to the expectations of free speech and academic freedom that faculty union advocates elsewhere insist upon. To question any part of that doctrine is to throw one’s entire credibility into doubt – regardless of one’s actual record of progressive scholarship, effort, and commitment.  

This divisive, polarizing attitude is far more dangerous than the infantile name-calling that is its most apparent symptom. If a faculty union ever were to be established on this campus, would any public attempts to question its strategies and goals be greeted with the same personal attacks and charges of political disloyalty?  

***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.***