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.

Monday, April 14, 2014



When we decided to begin this blog, one thing was very clear to us: We would sign all posts with our real names. We committed ourselves not to post anything that we could not stand behind in public. We wanted to be scrupulous in our own factual claims, if we were going to call union organizers out for playing fast and loose with the facts. As we say in every blog post, our credibility is essential: if someone lets us know about errors in anything we post here, we will immediately remove or correct them.

We regard this basic commitment to intellectual honesty and fair play as integral to our identities as university professors, even when we are debating a basically political issue.

Recently, we’ve been made aware of a new blog (“Learning and Labor”) that provides an excellent illustration of what happens when these principles go awry.

The posts are anonymous. The blog both is, and is not, associated with the Campus Faculty Association. The “About” link says that the blog is written by a group of faculty members who support the CFA and its call for a faculty union:

Learning and Labor supports the efforts of the Campus Faculty Association to unionize both non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty at UIUC. However, we think CFA does not always go far enough in calling out the “powers-that-be” and their minions. That’s our job!

Having declared their aim to support the CFA agenda and supplement CFA’s blog and Facebook page with harder-hitting material, they immediately relieve the CFA of any responsibility for what they write:

CFA has asked us to make it clear that we speak only for ourselves as individual bloggers, not for CFA or any other organization.

Yet there is clearly an association between these projects. The CFA Facebook page links to and endorses this blog (“Great new blog”).

Recent posts from Learning and Labor and from CFA deal with the same themes, sometimes using almost identical language. Here’s an example on the new campus policies on non-tenure-track faculty:

Here’s another example, on the campus’s plan to hire 500 new faculty:

There is clearly some coordination and overlap of themes. These are not separate or independent projects.

And, of course, the campus motto, “Learning and Labor,” has long been invoked by the CFA and featured on the header of its websites.

You can tell this is a very sensitive issue, because the Learning and Labor bloggers found it necessary to issue this vehement disclaimer:

Rumor has it that some disaffected faculty are blaming the Campus Faculty Association for the messages on this site. If you take the trouble to READ “About Learning and Labor” you will see that this site belongs to a group of individual faculty members who generally support, but do NOT in any way speak for CFA. This is not a CFA blog! Repeat: This is not a CFA blog! Got it?

Note to our colleagues: when you are a group of CFA members who echo the CFA party line and are endorsed by the CFA, its a CFA blog.

Methinks the blogger doth protest too much!

What this blog clearly represents is a venue for unnamed CFA members to issue harsh personal attacks without CFA being held responsible for them. This good cop/bad cop strategy is familiar from many activist movements over the years.

It allows the CFA to take the high road with postings about Martin Luther King and Gandhi (union supporters!), while maintaining deniability for the hostile rhetoric of Learning and Labor.

For example, one of the recent “Learning and Labor” posts consists of a diatribe against two conscientious faculty colleagues who went public with their concerns about their names being listed in a CFA brochure entitled, “We Support the Faculty Union” (neither does). In separate accounts, they explained how they were misled by organizers into signing a statement that never uses the phrase “faculty union,” and how dismayed they were to see their names used publicly when they explicitly asked organizers not to do so:

Both authors are quite consistent about what was said to them and what they themselves said, in independent accounts (reinforced by the way, by many more faculty who have had similar experiences).

Here, in its entirety, is the Learning and Labor response:

Professorial Reading Skills Questioned

So–two letters in the local newsrag from faculty who claim they were deceived–deceived!!– by union organizers into adding their names to the list of union supporters. They claim they thought signing only indicated an interest in “further discussion of the issue,” not any actual support for unionization. And they were shocked–shocked!!–to learn that their names had been included in a CFA publication called We Support the Faculty Union

Well, who knows what was going through the heads of these two individuals at the time they signed the CFA’s petition. But if they really thought that they were doing nothing more than expressing interest in “further discussion,” one does have to question their reading skills. The petition that I signed (and that presumably they also signed) consisted of the CFA mission statement (available here: http://cfaillinois.org/about/), followed by these words: 

“I support the Mission Statement of the Campus Faculty Association, including the pursuit of collective bargaining rights for UIUC faculty, and authorize the use of my name in support of this statement.” 

Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to sign anything without reading it first?

The bloggers insist that they are not speaking for the CFA while furiously defending the CFA when it is being criticized. And it is interesting to ask how a supposedly unaffiliated group got their hands on the exact language of the faculty union petition, which, to our knowledge, the CFA organizing committee has never made public.

Learning and Labor, while ostensibly serving the aim of unifying the faculty as part of an organized union, seems to see no contradiction in lashing out at faculty colleagues they perceive as threats.

One wouldn’t think that the CFA needed a new venue for blasting the “powers that be and their minions.” Recent examples from their own web sites include:

And the “minions,” apparently, include the two of us:

He Who Shall Not Be Named

A faculty member on this campus, who shall here remain nameless, is rabidly anti-union. The blog he publishes is (to say the least) bizarre, full of overheated rhetoric depicting pro-union faculty members as reptiles–slimy, secretive, deceitful vermin who worm (yes, I know worms aren’t reptiles, but the verb works . . .) their way into the confidence of innocent little professors and trick them into supporting unionization. He is not above using direct insults, as well as distortions, half-truths, and great big whoppers to attack those of us on the other side of the issue. . . . Now normally I don’t read this blog, because it makes me smoke at the ears. But my friends occasionally send me passages from it, attached to messages like “Is he insane?” . . .

We find it strange that this post ignores the explicit co-authorship of our blog, and all the postings on it. We DO put our names on what we write. It is fascinating that these anonymous bloggers erase our identities, turning our blog into one written by “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

The irony of rewriting our project through their own rhetorical lens is striking. There is nothing even remotely approaching a reference in our blog to “slimy, secretive, deceitful vermin.” These are their terms, not ours. This is how THEY engage in debate: by comparing Nick Burbules to Voldemort, and, in case it's not enough to depict him as the embodiment of evil, calling him "insane" as well.

Nor do they give a single example of the “distortions, half-truths, and great big whoppers” we are supposedly promulgating. As we have said, we would correct them if we were.

The Learning and Labor entries are also full of references to “Our Beloved Chancellor,” “Our Beloved Provost,” and on and on. These are just samples of the level of discourse you will find on the “great new blog” that is being trumpeted on the CFA Facebook page. 

They say that it is bad strategy to link to and give extra air time to the views of your opponents. In this case we are happy to draw readers’ attention to this piece of work. Nothing more clearly shows the seamy underside of the faculty union drive on our campus and the sort of discursive climate they are creating here. 

We reject the cowardly attacks of Learning and Labor. The actions of its authors are unworthy of our profession, slandering their own colleagues under the protection of an “Invisibility Cloak.”

***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.***