Law School makes it official

by Jim Martyka

Members of the Board of Regents can no longer discuss the tenure issue with any University faculty.
Members of the Law School’s faculty filed enough signed union cards to obtain a cease-and-desist order from the Bureau of Mediation Services Thursday. The school was the last part of the University to file. For the order to be issued, more than 30 percent of the faculty had to sign the cards.
The cease-and-desist order means that any discussion of tenure with faculty members is legally prohibited until after a union election.
Faculty members on the Twin Cities, Morris and Crookston campuses, as well as faculty at the Duluth Health Center have already obtained the order from the bureau. The regents were planning to discuss proposals for tenure reform for the Law School at their November meeting.
Although the faculty filed the required number of cards, Professor of Law Laura Cooper said the Law School does not have one voice regarding the order and unionization of the University. “There are many different points of view in the school,” she said. She also said she assumed a minority of the faculty signed the cards.
Professor of Law Fred Morrison, who did not sign a union card, said that the faculty may not have had enough cards to file until Thursday, which was the deadline for the school.
Morrison also said those who did sign may have had varying intentions. “They could have filed to get a union or to just get a cease-and-desist order or any other reason,” he said. He also said that this filing doesn’t necessarily mean the faculty will vote for union representation. “I really don’t know how they will vote in a union election,” he said.
Before the school filed the union cards, Regent H. Bryan Neel said, “I guess our discussions will have to cease then. That’s not the way I like to operate. I’d like to keep discussing things until things get settled.”
Josh Tilsen, a mediator for the bureau, said the school will now go through the election process with the rest of the University faculty. However, their unit assignment will be determined by a vote.
Currently, Unit 8 includes the Twin Cities campus minus the Academic Health Center. The Law School, along with the health center, will hold elections to see if they will be included in the unit. Tilsen said the vote should take place at the end of November.
Rumors have been circulating for weeks that the school would file. Morrison said he was not surprised. “I’ve been watching the numbers (of cards) grow,” he said.
But others were a bit surprised. Professor Tom Walsh, who is a co-founder of the University Faculty Alliance, the group representing the faculty in tenure discussions, said this decision was probably not easy for some to make. “Being separate from the larger unit gave the school an exceptional status,” he said. “To some extent, this will be taken away.”
However, Walsh also said he was delighted that the school filed. “It’s better for the Law School to be part of the general University faculty community,” he said. Walsh has said before that he felt the school was being used by the regents to avoid the cease-and-desist order.
The original order for the rest of the University came in the beginning of September after the regents proposed tenure revisions that had controversial language regarding layoff provisions. An irate faculty reacted by asking the mediation service for the status quo order. Shortly after, the health center also obtained an order.
At the regents’ October meeting, they proposed changes for the Law School that cut out some of this controversial language. Law School Dean Tom Sullivan also proposed his own set of revisions. Most recently, the Faculty Senate passed a recommendation for the regents not to look at revisions for the tenure code, but regard Sullivan’s proposal as “the basis for a possible alternative solution.”
The recent order from the mediation service will freeze all discussion on tenure until a union election is held.