When a heated c…

Jim Martyka

When a heated controversy over the University’s tenure code and a drive for faculty unionization this year tore the University at its seams, one of the major results was a feeling of mistrust on the part of faculty, regents and administrators.
While the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services ordered the University to cease discussion on tenure until after the union election was completed, many faculty accused the regents of meeting in secret. What these allegations did was add tension to an already touchy relationship.
Faculty members even went so far as to distribute buttons which read “Tenure deliberations; Regents secret, professors open.” The buttons became a large part of the union drive campaign, expressing just how much the administration’s actions were feeding into union leaders’ mistrust of the University.
Many pledged, and some even fought, to stop the regents from having these closed meetings. It was either open or not at all, so they said.
Reporters were also affected by this turn of events. Just when we thought we could cover the meeting in which the regents would drop the bomb on tenure, we’d be informed that they closed the meeting to discuss matter covered by attorney-client privilege — a condition which allows a meeting to be closed under state law.
Well, like the faculty, many reporters — including myself — grew tired of this and did what we could to get a sense of what was discussed in these meetings. We also spoke with our lawyers.
Unfortunately, we found out that these meetings were legitimate as long as they weren’t discussing new tenure policies.
So we eased back (only slightly). But this didn’t stop some conspiracy-minded faculty members. They still complained about the closed meetings and very vocally urged that all meetings stay open.
Then things took a minor but very ironic little twist.
The faculty in the Law School spent much of the tenure controversy deciding whether or not they wanted to join the rest of the University faculty in the union drive. They held several meetings to discuss concerns they had about unionization and listen to people pitch for the union.
You guessed it. While attending one of these meetings, one irate law professor declared it was not appropriate for a newspaper reporter to be present at the meeting.
Even though many of her colleagues sighed and rolled their eyes, she continued to complain until the head of the group decided to take a vote on whether or not I could stay.
As you can guess, I was dumb-founded. It was especially funny because one of the members had given me an open meeting button earlier in the week.
Anyway, the group listened to the member speak of this terrible intrusion for a about 15 minutes before deciding by a slight majority vote that I should be asked to leave.
So much for “professors open.”
Well, I put up a fight, but to no avail. I left and later contacted the people who attended the meeting and got the story anyway. No big loss, but a rather unusual twist in philosophy on their part.
But then again, the tenure debate was full of unusual plot twists.