Changes to the f…

by Brian Bakst

Changes to the faculty tenure code were put on hold indefinitely Sept. 13 when the state issued a cease-and-desist order freezing all current terms of employment for University faculty.
The state’s Bureau of Mediation Services issued the order after the University Faculty Alliance collected enough faculty signatures requesting a union election. Along with a drive for unionization, faculty members are using other methods to combat the Board of Regents’ proposed tenure code revisions that include extended layoff authority and strong language relating to pay reduction.
The faculty alliance has been attempting to collect enough signatures to force a unionization vote since March. After the regents unveiled drastic changes to the tenure code in early September, the number of incoming cards increased dramatically.
A collection of distinguished regents’ professors wrote e-mail to their fellow faculty members warning about the harmful impact revisions would have on the future of the University. They also urged their colleagues to support a collective bargaining movement by submitting their signatures.
By law, a group vying for a unionization election must have the signatures of one-third of its members. Depending on whether or not the Academic Health Center and Law School faculty were counted, union organizers needed between 700 and 1,000 signature cards in order to hold an election.
When a union election was held in 1978, the health center and law school faculty opted not to be included in the voting process. They were again excluded from a 1981 unionization vote. Therefore, the departments would have to file a petition for reinclusion by Nov. 1 with the mediation bureau if they want to take part in the current movement.
The number of cards needed by the faculty alliance will remain an issue of contention as the administration and regents try to fight the cease-and-desist order.
Classical and Near Eastern Studies Professor Bob Sonkowsky was responsible for collecting the signature cards. Sonkowsky said he and fellow faculty alliance members carried the cards into the state’s mediation office in bushel baskets, along with a petition requesting the union election.
The mediation bureau order states that “wages, hours and all existing conditions of employment” will remain unchanged while the order is in place. Tenure negotiations must also come to a halt until a union election is held or the state determines the University Faculty Alliance failed to provide the adequate number of cards.
Faculty members felt pressure to submit the cards to the state as soon as possible because they feared a special meeting might be called by regents to pass tenure revisions, Sonkowsky said. Also, many cards were signed before March 20, and any signatures expire after six months.
The date of a union election will have to be determined, but is not expected to take place in the near future. The 1978 election was the culmination of a drive that began in 1973 but was held up by numerous court battles. The prevailing issue was about how each position would be classified.
Sonkowsky is confident that when an election is eventually held, faculty members will vote to unionize. “It will be the first University of its stature to be forced to have a union,” Sonkowsky said. “And it will have a union with compatible stature.”
Aside from sparking a resurgence in the drive for faculty unionization, the regents’ suggested revisions have led faculty members to voice their opinions in other ways. Faculty response to the impact of tenure revisions on the University’s future flooded radio talk shows and newspaper editorial pages immediately following the regents’ announcement.
Both supporters and opponents of the revisions have used the media to sell their arguments. Regent Patricia Spence has frequently appeared on talk shows to stress the need for layoff authority, and Rep. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, has spoken in favor of the changes. But faculty members and groups such as the Faculty Consultative Committee have issued numerous statements criticizing the proposal.
Many faculty members fear the mere release of the regents’ suggested revisions has given the University a bad name.
“Even if they would withdraw (the suggested revisions) tomorrow, it has made tremendous damage,” said Faculty Consultative Committee Chairwoman Virginia Gray. “It is going to take years to fix.”
Gray said the regents’ revisions have made a serious dent in faculty morale, and added that she and others are looking at prospective job offers from other universities more seriously. “What’s happening now is that people are just up in arms,” she said. “Everyone is very upset at the thought of enacting any of these provisions.”
University teaching and research activities are also at stake, Gray said. Not only will the University be unable to attract quality new faculty members, she said, but current faculty members may be distracted by the threat to tenure.
Gray said she has even heard of parents of University students who are concerned education will suffer, and are considering alternative options for their children.