Union will be better than Faculty Senate

As faculty members, most of us have had the experience of being asked whether what we took to be the most exciting and important stuff in the course was going to be on the exam. Our dismay is tempered by the realization that students have good reason to focus attention on those things that demand it in concrete, consequential terms, even if they share our preference for the purely intellectually engaging. Our job is to ensure that what we care about will, in fact, be on the exam.
The situation with administrators is remarkably similar. Their ideals are not necessarily different from those of faculty: Many of them, after all, are “faculty.” But administrators have to be responsive to demands that are concretely consequential. Faculty concerns, expressed through faculty governance, are not “on the exam”: We have, that is, no power, only influence, which, when push comes to shove, can be ignored. Influence is also inherently undemocratic: Unlike power, it proceeds largely through personal contacts, making it hard to wield in a way that empowers a constituency.
The struggle over the tenure code is symptomatic. As much as we may fault particular regents or the selection process, they were clearly responding to local and national pressures toward corporatizing universities. These are pressures to which any board — no matter how carefully chosen or how knowledgeable and sympathetic — will have to respond. Central administration also responded, as University President Nils Hasselmo put it in a letter that alarmed many faculty members, to the perceived need to revise the tenure code to provide for greater administrative flexibility. The original process of developing revisions to the code — involving a joint administration-faculty tenure working group — was widely seen, by faculty inside and outside the Senate and its committees, as driven by the Regents’ agenda, by outside lawyers and consultants, and by a corporate vision of the University. This vision stressed flexibility and focus, ideals that sounded like code for top-down administrative decision-making and the premature closure of intellectually important questions.
Faculty responded to these threats in two ways. A group of concerned faculty members formed the University Faculty Alliance (now affiliated with the American Association of University Professors), initiating a signature drive calling for a collective bargaining election.
Later, led by a group of senior faculty who have played distinguished roles in the intellectual and governance life of the University, and who were alarmed at a process that sidelined faculty input, the Senate, in April 1996, demanded the disbanding of the tenure working group and asked the Tenure Subcommittee, the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs and the Judicial Committee to develop and bring to the Senate, proposals for revisions to the code. In June 1996, a revised tenure code was passed by the Senate and sent to the regents.
They have never even acknowledged receiving it. Clearly, our concerns were not on their exam.
In September, the regents presented a code developed by the law firm of Hogan and Hartson that effectively abolished tenure. We quickly became the focus of national alarm, reflected in the difficulty departments conducting searches had in attracting candidates. Faculty responded by filing a sufficient number of cards calling for a collective bargaining election to get a maintenance of status quo order from the Bureau of Mediation Services. Meanwhile, the regents, despite the Senate repeatedly asking them not to, imposed on units that chose not to join the bargaining unit successive versions of the “Sullivan Code,” presented directly to them by Thomas Sullivan, dean of the Law School.
The Senate and its committees have subsequently taken on the task of examining successive versions of the code and recommending changes — both for the units to which those codes have been applied and as advice to a joint committee representing UFA-AAUP and the tenure, faculty affairs, and judicial committees, which has proposed to the regents the lifting of the mediation bureau order to negotiate a tenure code to be voted on by the Senate and then by the faculty as a whole.
Even if the resulting code is essentially the same as the Senate-passed code of June 1996 and is acceptable to the faculty as a whole, grave questions remain.
The faculty will have achieved this substantial victory only under the legal protection of the collective bargaining effort, and we will have no assurance that it will not be lost under the next, wholly predictable, assault from state and national pressures toward corporatization.
And what about other issues that affect the conditions of our employment and the state of the University — such as switching faculty from a semimonthly to a biweekly payroll, charging for off-campus modem use, cancelling under-enrolled summer session classes, or mandating the scheduling of classes in the afternoons when classrooms are vacant, rather than in mornings when students want to enroll?
In each of these cases, administrators have made decisions without ever consulting the relevant Senate committees, whose chairs and members frequently learn of policy changes through the grapevine, the Daily or general notification to the faculty of impending implementation. Subsequent protests may or may not be effective (most of these issues remain mired in debate, obviating the force of any argument that efficiency precludes consultation) — but even if they are, the cumulative result of being ignored on issue after issue demoralizes many of us who have devoted considerable time, energy and goodwill to faculty governance.
Whatever happens with the tenure code, these larger problems will remain. Under pressure of a cease-and-desist order and the threat of a legally, collectively empowered professoriate, the regents may accept a tenure code more compatible with our continuing to be a first-rate research university. We need to claim that victory, without fooling ourselves into believing that faculty governance alone could have won it. In the absence of legally backed faculty power — that is, if the collective bargaining effort is defeated — we have no reason to trust that the regents will hear our voices above the clamor of those that demand changes inimical to the continued excellence of the University.
The question before us concerns our role in shaping the major and inevitable changes that face research universities nationally. We can watch the University become progressively more corporatized and hope that some of us will have sufficient influence to prevent some of the worst manifestations of that trend. Or, we can work together, as a legally empowered body, to make faculty governance both effective and democratic and to promote and preserve excellence in teaching and research.
The recent collaborative efforts of the UFA-AAUP and the Senate and its committees (an extraordinarily impressive example of alliance-building) has given us a glimpse of what it could mean to have a collectively represented faculty at a major research university. That power to participate in shaping our future and the future of the University is ours, if we care to take it, and we urge our colleagues not to give it away.
Rose Brewer, Equal Employment Opportunities for Women CommitteeSara Evans, Faculty Consultative CommitteeShirley Garner,Judicial Committee, senatorGordon Hirsch, Senate Committee on Educational PolicyRoberta Humphreys, senatorMary Jo Kane, chairwoman, Professional Studies Provostial Faculty Consultative Committee, senatorToni McNaron,Arts, Sciences and Engineering Provostial Faculty Consultative CommitteeCarol Miller, Tenure Subcommittee, Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, senatorRama Murthy,senatorMarcia Odom, EEOWCAnne Pick, SCFARichard Purple, SCFA, senatorPeter Robinson, Committee on Finance and Planning, senatorNamoi Sheman, SCFA, Tenure Subcommittee and chair EEOWC
(Committee membership listed for identification purposes only)