Eerie silence on important union questions

By Marvin

Next week’s faculty union election, in my opinion, will mark a major turning point in the evolution of the University. If the faculty members in the Twin Cities Instructional Unit vote for no union on Tuesday and Wednesday, we will continue with the top 30 peer universities, such as California, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, to chart our path into the 21st century using shared governance as our basic decision-making process. If voters next week choose the University Faculty Alliance union, we will join a handful of universities in exploring whether faculty governance and collective bargaining can really co-exist.
What I find most surprising, given the importance of the decision that will be made shortly, is the relatively small amount of public discussion on major issues. Although there has been some e-mail and a few op-ed pieces in local newspapers, it seems that with more than 1,600 highly capable and very articulate faculty members eligible to vote on this crucial issue, the colloquy level should be greater. Some questions I think would be of particular interest are:
Why doesn’t anyone publicly discuss causal hypotheses about the complete absence of faculty unions in the top 30 research universities in the United States?
Does the unique nature of the University of Minnesota as a high-quality research, land-grant, urban university with an academic health center suggest a different position on this issue than the one adopted by our faculty colleagues at peer universities?
Why is there little discussion elsewhere about the experience of shared responsibility between a union and a faculty senate — for example, at Duluth?
Why do we not read public comments about the likely effect — positive or negative — of unionization on the University’s overall resource base? Will a union result in an increase or decrease in the University’s public funding? What will be the effect of unionization on the more than $80 million in annual private contributions that support excellence? What is the possible effect of a faculty union on a likely sesquicentennial, near-billion-dollar capital campaign?
Why is there near silence about the financial cost of a union or the possibility of a strike? Will the mandatory union dues be more or less than the approximate $525 per year charged at Duluth? Will the dues structure be flat, thus impacting more on lower-paid faculty, or graduated, thus placing a larger burden on more highly paid faculty? How many research universities have had strikes? What have been the durations and the economic and social effects of those strikes?
The future of the University depends on a continuing and unwavering commitment to academic freedom. Academic freedom demands participation and discussion by everyone, as well as tolerance and respect for differing points of view. There are only a few days before the election next Tuesday and Wednesday. Everyone should feel free to speak up and be heard. Everyone who is eligible should be sure to vote. Otherwise, a small group of voters will choose a path that every faculty member will be obligated to follow, regardless of its implications for the academic quality of the University.
Marvin L. Marshak is senior vice president for Academic Affairs.