Welcome shared governance

I understand that the Bureau of Mediation Services has authorized a vote to determine if union representation for graduate assistants will be validated. I support the effort of graduate assistants to collectively represent their needs and aspirations. I believe unions in general have increased the ability of workers to improve their conditions of work and of life, and in so doing have helped us all.

I have been a faculty member in mathematics at the University of Minnesota since 1977. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to contribute to scientific research and to the educational process. However, the drift of the University towards the corporate model has been inexorable and undeniable. In general it has been an unwholesome and detrimental direction. There are undoubtedly strong forces pushing the University in this direction. That does not make the movement in this direction a positive development.

In my opinion, it often pushes the University away from its founding land-grant mission, as necessary today as it was in 1851, of providing essential service, research and education on behalf of the state and its people.

The drift towards the corporate business model can be seen in the increased use of contractual P&A appointments instead of tenured faculty, the growth of administration in terms of budget and personnel and the increased micromanagement that comes with this and the increasing disparities in pay for administration compared with rest of the employees at the University. And we learn now of the use of costly leaves and golden parachutes for high-ranking administrators at the very time that course offerings are being diminished, faculty pay is frozen and furloughs are forced.

None of these decisions and dispositions of resources has been done with the active — as opposed to pro forma ­­­— consultation with the faculty or any other of the important components that comprise this institution. And the result of our administration acting alone is an embarrassing spate of unfavorable publicity, which affects all of us.

A number of fine universities already have unionized teaching and research assistants. The shared governance of these institutions has neither harmed them financially nor tarnished their academic excellence.   These institutions include the University of California system, California State University system, State University of New York system, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Illinois, University of Massachusetts, University of Iowa, University of Washington, Rutgers, Oregon State University and many others.

Faculty unions in the U.S. are less common, but do exist. In Canada, some 80 percent of university faculty are unionized. In many foreign countries, shared governance is the desired model. And, of course, staff at the University of Minnesota is unionized. I am unaware of any cases in which academic excellence has suffered at all from unionization and/or shared governance.

A corporate-leaning administration opposes organized graduate assistants (and faculty) as a matter of course. In my opinion, our University and our state would be better served by welcoming shared governance with graduate assistants, faculty and staff and increasing the focus on our basic research, education and service missions.