Faculty union will hurt University’s reputation

by Edson

Gov. Arne Carlson wants to see the University ranked with the top great research universities in the country. The governor and others concerned about jobs and the economic development of Minnesota are well aware of the contribution a great research university can make to the state’s economy.
Minnesotans need to understand that unionization of the faculty will make it impossible to attain that goal.
Other universities are already developing lists of top professors they would like to recruit from Minnesota. The first to go will be those who value academic freedom, who do not want to work in a unionized environment, and who bring large amounts of research dollars to their programs.
Without these leaders, the quality and reputation of the U’ will inevitably decline. It will also be more difficult to attract other top people in their fields to join the faculty.
Unionization will make the job of the University Foundation more difficult. The foundation has been extremely successful in raising money for the University but that flow of gifts from generous alumni and others may well decline as donors foresee a lapse into mediocrity.
Minnesota businesses have funded professorships, new buildings and research programs. Unionization will signal mediocrity, and those financial supporters can no longer be counted on. The University has submitted a large investment for the future part in its biennial budget request. The state is being asked to pick up part of the cost of new technology for education, faculty compensation to raise faculty salaries to higher comparisons with peer universities, administrative system redesign, etc. Political leaders will be reluctant to pick up their share of this investment if the university faculty unionizes.
At the heart of the problem is a breakdown in the governance system at the University. No Board of Regents can run the University. This is what the president is hired to do. It is not surprising that a broad-based group of politically elected citizens, no matter how dedicated and hardworking, finds trouble defining its role. Unfortunately, the breakdown in the governance system has left the regents with a massive problem, which, if not solved, will lead the University into mediocrity and, in turn, weaken the economic future of this state.
Are unionization and mediocrity inevitable? Not necessarily. The faculty still has to vote.
Edson W. Spencer is an adviser to Gov. Arne Carlson on higher education policy and he serves as chair of the Advisory Board of the Humphrey Institute. Portions of this commentary ran in the Nov. 1, 1996 Star Tribune.