A Faculty Union at UIUC Part 1

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CFA NTT union 022The UI Chicago faculty union signed its first contract in April 2014. In Urbana the Campus Faculty Association (CFA) submitted in mid-May the necessary number of cards to create a full-time non-tenure track (NTT) faculty union (part-time NTT’s are excluded by Illinois labor law). At the end of 2013 an anti-union group formed spearheaded by Professors Jeffrey Brown (finance), Nick Burbules (education), and Joyce Tolliver (Spanish, Italian and Portuguese). Burbules and Tolliver created a blog, “No Faculty Union” (http://nofacultyunion.blogspot.com/), and the three wrote and circulated “Preserving Excellence at Illinois: Joint Statement of Concern About Faculty Unionization,” initially to named or endowed chairs (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PreserveExcellence).

Brown’s position comes as no surprise. Former President George W. Bush named him to his social security committee, and the two traveled together in 2007 pitching Bush’s proposal to privatize social security. During 2007-2009 Brown served on the advisory committee of the Koch brothers-supported Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government at UI. The Academy is so right-wing that when UI alum and their 2012 conference speaker Steve Moore moved from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to the Heritage Foundation as its chief economist in January 2014 as part of Heritage damage control after their 2012 electoral losses, Nobel economist and liberal columnist Paul Krugman lumped Moore, with his unreconstructed supply side economic ideology, in with those others whom then-Vice President George H. W. Bush famously criticized for practicing “voodoo economics.These same economists were castigated as “charlatans and cranks” by Republican economist and George W. Bush advisor Greg Mankiw in the latter’s best-selling textbook (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/23/heritage-still-hackish/). If by supply side economics is meant “that a country can raise revenue by cutting tax rates, then I do NOT believe this is correct,” Brown wrote in an April 23 email. “I am in agreement with Mankiw and the vast majority of academic economists that as a general rule, cutting tax rates reduces revenue..During 2007-2010 the Academy was criticized by the faculty Senate for, among other things, an ideologically-driven agenda that awarded grants to like-minded faculty. Interestingly, Burbules and Tolliver criticized grants going to advisory council members, which included Brown, as conflict of interest. “Burbules questioned whether giving grants to members of the advisory council might constitute a conflict of interest. He said he wasn’t questioning anyone’s integrity, but it appears the foundation is ‘identifying friendly faculty and channeling money to people who they know agree with them’” (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2010-07-18/academy-capitalism-paid-64000-projects-ui-2009.html , http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2010-07-18/academy-capitalism-still-has-strong-ties-ui-campus.html). In his email, Brown stated that “When the faculty senate raised serious concerns about governance, I tried to act as an intermediary to find a solution that both sides could endorse. When it became clear that this was unlikely to happen, I resigned.” In March 2014 Prof. Brown published an article that I read below as a case study in the corporatization of the university.

In contrast to Brown, both Burbules and Tolliver identify as political progressives. Since 2004, Burbules has written the important “Progressive Blog Digest.” Tolliver wrote an online comment supportive of James Kilgore, embattled former Symbionese Liberation Army member, and part-time UI faculty member, who has so far been denied reappointment for fall 2014, allegedly due to outside political pressure (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-02-09/jim-dey-plain-sight.html). Both Burbules and Tolliver have played important leadership roles in the Senate Executive Committee and University Senates Conference. Interestingly, in 2007, Tolliver was president of the Campus Faculty Association, the organization she opposes today; she resigned her membership in 2010. While she adamantly opposes a union for tenure-track faculty, she stated in a March 20 email, “I would certainly not want to go on record as opposing collective bargaining for non-tenure track professors.”

All this makes for some strange bedfellows, since the union debate is between folks who vote Democratic much more often than Republican. It must be highly entertaining for local conservatives to watch the two sides attacking each other, often in the pages of the very right-wing News-Gazette.

Faculty work today reflects broader changes in the nature of work. In a previous article I focused on corporatization and corporate governance. Corporatization is the application to the university of neo-liberal policies and practices that aim generally to shrink the government sector and enhance the private sector through deregulation, free trade, and privatization – “capitalism with the gloves off,” as Prof. Robert McChesney says. “Corporate governance” describes how administrators implement corporate behaviors and managerial structures from the top down.

Historically, unions in the US cut a de facto deal with employers neatly summed up in so-called “Fordism. This refers to innovations including the moving assembly line, and time and motion studies, introduced by Henry Ford in the first decade of the 20th century that led to the mass production of consumer goods. These changes in production boosted productivity, increased profits, routinized work, and increased labor alienation. Some of the profits went to raising worker wages — Ford’s so-called “5 dollar a day was a princely wage at the time. Blue collar workers, along with the middle class, literally bought into the post-1945 increasingly “affluent society.” But US unions have rarely challenged the nature and organization of work per se. One notable exception is the 1937 Detroit Fisher body plant sit-down strike. Contrast this with the February 2014 failed attempt by the UAW to unionize a VW plant in Chattanooga. Interestingly, the UAW and VW both pushed for a worker and management “works council,” which sounds a lot like a faculty union working in a university system of “shared governance.” This is, in turn, decidedly reformist unionism. It is an extremely attenuated version of the original workers councils in the 1917 Russia Revolution (“soviet” means council in Russian) and the 1918-1919 German Revolution (http://www.labornotes.org/2014/02/volkswagen-workers-vote-union-works-council-scheme#sthash.tEY3uWxt.dpuf ). Yet, even such a watered-down, advisory-only “works council” in Chattanooga was too much for the current US labor regime based on government-business collusion to stomach.

Degradation of work through deskilling began in the mid- and late-19th centuries, and continues apace today. There are enormous differences with work on a mass assembly line, yet increasing university corporatization, over the last 40 years, looks uncannily like earlier deskilling. Gradually, faculty are rendered less and less like autonomous professionals, and more and more like other workers. One striking feature in the debate at UIUC is that while union proponents refer to corporatization only indirectly, union opponents are silent altogether. Yet it is there if we dig for it.

As at UI Chicago, differences between faculty and administrators at UIUC are significant and growing, according to Prof. Howard Bunsis (http://cfaillinois.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/bunsis-uiuc-presentation-oct-2013.pdf). Number and pay of tenure-track faculty stagnates – a net two tenure-stream faculty added 2007-2013 – while non-tenure track faculty rose 200. So-called “administrative bloat” continues. The number of administrators rose 120 2007-2013. Administrative expenses (“institutional support”) up 16 percent from 2011 to 2012. The number of students has increased 4.5% in the last six years. Tuition and total costs are up, making UIUC more expensive than the rest of the Big 10, and more costly than its public university “peer institutions,” including Berkeley, and Texas at Austin. Operating surpluses have increased reserves to over $700 million, as tuition income outstrips declining state support.

To this, Burbules responds that “[a]t campus after campus, his [Bunsis’s] conclusion is the same: there is lots of spare money in the system, which could be used to hire more faculty and improve salaries — but it is being hoarded by administrators who refuse to spend it except to expand administration and increase their own salaries.” Burbules does not refute Bunsis’s argument. He attacks the messenger. If people want to believe Bunsis, who tells the same story of

administrative deceit and corruption wherever he goes, they can do so… But this requires a level of credulity and lack of critical thinking that we would find unacceptable even in our own undergraduate students” (http://nofacultyunion.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-billion-dollar-hoax-part-one.html). Yet if corporatization is indeed a national phenomenon, it is logical to expect these same general trends occur elsewhere to a greater or lesser extent. Burbules has his facts wrong. At the April faculty Senate meeting, it was reported that UIUC has generated a net surplus of over $300 million every year since 2010. “We could probably spend about $700 million of our cash, and we’d still be OK,” the Senate budget committee chair said (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-04-15/ui-budget-review-shows-financial-house-order.html).

Neither Burbules nor Brown use the word “corporatization,” but both write about it indirectly, Burbules in his “’Administrative Bloat’?” blog post (http://nofacultyunion.blogspot.com/2014/02/administrative-bloat-or-just-lot-of-hot.html), and Brown in “How University Endowments Respond to Financial Market Shocks” (http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.104.3.931). Circulated previously under the title, “Why I Lost My Secretary,” Brown and his co-authors show that during financial downturns university endowments “actively reduce payouts relative to their stated payout policies,” which the authors find “surprising.” They attribute this to “endowment hoarding,” keeping endowment value close to what it was at the beginning of a university president’s term. They speculate that university leaders do so “perhaps due to the private benefits (e.g., prestige, future career opportunities, high compensation, etc.) they obtain from a larger endowment.” Engaging in “endowment hoarding” during the 2008-2009 recession required cuts elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, the cuts fell disproportionately on faculty and staff, which is, figuratively, “why I lost my secretary,” while, conversely, the number of administrators actually increased. All this is in keeping with corporatization.

Corporatization also figures in the debate over what pro- and anti-union folks call “shared governance,” which is, more accurately, “corporate governance.” Both sides are being disingenuous. Pro-union folks don’t say “corporate governance,” presumably because they don’t want to sound too militant, or conspiratorial. A faculty union would result in a relative redistribution of power and resources away from administration and towards faculty – exactly how much is difficult to say. Union advocates say this would strengthen shared governance. Anti-union folks say it would weaken, if not destroy, shared governance.

Faculty and administrators view themselves as partners in a common project;” writes Burbules (http://chronicle.com/article/How-Unions-Weaken-Shared/142625/). “This is what the ‘shared’ in shared governance means.” For both Burbules and Tolliver, their positions result from their personal experience in the faculty Senate. For them, “shared governance” works. But for many others, this mistakes theory for practice, “[i]t conflates what should be with what is,” says AAUP’s Ernst Benjamin. “As a political scientist (PhD, Chicago) I have trouble with this repeated failure to recognize the deep differences in priorities, not to mention interests, between boards, administrators, faculty and students” (http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Unions-Shared-Gov.pdf). As UIC English professor Walter Benn Michaels pithily puts it, “To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/faculty-on-strike/).

To take the argument a step further, the faculty Senate is, sociologically, more reactive than proactive. Certainly, it has distinguished itself in recent years by cleaning up messes created by the administration: the brouhaha over the Koch brothers-supported Academy for Capitalism and Limited Government (2007-2010) (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/08/academy?width=775&height=500&iframe=true), the deeply flawed Global Campus online learning initiative (2007-2009) (

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/03/globalcampus#sthash.Pkj5PFfI.dpbs), the preferential admissions scandal leading the UI president and Urbana chancellor to resign (2009), and forcing the resignation of UI president Michael Hogan (2012). The Senate has initiated important policy discussions, but cleaning the administration’s Augean stables has been far more significant. In fact, the practice of shared governance in the Senate today can be usefully contrasted to the earlier Chief Illiniwek controversy, when the Senate voted to get rid of the racist mascot years before the administration and, finally, the Board of Trustees came around.

Furthermore, working with the administration through the faculty Senate is to take a gradualist approach. During the past several decades, the number of non-tenure track faculty has increased significantly. Anti-union folks claim progress recently on NTT status, citing the Senate task force begun in 2013. After UI Chicago faculty signed a contract April 2014 that included raising NTT salaries, the Urbana provost set a floor of $40,000 for NTT’s. Pro-union folks argue that they shamed the Senate and administration into acting despite blatant moves to thwart unionization. Whether it is the Campus Faculty Association, Senate, or administration we have to thank, we can all agree: it’s about time.

Arguments about corporatization and shared governance turn on how people view faculty and administration in an era of neo-liberal corporatization. Are faculty and administrators more alike than unlike? When you are talking about coal miners or garment workers, it makes sense to talk about the struggle between workers and bosses,” writes Prof. Burbules (http://www.senate.illinois.edu/130204con_burbules.pdf). But this is a very poor analogy for how universities work. Administrators aren’t our bosses, and they have very limited abilities to direct our work. They aren’t ‘other’ to the faculty; they are faculty themselves, they share the academic values of faculty…” Union advocates respond that, while not identical, faculty work is increasingly like other work. “It has never been clearer that universities are more like other workplaces than different from them,” says historian David Roediger (http://cfaillinois.org/2014/03/03/david-roediger/). They are in fact a leading edge for the implementation of cutbacks, job insecurity, bureaucratic scrutiny, mass production, and attacks on pension plans. They have long used weak forms of faculty co-participation to recruit cooperation with such anti-teacher and anti-student practices.” Granted, administrators and faculty are not engaged in class conflict, but this does not mean that they are more alike than unlike. Rather, they constitute class fractions, that is, class-based social groups. Where faculty amass cultural capital – as in a Ph.D. administrators traffic in symbolic capital, which lies at the intersection of class and status.

(This is part one of a two part article.)

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