Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Contract, Contract..." (part 1)

"Contract, Contract, who said contract? Did you hear me mention contract?"
--Oscar to Lily in On the Twentieth Century

I've been keeping my head buried in the end of year paperwork morass that seems to demand more attention every year, so I haven't heard much of anything lately, but at some point this summer I believe we will be negotiating a new contract. The few faculty members I've spoken to have begun asking the same questions: "Has the contract negotiation started?" And more importantly, uh, "what are we negotiating this year?"

"And it's one, two three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn..."
I hope individual faculty members and the Faculty Senate in particular will give a damn about this summer's contract negotiations (apologies to Country Joe & the Fish). No, we're not fighting the Vietnam War, but we should start to grow some backbones around here and fight against the perpetuation of business as usual at CSU, kowtowing to patronage politics and Southside political interests (“contracts, contracts who gets the contracts?”) and the failure of CSU Administration to permit real shared governance on campus.

Since the debacle of last year's presidential search, when that rump board of Trustees gave virtually no voice to the faculty, staff, or students of CSU in the choice of its president, the union negotiators should demand that “shared governance” be built into the next contract. Last year should have opened up faculty eyes to the type of university in which we teach. Unfortunately, too many faculty want to avert their eyes, or worse yet, be active participants in the political game playing. Yes, we do good things around here that go unrecognized by a lot of people, both on campus and off, but let's face it, we do good things much of the time in spite of, not because of, who runs this place and allocates the campus resources, determines hiring, or doles out the contracts. And yes there are sincere administrators and some of those who even want to change this top-down structure (what a senior colleague of mine once referred to as Elnora’s “plantation model” administration and now our current CEO’s Chicago pol-style governance). Unfortunately too few administrators are afraid to say anything, let alone advocate for it. We’re all locked into the much bigger game of Southside patronage politics and until we look it in the face and admit it, however discomfiting that may be, we will continue to limp along and grumble, and the idea of “changing the culture at CSU” that we had hoped for two years ago at the end of Elnora Daniel’s tenure will truly fade into cynicism. How can we expect a different outcome if we keep doing things the same way?

“And its 5, 6, 7,” what are we waiting for?…
A president from another university outside ILL told me that there are two ways to get things to change at a university:
1. accrediting agencies
2. faculty & staff contracts
No one needs to be reminded that these are difficult times. Does anyone remember that at one of his town hall meetings this spring, CEO Watson said we here at CSU are going to have to trim the fat, tighten our belts, stop living high off the hog? --I can’t remember the exact clichés that he used. At the time I wondered if anyone else thought how little this CEO knows of CSU if he thinks we have been living so high all this time. I buy my own printer paper and printer cartridges by the end of most semesters and don’t forget those state of the art classrooms that we are in, and unlimited xeroxing privileges, and oh yes, how much did I get as a book budget from CSU last year? Can I call students from my office if the call is long-distance? Have I received a new computer every couple of years? Puh-leeze. I’m happy if I walk into a classroom that doesn’t look like a storehouse for broken down desks and has a chalk tray that is clean and a whiteboard that is not stained beyond use.

Let's face it, our days of selling out and abnegating governing power to the Administration for raises is ending, not, I am sorry to say, because a majority wants it to, but simply because there is no money to be had. Someone mentioned another faculty union negotiation in the state of ILL that concluded with a 0-1-1 contract (no raise the first year, 1% the year after that and 1% the third year). I wonder if we can even be that pathetically optimistic. Already word is coming down that the Admin wants to eliminate:
1. cues for coordinators/assistant chair positions
2. cues for assessment coordinators (gee, I wonder who’ll do that tedious time-consuming job for no cues)
And don’t forget, this year the CEO has already eliminated:
1. sabbaticals (except for one or two scientists who are already getting their own funding)
2. Research Cues except for those he will hand-pick à la the Chicago pol-style governance (he nullified any “advisory” input from the Faculty Research Cues Committee this year and put at the head of its ranking those he himself thought worthy). Why did he do this? Because contractually he could. Yet another “advisory only” committee that shows how powerless the faculty truly is.

If you think changing the culture on the CSU campus is hopeless look at the website for the Illinois Better Government Association (remember that they took an interest in the shenanigans of our presidential search last year). Andy Shaw, head of the IBGA, has been on NPR this week commenting on the great Blagovich trial. I’m wondering how many of CSU’s political friends will be paraded out to testify. Check out

And so far, none of CEO Watson’s connections to the Illinois pols seems to have bought us very much-- $42,000 worth of flat-screen tvs? Buy-in to the political pork project of a west-side campus? A fat contract given out for a feasibility study for the building of another dorm on campus? Nothing that could stave off employee lay-offs this spring.

CSU’s faculty, staff, and students were not given the pretence of a share in the determination of CSU’s president last year. The faculty did not share in the decision to eliminate sabbaticals or allocate research cues this year. The union’s contract team must keep the issue of shared governance in the forefront of its negotiations.

More on instituting shared governance at CSU in the next blog.

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