Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Thoughts on Universities, and the Importance of Faculty Unions

A few weeks ago, a previous post challenged CSU faculty to think about what a university is and the contradictions created by the so-called "business model" or "corporate model" that has become increasingly dominant at universities in the U.S., including at CSU. Many of you may be familiar with the situation at SUNY-Albany, where the president there recently announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. Since this announcement, numerous faculty from across the US have denounced the actions of the SUNY-Albany president, but one recent example of such a denunciation struck me as quite telling.

In a letter written to the SUNY-Albany president, biologist Gregory A Petsko pointed out that it is precisely the dominance of the business model and its incompatibility with universities that is at the root of this recent attempt to eliminate these departments. I will just quote one small part of his letter that outlines this: "As for the argument that the humanities don't pay their own way, well, I guess that's true, but it seems to me that there's a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I'm not saying it shouldn't be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do 'old-fashioned' courses of study. But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future." I encourage you to read the entire letter, which I have linked above.

At the same time as this attempt to eliminate departments and programs as "cost savings measures," we have been reminded again of the importance of faculty unions in helping to prevent such draconian tactics. At Florida State University, an arbitrator has ruled in favor of faculty members who filed a grievance through their union, requiring FSU to rescind the firings of these faculty members. You can read about this decision in The Chronicle of Higher Education and in Inside Higher Ed.

These events are worth reflecting on as we think about the ideas that we were challenged to think about in the previous post on this blog. It was a call to action, and perhaps we need to think about what kinds of action we can take to engage the CSU campus in a wide-ranging dialog that looks both inside CSU and at universities across the world. What is a university? What kind of university do faculty & students want CSU to be?

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