Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Letter From A Retiring Colleague

So as is our policy, we publish on behalf of the faculty. Any faculty member is free is request publication.

Dear Colleague,

This is George Williams, a Lecturer in the English Department. I currently teach online, have been employed at CSU for the past 25 years, and have been an active member in a number of university committees.

I have been a member of the union contract negotiating team for the past three negotiated contracts, and I am deeply concerned over the recent negotiations and contract settlement. As a result I am asking you to support Dr. “Pancho” McFarland in the upcoming union elections for chapter president. I believe the CSU union needs a change of leadership and “Pancho” with his background in Sociology and labor activism presents a welcome change.

The union negotiating team consisted of six members: Ms. Jamie Daniel (union negotiater), Dr. Laurie Walter, Dr. Gabriel Gomez, Dr. Beverly Meyer, Ms. Romona Raymond, and myself. The team met for a year with CSU administration’s team led by Dr. Patrick Cage. A major negotiating issue was integrating the College of Pharmacy in the existing contract. Suddenly, however, the union negotiating team was excluded from the final 4 negotiation sessions during which Laurie Walter and Ellie Sullivan met with Dr. Watson at his request. Results of those sessions were post-tenure review, a nominal salary increase, and a 5 year contract.

Such sessions, I believe, were poor form and resulted in a contract that was rushed through membership approval without allowing membership adequate time for analysis. Also, items that had been on the table failed to appear in the final contract.

Additionally, Dr. Walter has refused to participate in a Q & A or debate session with her rival for the chapter presidency.

I believe a change to a pro-active leadership is necessary. Witness the latest fiasco concerning the CSU computer usage policy. 

On Wednesday, January 4, faculty received an email from Administration informing us that we had to sign a certification.
Our chapter president 6 days later, on Thursday, January 12, sent us an email informing us that she had sent the “powers-that-be a demand to bargain this change in working conditions”.
Then on Thursday, January 26, we received an email from the union president saying “Members who have not yet signed [the Computer Usage Policy certification] should do so, adding ‘I am signing this policy under protest.’”

I do not consider this timeline pro-active leadership.


  1. It is odd that Prof. Williams does not mention the outcome of the "fiasco concerning the CSU computer usage policy," in his words. After I had sent the advice to members to sign the policy with a note of protest (which, by the way, was the advice of our lawyer), in time for them to avoid having their computer usage cut off, we negotiated a vastly-improved policy with the administration, which happened precisely because we insisted upon it. This policy avoids the egregious errors of the original version and was endorsed by the Faculty Senate. It is true that we don't have an updated version for members to sign yet but that is the administration's fault; as birobi noted in an earlier posting and as Prof. Williams himself might have noticed during the negotiations process, their side does not always follow through on agreements, despite numerous reminders. That is precisely why the union filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board in January to force the administration to comply with a whole assortment of contractual obligations.

    In terms of the contractual negotiations, I believe I addressed these allegations once before in this forum; in case Prof. Williams or other readers did not see the earlier posting, here is the relevant portion: Based upon meetings held with the full team to discuss the outstanding issues, a small group met with a small administrative group to work out the remaining issues. Our group included the chief negotiator, the chapter president and the Local president. The CSU administrative group included the President, the Provost and the CSU legal counsel. We reached agreement on the outstanding issues. This did include “annual evaluation of tenured faculty.” This was based upon a proposal from the Administration which was very punitive and had a very short proposed time from start to termination; we modified it considerably to make it constructive, rather than punitive (based on language from Western Illinois University, where it has worked very well). We felt that some sort of enhanced annual evaluation was inevitable and wanted to be proactive, to prevent it from being far more potentially damaging to faculty. Note that under the current language, a faculty member would have to both 1) fail to meet the "adequate" standard in a single area of evaluation for two consecutive years and 2) refuse to participate in development of a plan for improvement, in order to be vulnerable to sanctions. We also "stretched out" the time course.

    It is also odd that Prof. Williams fails to mention that the contractual negotiations in fact successfully addressed "a major negotiating issue" he cited, namely integrating the College of Pharmacy language. He also neglects the improvements to Appendix G, language which was passed almost exactly as he presented it to the team.

  2. I believe Laurie's response misses one major point: the lack of democracy. The lawyers have more voice in union policy than the membership does. When, at our last general meeting, we were considering a motion to state, as a body, that the administration's new policy for student evaluation of courses violated the contract, Ellie Sullivan recommended that we postpone our vote until the lawyers had decided what to do. Who runs the union, the membership or the lawyers?

    Another example was the "negotiated settlement" of this very issue of a contradiction between the contract and the new policy. The leadership negotiated a settlement which altered the contract without giving the membership a voice in that settlement.

    Democracy is a very dangerous thing for those who ask to lead us. If they encourage others to have a voice, that voice may contradict their own. The current leadership's response to this danger has been to make union meetings infrequent, to tightly control the agenda, and to import local officers and union employees to control the direction of meetings.

    The movement among faculty, staff, and students that began with the protest over the procedure for selecting the university president has led to a greater confidence among these groups in challenging the administration--and inevitably a union leadership that was a weak voice for faculty interests (the original post about the weak leadership around computer usage is entirely correct; the protest of the administration's attempted gag order on university personnel was also initiated and led from these blogs).

    I believe we can do better. But I also believe that any leadership which tries to accommodate itself to an administration and a capitalist system that are inimical to critical thinking and real education will end up betraying the working class. What is needed is more than new leadership; we need broader activism and advocacy by workers (including teachers) and students.

  3. well said, Paul!

    We need more democracy in our union and more aggressive participation from all. Thanks for your strong voice.