A lovely day to rally and call for a strike…

I’ve been riding my bike to school lately (and I will be until the weather gets nasty) because there’s been a lot of road construction around campus, it’s impossible to park at the beginning of the semester, and– oh yeah– I live less than a mile and a half from my office. Anyway, I rode in today for an afternoon EMU-AAUP “Support Rally,” and I was struck by what a great day it was for a protest, perfectly sunny, a light breeze, that mix between summer and fall. Really, a beautiful day.

The rally was good too– not really “beautiful,” but a good showing of around 300 or so faculty. Pretty well organized and a good “photo-op” for the media. I stood there with my sign, half-listening to the speeches (it was hard to hear) and mingling with colleagues, using the sign to shade the sun. Standing by Welch Hall, which is the administrative building, were some “suits” keeping an eye on things. Kinda interesting.

After an afternoon that actually involved doing some work, I went to yet another union meeting so we could take a vote to authorize a strike. We rehashed the issues, found out what had changed or not changed, etc., and after some other discussion (which I’ll get to in a bit), we voted to strike. And the weather was still really nice when I rode home.

A few thoughts on all of this (and a few other things beyond the meetings):

* My gut feeling, even after the vote to authorize a strike, is that the bargaining team is going to get a deal. I don’t know, maybe that is being overly optimistic, but it just seems to me that the faculty and the administration are actually pretty close. I mean, we might technically be on strike for a while this evening, when the contract ends at midnight, but I still think this is ultimately going to work out.

* The issues? Pretty much the same: hiring back more faculty, money, and continuing education. Insurance used to be a problem, but the administration backed down on forcing faculty into one plan. The continuing education is a relatively minor one to be honest, so I expect that one to drop away soon.

So, we’re left with hiring back faculty and money. Now, money-wise, the administration was offering a 2.6-2.3% raise for 2 years (I might have those numbers mixed up), and we were asking for 3.75% or so. Even the chief negotiator for the union doesn’t think we’re going to get 3.75% (at least that’s what the Ann Arbor News reported), so we’re probably talking about a 3% across the board raise for two years. That seems pretty straight-forward to me.

Faculty-wise, it’s a little more complicated. Basically, since the previous and infamous president was hired, EMU has hired a lot more administrators and non-tenure-track sorts of teachers (part-time and full-time lecturers), and we’ve hired a lot fewer faculty. At the meeting today, it sounds like we are getting somewhere with language where the administration commits to hiring a lot more faculty, but at the same time, the administration doesn’t really want to write this into the contract forever.

* One of the things I’m concerned about here are our priorities. The bargaining team says that the most important issue is hiring back more faculty, but what I’m worried about is the administration will offer us a 3% pay raise, do nothing about hiring back more faculty, and that’s the deal we’ll take. Personally, I think that’s kind of backwards.

* The controversy at the strike meeting– if it could really be called a “controversy”– was over how it was we were going to vote for a strike, with a paper ballot or a voice vote. I supported a paper and secret ballot and had big problems with a voice vote, basically because I thought this was too important to be one big “rah-rah” yell of yes.

Personally, I registered my vote to strike as “abstain.” I didn’t want to put my voice to a yes or a no, and I also don’t really know exactly how I feel about it all. Yeah, there are some issues left on the table, but going on strike is no fun, and if there isn’t much on the table, well…

* I do know this: I don’t know if we’re going on strike or not, but if the bargaining unit does call a strike, the administration is kidding themselves if they think that we’re either bluffing or if faculty split over this. Take me, for example: as unenthusiastic as I am about striking, there is no freakin’ way I’d cross a picket line. My guess is that this is true for about 630 or so of my colleagues.

Oh well. I’ll know by tomorrow morning. I just saw EMU’s “PR Tool” Pam Young on one of the channels out of Detroit, and I have to say that if this is the language that they want to use about what the faculty is doing, I suspect we might be starting classes a couple days late this year…

Three notes about Will

* On Sunday, Will somewhat unexpectedly said he wanted to get the training wheels off of his bike and to try to learn to ride it two-wheeled style. He may have been motivated to do this by a friend who is one year younger and who has matered the two-wheeled approach. Will, like his father, is a bit of a chicken, too afraid of pain and/or falling, so there was a lot of “don’t let go! don’t let go!” kind of crying. He was going to give up almost right away, but I promised a Dairy Queen trip if he was willing to keep it up for a while. We made some progress, though we will be working on this for a bit longer.

* Will and I both continue to enjoy the new PlayStation2. He seems stuck on a particular level of his Harry Potter game, though.

* Today is Will’s first day of school– second grade. Annette and I will be taking him in today so we get a chance to meet his new teacher and all that. I am planning on going to the gym right after words, so I’m going to be meeting this person looking pretty scruffy and smelling somewhat questionable. This look this morning will only be heightened by the fact that I haven’t shaved in a couple days and I very much need a haircut. Oh well; at least Annette will look like a grown-up.

EMU-AAUP still talking, and I'm already feeling hopelessly behind…

I’m up far too late, antsy and not able to get to sleep, I suppose because of “current event” issues around here. First off, I went to yet another union meeting today about the contract negotiations. You can read about some of it at the EMU-AAUP web site, and also at this EMU web site page about the union. Funny– there’s a link to EMU on the union web site, but not a link to the union on the EMU web site.

Anyway, a lot what happen is a really a rehashing of this postand this post. The issue of insurance has been resolved in the union’s favor, and it looks to me like the union and the administration are moving closer together in terms of salary stuff. The only thing that might be a bit more dicey is getting language in the contract about hiring back more faculty. They may very well be talking about that as I type.

Second off, school hasn’t started (it does on Wednesday– assuming we get a contract, of course) and I already have this very odd feeling of already being behind. Logically, I know that isn’t true. In fact, I actually got a revision of the essay I was working on off for further review this weekend, all of my classes are ready to go for the first day (well, as ready as I can be at this stage), etc., etc. But I guess because of both distractions from the union (the meeting today, there’s a rally tomorrow, there’s yet another meeting tomorrow night, etc.) and the act of getting some of this work done has left me feeling behind, perhaps more with things around the house than with school.

In any event, two thoughts I had about the whole union thing. First off– and this is for any of you EMU people out there who might come across this post– don’t confuse my own discomfort with the simplistic discursive style the union has been taking in these negotiations and my less than enthusiastic stand on a faculty strike with not being supportive of the union or willing to honor a picket line. I’ve offered dissenting opinions about what the union is negotiating because it’s part of the democratic process. When we all start parroting the “party line” for the sake of solidarity, that’s when we get in trouble. That’s when we go on strike for no good reason.

Second, I realized today that a lot of how people feel about the contract negotiations seem to me related to how well they think they are being paid, relatively speaking. Maybe this is too obvious, but let me try to explain what I mean a bit. While average salaries at EMU are low across the board, the thing that really brings us down as an institution is the pay being received by associate and full professors. We’ve being hiring assistants at relatively competitive rates, but, because of that old salary monster called “compression,” the folks who’ve been here the longest are falling the farthest behind.

I suppose the other factor here is that the people who have been here the longest are perhaps the most “out of touch” for what the going rate is for a professor at a particular rank. I don’t know that, just a guess.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem, other than to say that the only way the senior faculty are ever going to get caught up is if we move away from this 2 or 3 or 4 percent “across the board” model of pay raises to some system where folks who are further behind get a bigger raise than folks who are being paid about right. There is currently a tiny TINY pool of money to do this, but it needs to be a lot bigger, I think. But this would be complicated, it would create a bit of a “have and have not” system, and I don’t expect to see this kind of change anytime soon.

A few belated posts all in one

It’s been a while (relatively speaking) since I’ve posted anything particularly interesting to the “life blog,” and since one of my regular readers (I’ve got a million of them, of course) sent me an email to ask what’s new, I thought I’d write this “combo” post.

Adventures in dieting: It’s going pretty good since I’m back to going ot the gym as often as possible and we’re trying to eat right again. I think I picked up a pound the other day, but I was down -14.5 the other day. I’m not going to make my -16 or -18 or so pound goal by the time classes start, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. However…

Ow! I’ve done something to my back that is hurting me imensely. I realize that lower-back pain isn’t exactly an unusual condition, but I rarely have problems and I can’t remember ever being in the sort of pain I’m in now. Asprin helps, the heatpad helps, and walking around helps. But it had better go away pretty soon or I’m going to have to see Annette’s chiropractor.

Happy Birthday, Will! Will’s actual birthday is coming up next week, but we had his birthday party last week before school started for everyone. I put up this little web site with some of the picture highlights.

PlayStation Mania: Will’s big present this year was a PlayStation2– a lot of gift, for sure, though it also is something that I’ve managed to play with a bit too. So far, I’ve been fascinated by this driving game, and I think one of the games that Will is getting from his grandparents includes a basketball game of some sort. I’m not real crazy about the “first person shooter” games, but who knows, I might get one of those one day, too.

The Happy Academic agrees; New faculty should be careful in seeking "sinister motives"

There’s an excellent “first person” article in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Ed “Career Network” section, an essay by Jack “not his real name” Thomas called “Searching for Sinister Motives.” The essay, which is surprisingly and effectively written in “second person” (as in “you do this,” and “you do that”), tells the story of “you,” a new hire into a tenure-track position, and the relationship “you” and “Fellow New Hire” (FNH) strike up with “Slightly Senior Junior Colleague” (SSJC). “You” and FNH come to rely on SSJC for all sorts of insights and information about the brutal politics and sinister plots that are everywhere, and it is “you,” FNH, and SSJC against them:

“You learn that everyone in the department hands out easy grades, that only one or two (including SSJC, of course) are brave enough to deliver the low grades the students deserve. You learn that your senior colleagues want to block the hiring of any young scholars with strong publishing potential, since they will make the current faculty members look less productive.

“You find all of this surprising, but you begin to interpret things you hear in department meetings from SSJC’s perspective, and much of what you see and hear seems to support his perspective.”

Well, to get to the point: after a while of following things in the department from this point of view, “you” dare to disagree with SSJC, you are “banished” from SSJC’s inner circle, and “You look at everyone around you, in the department and the college, with a fresh pair of eyes — your own. You have climbed out of the tunnel of SSJC’s perspective, and find that the landscape has changed entirely.”

Besides the moral of the story (which boils down to two lessons: always gather information from multiple source and recognize that legitimate differences of opinions are not the same as sinister conspiracies against “you”), Thomas offers this about SSJC:

“Ultimately, you begin to feel sorry for SSJC. He may remain miserable and isolated for the rest of his career. His views of the department border on clinical paranoia. He needs professional counseling. You and he may never talk again.”

This article ought to be required reading for every new hire in every English department in the country. I have been “you” at two different schools, and while I like to think I did not fall under the “spell” of SSJC quite as hard as “you” does here, I most certainly know a couple of SSJCs.

It’s also an article that reminds me to be careful to not become SSJC now that I am tenured and “slightly senior” in the department. It’s important for me to remember the advice that Thomas is offering, that it is a good idea “to take everyone at face value, to assume that people have good reasons for the positions they hold, and to understand that multiple and competing visions of a department or a program ultimately create better departments and programs than visions created by a single person or an exercise in groupthink.”

Wanna help me revise an essay?

One of the things on my list this weekend is to revise a web-based article I have out there, “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Emailing Lists, Discussion, and Collaboration.” I think it’s pretty much a “done deal” that this web site/essay will be published in a journal I will name in the very near future– I don’t think it’d be appropriate to name it right now, though many of my readers will probably be able to make an educated guess.

I’ve already received some excellent and useful advice on this piece from some readers, but I thought (in the spirit of “blog community”), I’d give the millions of readers out there a chance to offer me some advice before I sit down and revise this in earnest.

A couple of things to keep in mind, if you’re interested in playing along:

* I’m not real crazy about the “arrangement” of the piece, and I don’t think most of the readers are either. So that will probably change.

* I think the definition of “collaboration” is something I have to spell out in a bit more detail here, and I am of course interested in ideas.

* I’m not trying to say in this essay that using blogs in classrooms is a bad idea. All I’m trying to say is that they aren’t very good at creating a “discussion” among a group of students, they aren’t very good at fostering a “dynamic” or a “collaborative” writing atmosphere, and they aren’t a replacement for using an email list discussion set-up.

Any suggestions are more than welcome– post them in the comments, or send me an email.

The end of my "trip" with the EMU-AAUP

This afternoon, I resigned as the “web master” of the EMU-AAUP Web Site. It’s one of those deals where I am not sure if I was fired or if I resigned– perhaps a little of both– but I guess the time had come, albeit a bit prematurely in my way of thinking.

I was planning on stepping down from these minor web site duties once the contract was settled because I simply have too many other things to do right now. I’m going on the job market this year, mainly because my wife and I want to see if we can improve our “academic couple” status, and I assume that this job search might go on for a couple of years. After three or so years, we may get to the place where we recognize that EMU is the best place for us, and if that happens, I will probably get involved with the union again. But until I know for sure, I will remain simply another faculty member who supports the EMU-AAUP.

It’s been an interesting 20 or so months. Just short of 2 years ago, I was approached by my business department colleague Susan Moeller to run for an “at large” position on the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP. I put my name in, rather naively, I got elected, and then I endured around six months of painful and utterly stupid meetings. As I wrote in my June 2003 resignation letter, “The bickering, the arguments, the petty and irrelevant disputes, and the finger-pointing have been non-stop and extraordinarily stressful, and we still are not any closer to resolving the problems of our chapter.” I haven’t “been around” all that long– I started my first tenure-track job in 1996– but without a doubt, my time on the Executive Committee was the absolute worst situation I’ve been in since I started my “academic” career, and the people who were part of the “old guard” of the union who I had to deal with were the most awful, petty, and despicable sorts of people. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

The situation was “icky” to say the least, and I was among the “slate” members (that is, the “new guard” that got elected in 2003 to reform the union) who resigned last summer and who forced a vote that was essentially about reform of the way the union was being managed. Long story short: the good guys won in the last election, and the EMU-AAUP chapter has been reforming ever since.

So, why am I “out” as the web master? Well, I think there are two reasons. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had the nerve (?!) to disagree with part of the “party line” of the union in terms of insurance and the “floor” for scholarship requirements in emails to folks on the Executive Committee and in the larger faculty meetings (like the one on Tuesday). Another part of it had to do with the fact that a sitting member of the Executive Committee didn’t like that I took over the web site and made it significantly better than it used to be. In short, there were “personality issues” involved.

But hey, that’s okay. I honestly feel that the people running the show for the union now are more or less competent, and like I said, I don’t really have time to put up with the nonsense of all this right now anyway. Best of luck to these folks.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned (I think…):

* Faculty unions are extremely important, especially for schools like EMU. And I most definitely support the union at EMU, especially during the current contract negotiations. However…

* Faculty unions are extremely simple-minded and reductive. They work too hard to protect the work of downright incompetent faculty and they are too interested in the lowest common denominator instead of promoting excellence.

* The business of running a union in general seems to me to be pretty ugly. Basically, what I’m getting at is this: On the one hand, I support the ideals of unions as a good “leftist” sort of academic. On the other hand, when you get an “inside” view of the actual practices of the way unions work, it give reason to pause. It’s the same thing they say about legislation: it’s like making sausage, meaning that after you see the meat being ground and being forced into the casing, you realize that it isn’t quite so innocent and pure and tasty. And that’s an inherent condition of the system. In other words, even folks with the best intentions (like the folks running the union right now) still end up grinding some pretty nasty-looking meat we’re ultimatley forced to choke down.

* Power corrupts. I’m not saying that the folks on the Executive Committee right now are “corrupt” per se– they aren’t– but being in that position of “power” makes folks think that they are entitled to act in a way that they really aren’t, and it makes folks think that their beliefs are the same as the rest of people in the bargaining unit, when that isn’t necessarily the case.

So, that’s it. That’s been my all too long and strange trip with the EMU-AAUP. I may be back, but probably not any time too soon.

Great! Now Haloscan isn't working…

I don’t know what the deal is, but it looks like the haloscan stuff isn’t working, which means that you can’t post comments. I’d ask for ideas for help with this, but, well, where would you tell me what you think? Jeez…

I’ve got a few too many things to monkey around with right now, but once the beginning of the semester dust settles around here, I think I’m going to switch my blogging software. Again. I’m either going to go with the new MT or with WordPress, I think. Ack…

Derrida, the movie!

I watched the documentary Derrida last night, and I found it fascinating. I’m not an “expert” on Derrida’s work, though he does figure into my dissertation in some important ways and it’s pretty much impossible to deny the influence of his thought on the academy and beyond. My dissertation advisor was no fan of Derrida, calling him a “one trick pony.” That may be true, but deconstruction is a pretty impressive trick.

Anyway, I liked two things in particular about the film. First, Derrida was able to talk about his work in ways I thought were helpful. Now, I might feel this way because I’ve actually read enough (not a lot, just enough) of Derrida’s work to find his explanations helpful, so I don’t know what someone not familar with his work would think of this. But if I were to teach a class that focused on Derrida’s work, I would probably want to show this movie at some point.

Second, I liked the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing Derrida as a “real” person. You can imagine the different layers with all this. A lot of what Derrida talks about in the movie is how Heidegger said at one point that the “personal life” of the philosopher is essentially irrelevant. And, of course, he’s saying these things in a documentary about himself. The movie has these really interesting and even funny juxtapositions; for example, Derrida sitting there saying something profound and smart, and then we cut away to Derrida in his house looking for his car keys or spreading butter on a bagel. We see Derrida getting his hair cut, and I was struck by the fact that he’s a handsome and charming man who seems to know that he is both handsome and charming. We see Derrida talking at different seminars, dressed in these really wacky suits (Derrida is not afraid of either color or patterns in his wardrobe), being approached after words by people like he was a rock star. Which, in a way, he is. He doesn’t talk about it too much (which is one of the points of the movie), but it turns out that Derrida has been married for nearly 50 years, something I personally found kind of surprising given the level of divorce among academics.

Anyway, interesting stuff, especially if you’ve only encountered the man on the page.

EMU faculty union members support "job action," and a few thoughts

I went to the EMU-AAUP faculty union meeting Tuesday afternoon, where I suppose the “big news” was a vote to authorize a vote to give the chief negotiator to take a “job action” of necessary. If we actually wanted to go on strike, we’d have to have another meeting to authorize that, so this is just a first step.

It was a good meeting because folks on the negotiating team explained some of the issues on the table and there was a chance for “questions and answers” from faculty. In brief, the main issues on the table (as I understand them and in my own personal ranking of importance) are:

* Hiring more faculty. There is some debate about some of the numbers here, but basically, under the Kirkpatrick administration, faculty numbers have been decreasing, while the ranks of administrators at EMU have been increasing. The administration has announced more searches in the coming year, but given the fact that these same administrators cancelled 25 or so searches last year, there’s reason to be a bit doubtful about these “promises.” What the faculty want is some kind of contract language that pledges a commitment to hire a certain number of folks over the next few years.

* Money. We want more of it (duh). The administration hasn’t made any offer on this yet, so it’s hard to say what they are willing to give us versus what we want.

* Insurance. Right now, faculty can choose among three (I think it’s three…) different insurance programs. The administration wants us all to be in one program called “Community Blue PPO.” The union doesn’t like this for a variety of different and obvious reasons, including the fact that about a third of the faculty have one of the programs the administration wants to eliminate. What the faculty want is for the insurance choices to remain the same. Personally, I don’t care as much about this one because I’m already enrolled in the program the administration wants everyone to be in, and I think it’s pretty good insurance, too.

There are some other issues too that might be significant (including pay rates for Continuing Education classes), but I think these are the big three…

A few other thoughts:

* The argumentative practices of unions in general and of these meetings in particular are always so crude. It’s always a “us versus them” kind of discussion, when the reality of it is most of “them” (the administrators) were in recent memory one of “us” (faculty). I saw a guy at this meeting sitting in front of me who used to be the dean of the college of arts and sciences, then he stepped down and was a faculty member, then he was an interim department head, and now he’s back to the faculty. And on some of the issues, even issues that would seem black-and-white, how good or bad the situation is depends a lot on which set of numbers you use. I guess that’s the fault of the format of these things, but you would think a bunch of academics could be more subtle than this.

* Along these lines, I’m not sure that a faculty union meeting looks a lot different than an automotive worker union meeting. For example, this meeting featured speeches peppered with “call and respond” sorts of lines along the lines of “are we gonna take that?!” It’s like someone holding up a big sign that says “Faculty response: NO!” Of course, I’ve never been to an auto worker union meeting, so…

* I believe in unions, I really do. I think faculty at EMU are better off in general with a union, and there is no question that Kirkpatrick would have made things a hell of a lot worse here in his time had there not been a union to at least slow him down a bit. But at the same time, one of the downsides of unions is they end up protecting and preserving a certain level of mediocrity among workers, because in its efforts to protect all workers, unions end up protecting some workers who probably don’t really deserve protection. And the result is unions don’t really promote a culture that encourages individuals to over-achieve. I could go on about this, but I think that’s enough. I’m glad I’m in the union– honest, I am. I just wish there was a better process.