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.

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