Why faculty unions and strikes are unpleasant but necessary in higher education (an open letter to Alexander Coward)

Dear Alexander

You don’t know me and I don’t know you beyond your now viral email that I saw via Facebook, and I don’t know all the details of the striking actions taking place right now in the University of California system. From what I can gather from news accounts like this one and this one, the graduate student union and the service workers union went on a one day strike/labor action to bring attention to what I can only assume is some sort of ongoing and stalled labor negotiation.

Anyway, you sent out a long email to students where you a) said you’d be covering the classes of some striking graduate students, and b) where you go into great and poetic detail about the greatness of UC Berkeley students, about the triumph of technology, and as to why the ideals of Education trumps all.  For example, you wrote:

In order for you to navigate the increasing complexity of the 21st century you need a world-class education, and thankfully you have an opportunity to get one. I don’t just mean the education you get in class, but I mean the education you get in everything you do, every book you read, every conversation you have, every thought you think.

and:

Society is investing in you so that you can help solve the many challenges we are going to face in the coming decades, from profound technological challenges to helping people with the age old search for human happiness and meaning.

That is why I am not canceling class tomorrow. Your education is really really important, not just to you, but in a far broader and wider reaching way than I think any of you have yet to fully appreciate.

Somehow, your email “went viral,” and I suppose I’m adding to that with this post.

I think your intentions were noble– that is, I believe you when you say you weren’t trying to make a statement against the strike so much as you were trying to make a statement about Education. Now, I agree with the response of folks like Amanda Armstrong who points out in this article that students are  paying their own way through college with the help of parents (if they have the money) and zillions in student loans, and in fact “society” at large opted out of higher education a couple decades ago. And while I frankly think your email is naive and/or an example of self-serving martyrdom where you’re taking away the moral high ground from these disenfranchised grad student instructors, I am willing to believe that wasn’t your intention.

But I kind of get the impression that you don’t really know what’s going on here in terms of unions and higher education. So let me share some thoughts.

First off, if this was really a one day labor action/strike in California, it seems to me  it would have been better to encourage your students to participate in the protest, which would have helped your students to encounter the “education you get in everything you do” -type of Education you wrote about. That probably would have had a longer-lasting impression on their lives than another math class. After all, these UC labor groups supported the student rallies against the steep hike in tuition 2011; seems to me this could have been a chance to continue that lesson.

Second, I think you’re missing the point about why labor organizes into unions– everything from farm workers to baseball players to graduate students to automobile factory workers to pilots to college professors– and why those groups sometimes need to go on strike. In an ideal world, unions wouldn’t be necessary. Of course, in an ideal world we also wouldn’t need things like insurance, the police, or the fire department. And of course, we do not live in an ideal world.

I’ve been in the faculty union here at EMU since I’ve been here, 15 years now. I’ve been on strike three times–once for just a few hours, once (shortly after I got here) for a few days, and, in an especially ugly strike in 2006, for about two weeks. A long long story short, my feelings about the union are complex. There are all kinds of things the union does or doesn’t do that frustrates me and makes me feel like the union is at odds with the Educational ideals of higher education. But on the whole, I think the union is a good thing for faculty and for students. It defines the conditions of work and tenure at EMU, and since EMU is not a tier-one, elite institution like UC-Berkeley or U of Michigan or other non-unionized fancy-pants kind of university, I can’t imagine what it would be like here without a union.

Actually, I take that back– I can imagine it because I’ve seen what has happened at regional/opportunity-granting universities like EMU without unions: sudden decisions about class sizes and teaching loads with no faculty input, “furloughs,” inexplicable denial of tenure and elimination of tenure entirely, steep increases in the use of part-time instructors, on and on. We’ve had a lot of  “challenges” at EMU over the last few years to be sure, but we have’t faced these problems, and I think that’s largely because of the faculty and other labor unions on campus.

Which brings me back to the ideals of Education, the very ones you are professing, Alexander.

I think you would agree that for students to get the most out of the educational experience offered in a university, they need teachers. We can all learn things on our own of course, but education has never been about the mere delivery of content and knowledge. If it were, professors would have been replaced by textbooks centuries ago. And I also assume you would agree that the best educational experiences involve great students and great teachers, be those teachers graduate assistants, lecturers, tenure-seeking professors, etc. Now, the vast majority of people teaching in universities do it for the love of learning and the ideals of Education as a good in and of itself. But that’s not the only reason. Being a college professor/lecturer/graduate assistant is a job, and the people who perform that job are no different than anyone else in the labor force: they expect to be compensated fairly. And when professors/lecturers/ GAs don’t feel like they are being compensated fairly– when they feel like they aren’t able to uphold the ideals of the profession because of the pragmatic need and right to good wages, work conditions, insurance, and the like– they sometimes have to take action.

Alexander, I wish it didn’t have to be like this. I wish I could inhabit the ideal world you want for yourself and for your students, where values like Education didn’t have to be sullied by things like paychecks, insurance co-pays, and TIAA-CREF retirement benefits. But alas, it is what it is. Participating in the Educational Enterprise is indeed noble, and I am certain that the striking GAs would agree with you. But it’s also a job that feeds, houses, and clothes all of us, including you.

So I would suggest that your idealism about Education has forced you to overlook the realities faced by educators, and, as unintentional as it might have been, I think your lesson to students is exactly the wrong one.

Best,

–Steve

Presidential Footnote

The other day via the trackback notifications here, I learned that MLA President (or I guess now past President?) Michael Bérubé mentioned one of my previous blog post in his recent 2013 Presidential Address, though he doesn’t quote me per se. Hey, I’ll take whatever attention I can get.

I agree with just about everything Bérubé says until the last four paragraphs of his speech– that’s where he mentions me, and I’ll get to that in a moment. The rest of the speech seems kind of melancholy though.  Don’t get me wrong– it’s well-written (albeit a bit wandering) and thoughtful and smart; it just seems like kind of a bummer. He speaks about the often repeated problem of graduate students in English literature falling out of love of reading and the difficulties of persuading anyone outside of “the humanities” to agree that “the humanities” is worth something, etc.  He writes “Time and and again this year, I have asked myself: how did we get ourselves into this?” with this being the reality that folks like those at the Modern Language Association have to now lobby business and government to convince them what they do matters.  Of course, fields like composition and rhetoric have always had to justify themselves to other stakeholders, but that’s another matter.

He also speaks at different points about the Adjunct Project web site, which was/is an interesting crowd-sourced project started by Josh Boldt which shares information on literally thousands of adjunct (e.g. part-time) teaching positions in lots of different fields. It started more or less as a Google spreadsheet and it has become a site/service sponsored by The Chronicle of Higher Education.  I’m not sure what to make of that. I suspect that the CHE can do a better job hosting this and far be it from me to suggest Boldt shouldn’t get something from CHE as a blogger and/or organizer, but it does feel odd that this grass roots effort has been taken over by something that’s more corporate.

Anyway, I get mentioned near the end of Bérubé’s speech:

Early this year I witnessed a particularly debilitating example of how this works. In response to the publicity generated by Josh Boldt’s Adjunct Project, a rhetoric and composition specialist replied that it was odd for the MLA to be promoting wage recommendations for contingent faculty members, because we have never been all that interested in the teaching of writing. It seemed to me at the time a complete non sequitur, because our wage recommendations don’t stipulate what anyone might be teaching in any realm of language or literature.

That’s me! That’s me!

But to be clear, I wasn’t criticizing Boldt’s project at all. Rather, as I think my February blog post makes clear, I was responding to a post that Bérubé made on Crooked Timber— really, I was responding to a response to a comment that Bérubé made to my comment on that post (if that’s confusing enough).  In his post, Bérubé was talking about all the stuff that MLA was going to be doing in 2012 in the name of adjunct labor and he mentioned Boldt.  And while I think the MLA effort is problematic for a bunch of different reasons, I think Boldt’s project makes sense, which is probably one of the reasons why it has caught on a lot more than the MLA’s efforts.

Anyway, as I said back then, it is admirable that MLA has decided to give the issue of adjunct labor attention, but these issues have been a major topic of concern amongst the CCCCs crowd for decades. And the reason why the CCCCs crowd has been talking about all of this for so long is because most of the adjunct labor in English departments teaches first year writing.

Bérubé goes on:

We simply think that everyone in the business should be paid a minimum of $6,920 for a standard 3-credit-hour semester course. Our critics have derided this as hopelessly unrealistic, and this critic was no exception; he said we might as well wish for ponies while we were at it. When I replied that I didn’t see what any of this had to do with the teaching of writing, I was reminded that introductory writing courses fall on the extreme end of the low-wage spectrum, and that the MLA has historically ignored those courses, which is one reason why the National Council of Teachers of English was founded. I granted the point, of course, but could not refrain from noting that the NCTE was founded in 1911, and that perhaps, in the interest of better working conditions for all our colleagues, it would be best to bury that century-old hatchet.

First off, I stand by my “might as well wish for a pony” analogy as both accurate and funny enough to be included in an MLA speech. I think everyone should be paid as fairly as possible (adjuncts included), but this kind of money simply does not square with the “supply and demand” functions of the market. It would be nice if this weren’t the case, but that’s the reality of the matter. And simply wishing that everyone was paid $7000 a section is sort of like, well, you know….

Second, as came up in that February 2012 blog post in my original post and the comments, what I would like MLA (and NCTE, for that matter) to do is try to address the problem by encouraging writing departments to change their hiring practices and by speaking more specifically to would-be part-timers.  First year writing programs ought to hire part-time instructors who have training and experience in composition and rhetoric, not literature PhDs who taught some comp while they were graduate students. My colleagues in literature maintain this practice in hiring part-timers to teach literature; why shouldn’t we do the same?

And by speaking more specifically to would-be part-timers, I mean we should do more to persuade those “road warrior” instructors that teaching part-time at several different institutions is a bad bad idea. So many adjuncts are exploited because they allow themselves to be exploited. Part-time teaching should be for people who only want to/need to work part time and not for folks who were unable   to get full-time work teaching in the first place.

As for the burying of the hatchet: it isn’t as simple as that. Bérubé writes this in his next paragraph:

But of course the point remains that although the object of this association is to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects, as our constitution says, we have generally been understood to be more interested in literature than in language. Many of our colleagues in rhetoric and writing don’t see the MLA as their organization, and neither do many creative writers. There is no natural reason for this; we should be reading our mission broadly and inclusively.

First off, I think Bérubé is severely over-estimating the “broad and inclusive” appeal of the MLA convention to those who are concerned with language but who do not study literature. There are many reasons I haven’t been back to the MLA convention in a dozen or so years, but one reason is because the last time I looked there was literally nothing I was interested in attending, and this out of hundreds of sessions. The last time I looked, there were maybe a 15 sessions having to do with composition and rhetoric and maybe a half-dozen on technical writing; everything else was one flavor or another of literature. Which is fine, by the way– there aren’t a lot of lit sessions at the CCCCs either– but don’t claim that MLA is a “broad and inclusive” conference when it demonstrably is not.

Though I might give it another try in January 2014 because it’s in Chicago and because I am told there has been a lot more about “digital humanities” lately, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Second, I think Bérubé (and a lot of other people in literature) are not understanding that composition and rhetoric folks and writing studies folks are increasingly moving away from “English” and “literature” departments. This has been going on for a long time in terms of the nature of what we think is worthy of study, the methodologies we use to study things, and increasingly, even the departments we are in.

In a way, literature and comp/rhet are sort of like a dysfunctional couple that has grown apart and then sort of broken up. Only the break-up was never officially announced and literature, who was the one in the relationship who was clearly in charge and made all the decisions, is now is in denial that there’s anything really that wrong.  At the same time, comp/rhet is on to other things and seeing other people.

The Strike of 2006: Blogging about blogging (or, metapost)

That was pretty weird.

Now that EMUtalk.org is up and running and the strike itself is in a holding pattern that could last years, the traffic on this site has returned to some version of normal. So this seems as good as a time as any to reflect a bit on just what the hell happened here.

I had been writing about the possibility of the faculty going on strike at EMU off and on for a while just as part of my regular writings here about things that happen at EMU– for example, this post about the health insurance issues was from the beginning of August. And about the same time I started getting more specific in my posts about the possibilities of the strike (or what I had hoped wouldn’t be a strike), I noticed that if you did a google search for “EMU strike” or “EMU faculty strike,” this blog came up pretty close to the top. I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that– a fair number of people link to this blog, I was one of the few places where there was anything out there on the strike, etc.

Well, after we actually went on strike, page hits and views started to climb. As the strike went on, I wrote more. As I wrote more, I got more hits and views and comments, which, in a classic feedback loop, drove me to write even more. By a few days into the strike, I was getting about three times as many hits and views as I normally get. And by about ten days into the strike, well, here’s a graphic of that:

stats

So, the purple represents page views, which is when someone comes to the site and then doesn’t do anything, and the green represents visits, which means someone did something to the site– scrolled, clicked on a link, commented, etc. On September 11, the point of the highest peak on the chart and the day before we essentially gave up the strike, this site had about 1,800 views and about 600 hits. In “normal times,” as the far left of the chart suggests, traffic here is dramatically less than that.

Like I said, it’s been weird. During the course of the strike, faculty who were relative strangers to me were coming up to me and thanking me for my blog. A bunch of people told me that I was the only decent source of information about what was going on with the strike, which to me says something about a) what a piss-poor job most of the local media did on covering the strike (other than the student paper and WEMU, that is), and b) what a piss-poor job that that union did in telling its story.

But one way or the other, people came here and they came here in relatively big numbers. I realize that sites like boing-boing probably get 1,000 hits every few minutes, but that’s record-setting traffic for the likes of me.

Anyway, in no particular order, here’s what I see potentially coming out of all this:

  • I’m trying to channel the energy on campus and to nurture EMUtalk.org, and so far, so good. There’s about four or five other people who seem pretty active and involved in making it work, and it’s already getting more traffic than this site. Which is good. It will be interesting to see how long this site can sustain itself, especially after the anger of the strike wears off.
  • This little experience represents for me a little microcosm of how blogging can work as a space where readers come to get information that is unfiltered and then to comment on that information. It’s why blogs are kind of like other news media, but also why blogs are not like these other things.
  • I think this also proves that if you write about something that others want to know about– in this case, the faculty strike at EMU– these others will find your blog through search engines and recommendations, and they will read it and comment on it. But it also proves that there’s a delicate balance here. Had I been posting stuff about the War in Iraq or anything else that already gets lots of coverage in other media and other blogs, nothing would have happened. Had the event of the strike not happened– what Lloyd Bitzer would call an “exigence”– there would be no reason for me to write so much about the strike. On the other hand, as Vatz might have argued, the situation of the strike became filtered for many readers in part through this web site.
  • Through this blip in time, I saw my blog go from a rather personal and idiosyncratic space for me and a handful of other computers and writing readers/bloggers to this “community space.” And yet, at the same time, it wasn’t really a “community space” in that it really functioned because of me. I mean, I was (and I remain) the main writer here, the person who starts the conversations that people can comment on. I suppose this is why a lot of blogs striving for the “community thing” have multiple authors.
  • The feedback loop I found myself in here was really fascinating. Like I said, while my motivations for my initial posts about the strike were more or less personal– that is, I wasn’t thinking of myself as providing news to a large audience– I felt myself posting more and more in response to the presence of more readers and commenters. And then, as I posted more and as more people out there heard about my site via a Google search or just by other people on campus, more people read and commented on my blog. Which just made me want to write more. And so forth. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I do think it says something worth exploring about why people blog (or not) in the first place, and I think it also says something about why students in classes across the board write well (or not) too.
  • Finally, all if this makes me rethink some scholarly activities. As one of my colleagues said to me during all of this, “you have to at least write an article about all this.” I’m beginning to think that’s true, or maybe there is a reason to actually try to start writing a book about blogging this year.

In any event, I’m not happy to return to normal around here. At least once I finally get caught up on my life….

EMUtalk.org is up and running!

I think I’ve got a good start with the EMUtalk.org site. Go there right now, check it out, start commenting, let me know if you want to contribute, start posting, etc., etc.

Let’s build off of the energy this stupid strike generated there to make something for the whole EMU community!

The Strike of 2006: Fallon on WEMU this morning

President John Fallon is on WEMU as I type this this morning. Here’s what he said:

  • Fallon the offer we got on Tuesday was no improvement over what we were offered originally; it was merely a rearrangment of the dollars.
  • For the first time ever, the reason he gave for the not great offer in the first place was poverty. Fallon claims that 67% of every dollar of expenses come from students and we just can’t afford these extra expenses. I suppose he means faculty salaries, but he’s conveniently forgetting administrator salaries, the football team, the new student union, etc., etc. And besides that: had they left insurance untouched, I think they could have given everyone 1.5-2%, not spent anymore money, and gotten a deal.
  • To paraphrase, “I care about faculty, but we can’t willy-nilly spend our money on just anything.” For sure! Faculty are the heart of the institution and our buildings are collapsing but jeez, we just can’t spend money on these things!
  • Fallon said fact finding could take as long as two months, even longer. Then he said he thinks that fact finding is a great idea, because it represents “stability,” even though it’s going to take “some months, eight months to a year.” (So, what is it? 2 or 8 or 12?!) I agree with him about the benefits of fact finding, and I think it’s something that I think both the union and the administration ought to consider next time at the start of this negotiating process. But a year?! How does this save the administration any money?
  • David Fair from WEMU flat-out asked if the administration would adhere to the fact finders findings. Fallon very clumsily stepped around that one. He said some pretty words about the recommendations, about them being public, etc. And then he said these recommendations “Cannot be summarily dismissed. That feature alone means that we can’t just walk away from the fact finding results.” Fair kept pressing him on this, but of course, no comittment was given. He did say at some point in this interview that he’s confident that the fact finder will find in favor of the administration.
  • They talked about the other contracts on campus. Fallon said that he didn’t think the faculty union contract would signal a different approach by the other bargaining units; rather, he had hoped that the deal they had made with the other units would have had an effect on how the administration negotiated with the faculty. First off, the only other bargaining unit that has a contract that I know of right now is the lecturers. Second, they got a pretty crappy contract. And third, what he was hoping has never happened here before. Because the faculty union is by far the largest on campus, we have tended to be the one that has set the pace for everyone else. It doesn’t work the other way around.

I’m sure the whole thing will be up on the WEMU web site soon.

The Strike of 2006: "Ended" for fact finding

I don’t have much time to post right now– I’m sure I’ll come back to this later. But three things for now:

  • In case you haven’t heard, the EMU-AAUP has suspended “Ended” the strike so we can take the administration up on their offer of “fact finding.” See the union’s press release here.
  • In my opinion, this was the best option– followed closely by simply agreeing to the administration’s deal, and distantly by going back out on strike.
  • I’m going to try to get a version of my previously suggested “EMUtalk.org” up and running yet this weekend. It will be merely a shell at this point, but something to get us started.

Now it’s later…

Some of what I’ve come across in the papers and such:

  • From the Detroit News, “EMU’s renegade professors should stay on job.” This is the one that was supposedly on the EMU web site for a while, though I think they took it off. Really, this strikes me as so ridiculously pro-administration as to not even be worthy of comment. I suspect this is why they took it off of their web site.
  • The Detroit Free Press’ “At EMU, Teach, Talk and Settle” is a bit better. I mostly agree with this paragraph: “With EMU refusing to negotiate until the American Association of University Professors ended its walkout, the union, in effect, blinked first. But the school administration has nothing to crow about until a contract is settled. Given the ever-increasing costs of college, neither side can expect much public support for failing to deliver on its end of the higher education bargain. They owe the university constituency a better effort.” Though I’m not sure I would say that the union “blinked.” I think we demonstrated that we had souls and we actually cared for students. If that’s “blinking,” well….

And then the rest of what I came across was about what you’d expect.

So, here’s some of what I remember from the day:

I went in today and met with one of the graduate students I’m teaching/mentoring as part of my interim Writing Program Administrator duties, someone who was having an interesting teaching issue. Needless to say, I’m not going to say anything more about it than that. But I will say this: first, the issues all had some version of a happy ending. Second, this student said something I really appreciated and that says a lot about the whole situation. She (I guess I can let that out) said “I’m really glad you weren’t on strike today.” I kind of laughed and said “yeah, me too.” And she said “No, really. I’m really REALLY glad you weren’t on strike today.”

Yeah, me too.

After all this got sorted out, it was time for the noon meeting in Roosevelt Hall. The short version was the offer the administration ended the morning sessions with today (at like five in the morning, by the way) were not any better and, in some ways, a regression. At least that’s what the union team said. I’m not completely sure. One thing though that is missing from the administration’s “latest and greatest” offer is a contribution to retirement. In other words, while the percentages of what they are willing to give us for salary are higher in this latest version, they got that way by taking away money from someplace else.

Tangent #1 in two parts: First, one of the many things that is so frustrating about this whole thing is that the administration could have made all of this go away SOOO easily. As one of my colleagues said in the hallway today, if they had said something like “okay, we’ll pay for insurance– at least we’ll pay for the decent PPO– and we’ll give y’all 2%,” we would have settled for that in a second. And that deal probably would have cost the administration less, too. Certainly less than the legal fees of the last 11 or 12 days.

Second, I’m not completely convinced that this is that bad of a deal. Not a great deal for sure, but not that bad. As far as I can tell, it isn’t a pay cut, and right now, that’s good enough for me.
/tangent

Anyway, the bargaining team, union executive committee, and, most importantly, a very articulate guy from the national AAUP office (I can’t remember his name right now) basically offered two options: go on strike again or take the offer of fact finding. And they were pushing fact finding. Approving/considering the contract as offered was pretty much out of the question. While some folks spoke up for the idea of a strike, I think the vast majority of people were for fact finding even before we got the pitch for it. Striking was simply not working, we were obviously losing public support (see above editorials, for example), and I think there was a general sentiment that it was time to try something new.

Tangent #2: I might have time to write more in terms of a reflection as a wrap-up to this whole strike mess later, but I am totally TOTALLY convinced that this union has hit a time to give up on striking as a strategy and try something new, and I mean that for now and in the future. We’ve been going on strike now (off and on) for 30 years, and, while the union has made a lot of gains in different areas, it hasn’t gotten us a lot more money. When we went on strike in 2000, we were near the bottom of the MAC and Michigan colleges and universities in terms of salaries. In 2002 or 03 (I forget which), same deal. In 2006, same deal. And I’m pretty sure this was all the same in the mid ’70s. All I’m saying is we need a different approach here, and I for one am just not convinced that we would be that worse off by working without a contract instead of going on strike. I do know that working without a contract would be a hell of a lot less stressful and disruptive on my life, not to mention my students’ lives. But like I said, maybe more on that another time. /tangent

There was a lot of disappointment amongst folks, of course. For one thing, it means we didn’t win. I don’t think it means we lost exactly, but the relationship between the union and the administration has, up to this point, been about “winning.”

For another, it means this isn’t over yet. Really, fact finding just puts us into limbo, at least until the fact finder finds facts (which could be December easily), until the administration does something about it (or not, which is the main fear of going down the fact finding paty in the first place). One good argument for this is the old contract is arguably better than the new one, but the process is still annoying and stressful.

Tangent #3 And I guess what also frustrates me about this is we really could have avoided this minimal gain and highly stressful version of trench warfare called “picketing” by agreeing to fact finding last week. Back on September 8, the EMU-AAUP poo-pooed fact finding; now it’s the way we’re going. /tangent

Some/many of my colleagues saw this as the beginning of the end of the union. I actually don’t think that is true at all. You know, one of the good things that comes out of crises like this is it forces a different way of thinking. Carrying around sticks with paper stapled to them wasn’t working, and, IMO, it has never worked that great here anyway. Folks are still united in this group, and I actually got a sense of some potential energy and a larger involvement in this “next step,” during fact finding, by the rank and file of the union.

That, as a certain former imprisoned professional homemaker might say, is a good thing.

The Strike of 2006: Suspension extensions, rallies, meetings, oh my!

The word this morning is that the administration once again offered its “last best offer” (can you keep offering slightly different last best offers?), and, according to Howard Bunsis, there has not been “significant movement from their original position.” So, as he told the crowd at a 6 am rally (which I did not attend– I just heard from phone call) and in an email, the suspension has been extended to midnight tonight, and there’s a meeting of union members at noon today where the bargaining team will seek guidance about what to do next.

Now, I have TOTALLY supported the way that the union has handled stuff since the administration walked out. Not even a monkey would have agreed to a deal which would directly impact the work lives of nearly 700 people (not to mention indirectly effect thousands of students and co-workers) without taking at least an hour or two to mull it over. Hell, the administration’s team takes hours to decide anything and they have the gaul to say “well, we gave you 15 minutes to decide your next five years.” Of course, the administration’s lawyers and PR firm do bill by the hour. And the fact that the union was able to put together any counter-offer at all is remarkable.

Tangent: And let me just say a few things to some of my friends and colleagues who are dubious about this whole 10 pm walk-out by the administration. First off, this process is known as “collective bargaining.” As I understand it, the way that works is that one side gives an offer, the other side gives a counter-offer (and so on), and then, through this exchange, the parties reach an agreement. If either side says “at such-and-such time, I am done talking with you,” then that side is not really bargaining. In other words, when the administration set up this ultimatum (and when they didn’t do all kinds of other stuff, like not provide information about health care costs that the union requested until after we were on strike), they were demonstrating that they fundamentally were not all that interested in collective bargaining all along. Second, and this is key, the administration left the table and the building. So let’s just say for the sake of argument, as I have heard rumor of, that really, the union team had this final offer long before 9:45 Tuesday night. Had the administration’s bargaining team simply stayed in the room about a week ago, we would have either been teaching Wednesday morning or shortly after that. /Tangent

Having said all that, I think we need to seriously consider whatever this offer is now. I of course want to reserve judgment until after we actually hear what the offer is. But as I have always said, my bottom line is pretty simple: I don’t want paying for insurance to force me to take a pay cut. I personally don’t think this is the time to ask for a lot of money, which is why asking for money based on inflation is problematic, even though it probably is true that we will either be behind or pretty much in the same place money-wise in three to five years.

So, if the offer is only a little bit better than the offer the administration published before, well, I think it may be time to take it. But like I said, let’s see what happens at noon today.

The Strike of 2006: A few cool links

This might be a matter of not so ancient history, depending on where the talks are and what happens tomorrow, but I thought I’d offer a couple of links from other takes on the strike, things that offer a few more takes on it.

First, there’s this article by Cary Nelson, who is the president of the AAUP, called “Solidarity” in Inside Higher Ed. Obviously, Nelson has a point of view here, but I basically agree with what he’s saying. Note the way that he describes the infamous walkout from talks.

Second, there’s this YouTube “EMU Protest Update,” which gives you the point of view narrative of a pretty typical student. Well, one with a video camera.

And finally, there’s this YouTube clip titled “The ruined tour:”

This is actually my favorite of the lot because I like how the filmmaker/videographer sort of shows how his tour becomes “ruined” by the strike, though I interpret this as one in support of the strikers. This clip is a nice companion with the Nelson essay because it illustrates the multiple pickets that he talks about. Oh, and you can also see some good footage of the Ypsilanti Watertower and it’s more colorful name.

The Strike of 2006: Taking a day off to work

There were a couple of different articles out there about the suspension of the strike; I think this one in the Ann Arbor News “EMU faculty back in class,” sums it up pretty well. We did indeed go back to work today. Well, that sort of assumes that faculty actually stopped working entirely, I suppose. Also, channel 7 just reported that the DPS teachers were going to vote on a contract tomorrow.

It was a kind of weird, actually. It was striking (no pun intended) to me coming to campus because there were so many more students around today than there were yesterday. They had gotten the news. Generally, I think the mood was up-beat, at least early in the day. I don’t know how much work folks actually accomplished; I didn’t get much done, but then again, I wasn’t teaching today. I did spend some time meeting with some students, including one I had a few years ago who was coming back because he’s thinking about graduate school. He told me some great stories about teaching in China, mostly about how it was surprisingly boring.

But I still have this overwhelming feeling of being sooo very far behind. These last two weeks have felt like two months, what with all the stress, the craziness, the lack of sleep, the “all strike all the time,” etc. You can’t move from that mental place back to the “now I’m a college professor again” in just a day. I want to/need to make a “to do” list, but I’m kind of scared to make that list.

And then there’s the whole disturbing possibility that we might actually be back on strike tomorrow. The news that started trickling out of the union office in the afternoon was not encouraging. Now remember, these messages came in the afternoon, and there’s plenty of time between then (and now) and tomorrow morning. But I would have felt a lot better had the updates from the union been something like “oh, we’re so close!”

You know, Bunsis said in a couple of different forums (the newspaper, radio, in meetings, etc.) that if we could get back to the bargaining table, we could have a deal in 24 hours. I have no doubt that the administration’s team (especially their attorney) is doing what they can to make that impossible. But I think the union needs to continue to take the high-ground, be the grown-up, and make a deal.

And you know what? I think that the folks at the table for the union need to keep the bigger picture in mind. Faculty and students alike need to get on with the school year (not to mention our lives), and I think we need to get on to the conversation about the future of this institution. And of where we want/need to take the union.

emutalk.org: Who's interested in this experiment?

First off, I have no real strike news. I’ve heard a few interesting stories/pieces of gossip in the hallway that I might share once we have a deal, but not before then. All I really know is what Howard has sent around, that offers and counter-offers have been made and talks continue. It is too early to tell, but it is worth noting that the latest email from Bunsis tells people to be ready to picket tomorrow morning.

But while I still have the attention of a lot of you EMU folks (I assume most of you won’t keep reading this blog after I return to my usual posts on computers and writing stuff), I want to run an idea by everyone:

One of the things that has become very clear to me is that people have been coming to this site because they’re seeking information about the strike from a first person perspective, something not edited, something that can be commented on, etc. I suppose you could argue that this has come about because of the lack of press coverage and the challenges of some of the other resources, but I like to think there’s something more to it. I like to think that this was a place where people could “talk” too.

That’s been really cool. It’s helped keep me semi-sane during this stupid strike, and I think it’s helped others too. So that got me to thinking: what if we were to take this energy to launch a blog that was dedicated to this sort of “talk” about EMU issues, matters that are about news, personal observations, cheers, jeers, rumors, gossip, sports, classes, security, the union, the New Union (the building, that is), whatever.

So here’s what I am suggesting:

  • Let’s start a blog– I’m suggesting emutalk.org, but I’m open to other ideas.
  • I am willing to administer it, but I don’t want to be the main writer of it. Rather, I’m looking for at least a handful of different people to be, at least initially, the main posters/writers. Ideally, these folks would come from a lot of different parts of EMU– faculty, students, maybe even some administrators, PTs, clerical, whatever.
  • I am thinking that folks who want to be a writer– that is, someone who would have access to create posts of their own– would need to let me know who they were, but they could remain anonymous on the blog if they wanted.
  • This space would obviously have no affiliation with EMU– at least not officially. Rather, I’d suggest that we use a commercial provider, and the one I use (and have been very happy with) is ICDSoft.
  • This wouldn’t cost much– $72 for a year. But here’s the thing: I’m not willing to bankroll this myself for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is I’m still not sure how this strike thing is going to turn out. But I will chip in $10 or $15. So that means I need to find six or so more people to kick in $10 each.
  • And then we’ll see what happens. I am certain that there would be a TON of problems that would have to be worked out along the way. But hey, that’d be part of the fun.

So, who’s interested? Leave a coment or send me an email to let me know.