Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Jewish faculty settlement

Last night we received word that the anti-Semitism lawsuits had been settled. We actually received word after the information had been received by the media, according to at least two sources, though it was represented to us on campus as a "heads up" by the President's office. However, since the press release was not under control of that office, I can hardly blame our administration for not acting faster.

Anyway, it's all over the news at the StarTribune, Pioneer Press the St. Cloud Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Minnesota Public Radio. The PioneerPress' Kristina Torres has some earlier articles here, here, and here that the paper is now reposting. For those of you reading this information for the first time, it is worth going back and reviewing those pieces.

I posted to the faculty list a couple of months ago an analysis of a previous grievance settlement (which is discussed in some of Torres' earlier articles) about incentives to settle. I said
The decision to settle versus sue is a cost-benefit analysis. Suing is costly, but settlements are painful too, as the figures discussed here and my department's meager M&E (materials and equipment) budget attest. The problem is that once the suit proceeds to the state level, MnSCU and the AG's office assert control of the settle/sue decision without bearing the cost. If they settle, they look good but the cost of their decision falls on this university. If they go to trial and win, they look great; if they go to trial and lose, someone's career in St. Paul is damaged. The careerists in St. Paul have an easy choice -- roll the dice on a trial, or settle, claim a more modest victory, and impose the costs on SCSU. If they are even modestly risk averse, settlement is the way to go.

Now consider the union's side. The people most aware of the case are the local administrators. While they can see that the case has no merit, they know once it goes to St. Paul it'll be out of their hands. The union, realizing this, has reason to get a case sent downtown. And best of all, they do not bear all of the costs either. Time and resources spent grieving, mediating and litigating are costs chargeable not only to union but to non-union members. This is quite legal, of course: Any funds spent on clarifying and enforcing the Master Agreement are chargeable as proper expenses for "fair share members" (that is, those who are coerced to pay to the union as a condition of employment but do not join it). If they spend a great deal of money, those funds are recompensed by charging more for dues in future years. Since the union membership does not pay the full cost of litigating, then, they will demand more litigating, particularly when pushing the case off campus gets you to a better payoff probability.

It's a perverse situation. I spoke this morning with the university's president and with several administrators later. No one on this campus decided to settle; Attorney General Mike Hatch, an elected politician with higher aspirations, is reported to have made a cost-benefit analysis and decided to settle the case. The discovery phase of this suit was costing a bundle -- I fielded a request for departmental minutes and search committee minutes for the last seven years. If they paid all those costs and still lost, Hatch looks worse. And as I say, he bears none of the costs. The university will.

What is galling is not so much the money, though with a $4.5 billion deficit projected for the next biennium we're already looking at huge cuts (none of which you can bet will come from MnSCU) it is going to be really painful here, but the conduct agreements that go with this are particularly odious. The settlement will include "mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff that includes a component on anti-Semitism" (meaning that it will be used for all sorts of things beyond what the lawsuit addresses); "make several changes in the university's procedures to handle discrimination complaints" (meaning it will be easier to harass the administration as it tries to conduct its business; and "create a peer review process that will be available in all faculty retention, tenure or promotion disputes." Deans and departments can reasonably wonder if it is wise to ever turn down someone for tenure or promotion.

Which is what our faculty union has wanted from the start.