Thursday, May 05, 2005

Who a union represents, and who they do not 

As I think more about the absurdity of the union's letter admonishing the campus paper yesterday, I'm struck by two thoughts.

First, who does the union represent? That is the clearest voice to come out over all the email the union's letter has generated in the last 24 hours. The faculty advisor to the paper is a union member, and he's quite angered that the union would seem to have stopped representing him. As he should be. And the past president of the union says yes, she's sorry he feels that way, but the union also represents the professor criticized in the opinion piece and that "many faculty of color do not believe that the union represents them." I'd laugh at her if I wasn't so damn mad. A couple of people in the union have wondered aloud whether the union's role in this is legitimate. It is supposed to be a union for everyone; it is not a guild, and cannot therefore discipline one of its own members. (Thus, for example, because department chairs are still union members, a faculty member cannot ask for the union to file a grievance against a chair but only against an administrator for not supervising the chair properly. This is the perverse system under which I work.)

Second, while nobody will bat an eyelash while I speak against this use of a bargaining unit as it engages in a political act, it is much harder for those who are not committed conservatives on campus. It's not that there are that many conservatives still "in the closet", but that there are many center-left faculty for whom the concept of a union is still an ideal but for whom this one is an abomination. They do not speak out both out of fear of being branded as "one of those" (meaning "like that King guy") and out of their honest desire to keep collective bargaining in the university. (Sad to say from my perspective, there is no hope in my view that we will ever be a union-free campus.) Theirs is the voice that dares not speak its name; theirs is the position that represents the silent majority of our campus. They fear vilification even more than conservatives, for they don't have a world view that explains their opposition and takes away the sting.

A university administrator asked whether we could have a discussion of our differences over this letter. Who will show up? It won't be the center-left majority, and the others have already dug in.