Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A portent for MnSCU/IFO? 

This morning's The Chronicle of Higher Education (perm link; temporary link good for a few days) tells of the end of a long-running feud at Emerson College in Boston. The Boston Globe has a summary of the standoff as well. The battle was over who decides hiring and tenure. Until now, rules for both were within the union contract.
Under the agreement, ratified last Tuesday by both the faculty union and the private college's Board of Trustees, the union will give up its oversight of tenure and hiring decisions, and department chairs will no longer be members of the union.

The two sides also agreed on a new handbook that will outline the new governance procedures as well as options for faculty members to file grievances against the administration. The union retains the right to annul the contract should the administration violate the spirit of the agreement by attempting to make changes in the handbook without consulting the faculty.
At SCSU and throughout the seven MnSCU universities, department chairs are members of the union. I have contended for years, as a chair, that this places me in an uncomfortable position, unable to make many decisions that chairs most anywhere else would take as a matter of course. Likewise, the criteria for tenure and promotion are in the union contract, subject to arbitration and grievance, and without any ability of the administration or a department to provide closure to what is permitted as evidence and what is not.

As the article makes clear, the adversarial nature of some faculty unions is inhibiting discussion between faculty and administrators:
David Rosen, a spokesman for Emerson, predicted that the new arrangement would "usher in an era of greater cooperation" at the college. The new contract and handbook, he said, allows faculty members to talk "in an informal manner" with members of the college administration, while "before, the union was injected into the process."
The union's stance in Minnesota is that it alone can take matters through the grievance process. In one instance last year, the faculty member who filed a grievance through the union process came to an agreement with the administration on remedies, but the agreement was nullified by the union because it did not fit with their understanding of shared governance. (The fact that this faculty member was a chair and not a member of the union, I think, played a role in the union's decision.) Their intransigence has caused myriad problems over the last fifteen months, including instability in the administration -- something not to be desired as we approach reaccreditation. But the union blithely carries on.

It would take an administration of substantial courage to buck this, and if it were not to receive support from the MnSCU officials in St. Paul it would be doomed to failure. So far MnSCU seems not to care much about these issues, so I have somewhat a hard time blaming the local administrators for their failure to act. But if someone would take this job clip and shove it in Chancellor McCormick's face and say "you have the same problem," maybe something would happen. It couldn't hurt.