In early August, I came across an op-ed on the Salaita case on the Huffington Post Politics blog, and now that just about everything else has been said about that case on this blog, I think that it may be time to consider the argument made in that op-ed. Written by Lennard Davis, a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the op-ed makes the case that the Salaita case demonstrates the continuing erosion of shared governance and that unionization of faculty is one of the few remaining mechanisms for safeguarding long-accepted faculty prerogatives. Here is an excerpt containing those points:
“These are obvious issues [with the Salaita case], but I think the less obvious but very important one is the continuing fall out from the corporatization of the American university. In the past, when search committees and departments chose a candidate, the approval of the upper tier of the administration was basically a rubber stamp, as is the case still in 99 percent of appointments. But with a shift from professorial control of academic issues to one in which management makes crucial decisions about qualifications, we are seeing more and more cases in which Deans, Provosts, Chancellors, Presidents and Boards of Trustees are overturning the decisions of faculty in the realm of hiring and tenuring.
“The decision with Salaita, who was approved by a search committee and by his department and presumably his college, is a prime example of the erosion of faculty power. Interestingly, while the University of Illinois at Chicago has won a faculty union for tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty in the past year, its sister school at Urbana has steadily resisted so far a union for tenure-track faculty. Is it merely coincidental that the administration at Urbana was emboldened to tamper with a departmental appointment because it knew it would not face organized faculty opposition? Would a union have made a difference? . . .
“For the administration to overturn the faculty decision, and in such a ham-handed and 11th-hour manner, shows us that Urbana’s faculty needs to step up to the plate and exercise their power as professors, teachers, and citizens of the university. The only really effective way they can do this is through a faculty union, as it is clear that the faculty senate will have little or no authority in this case. While a union may not have direct jurisdiction, its opinion, organization, and legal strength would go a long way to preserving the erosion of faculty power.”
The non-tenure-eligible full-time faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have, in fact, voted to unionize since this op-ed was published.
The full text of Lennard Davis’ op-ed is available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lennard-davis/university-of-illinois-re_b_5659544.html