DEFENDING TENURE & OUR UNION

“The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.”

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Faculties in the Connecticut State University system are facing an unprecedented attack on tenure and collective bargaining.

In the current negotiations for a new contract with the American Association of University professors (AAUP), the Board of Regents is proposing the right to remove programs at will, to be able to move professors to other campuses without their agreement, to eliminate tenure for librarians and counselors, to end research funding, to snoop on our emails, to eliminate union access to campus communications, to allow the hiring of more adjuncts and other, similar demands.

Taken together, the proposal would result in the evisceration of the state university system. It is one of the most far-reaching, anti-educational initiatives to occur anywhere in the country. It would refashion the University on a corporate model with low-wage workers on call.

And, it is only the opening salvo. Should the Board of Regents succeed in their objectives, you can bet it would be quickly followed up with enormous financial concessions, reductions in the work force and further transformation of an institution of higher learning into a Wal-Mart of job training, functioning at the immediate pleasure of local corporations.

The Board of Regents of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU)

It is not a Scott Walker Republican that is initiating these moves – it is a liberal Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, elected with labor support and functioning in coordination with the highest levels of his national party.

In 2011, as part of an effort to revamp higher education, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system was created. The reorganization was intended to restructure and defund the state system – moving support and financial resources into the University of Connecticut (UConn), the corporate worlds preferred educational research institution.

Educators are not initiating these policies. The Board of Regents for CSCU is primarily composed of political appointees and corporate managers. Included are former executives of IBM, the insurance and healthcare industries, banks and financial institutions – along with a sprinkling of corporate lawyers and government officials.

A History of Incompetence and Abuse

The first president of the board was Robert A. Kennedy. He received $450,000 during his thirteen-month tenure as president. In addition to his salary, he enjoyed numerous benefits such as a free automobile, lavish expense account, eight weeks of “personal development time” and unknown quantities of memberships and perks.

Kennedy wasn’t stingy, at least to his pals – he doled out over $300,000 in unauthorized raises to his fellow administrators. When that came to light, he seemed taken aback by the public outrage. His surprise may be understandable – educational bureaucrats are used to functioning in an environment that rewards mediocrity. Presidents, VPs, Deans, Provosts, and others receive bloated salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars with no oversight – even while adjunct professors and campus workers struggle to survive on starvation wages.

Next up was Gregory Gray. Shortly after sidling up to the trough, he paid the Boston Consulting Group $1.8 million to establish a plan to transform the state system. Of course, since there was no input from students or faculty, and since it clearly represented a disastrous restructuring of the education system, it was universally rejected by the faculty.

When Gray’s number two official, Michael Gargano, resigned, he was given $70,000 to sign a non-disparagement clause – in other words, he was paid off to keep quiet about the crap that he saw going on the Board of Regents.

Finally, fed up with a foot-dragging faculty and an inept system leadership, Malloy assigned his chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, to head up the system. In what way was he qualified? None. He’s just a reliable Malloy flunky – apparently a more important qualification then teaching experience or a knowledge of the education system.

Ojakian went to work with a vengeance – barely in the door before presenting a contract that would bust the union and gut the university. He simultaneously announced that he wanted to “improve relations” with the faculty.

Governor Malloy

At the head of this bumbling agglomeration stands Governor Dannel Malloy. Malloy is chiefly characterized by his absolute refusal to shift even the most minimal part of the cost of education towards the wealthy corporations and superrich that populate the state.

Connecticut is one of the most affluent areas of the world – awash in the money of the hedge fund operators, bankers, and corporate executives that reside here. It is home to corporations that have billions of dollars sitting idle in their bank accounts. Even a small tax levied on the superrich – an imposition that would go unnoticed in their lavish lifestyle – would solve the state’s fiscal woes.

But Malloy has been the consummate servant to the wealthy – willing to shift every financial burden onto the backs of the poor.

Case in point: when Malloy recently presented his budget to the state, he proposed serious cuts to social services. To alleviate the worst effects of the cuts, and feeling under public pressure, the legislature proposed a small raise in corporate taxes.

The General Electric Company, located in Fairfield CT and one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, is renowned for paying no taxes. They immediately threatened to move their headquarters to another state – a common ploy to pressure politicians.

In response, Malloy demanded the legislature meet in special session and revoke the tax increase. So now, more money will be taken from state employees and the poor, in order to feed the limitless gluttony of the super-rich.

This action is emblematic of how government functions under the liberal Malloy.

The State of the Unions

“I am shocked and bewildered by these proposals. We have never seen anything so harsh,” said Vijay Nair, the leader of the college system’s chapter of the AAUP. “It seems like an attack on faculty.”

That was a reported understatement from our Chief Negotiator, reflecting the stunned state of mind of many professors.

In 2011, in an earlier round of concessions, hundreds of millions of dollars were wrested from state workers. A massive, malicious media campaign was directed against state employees – that we were pampered union workers and overpaid freeloaders that would be responsible for cutting off needed social services. (The public was even warned that ponies owned by the state would have to be put down if workers did not agree to givebacks).

Unfortunately, this campaign was largely unchallenged, as union officials attempted to reach an accommodation with Malloy, who posed as a friend of labor. Instead of fighting against the givebacks, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) pressured the unions into granting massive concessions.

The deal has resulted in layoffs, outsourcing, speedup and cutbacks of critical programs that serve working people. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost in wages – essentially transferred to the 1% through tax breaks. Tuition at universities went up, classes got larger and programs were cut. The SEBAC-Malloy agreement also amounted to a significant giveaway to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Union officials assumed that things would change for the better –  but those events should have been a wake up call. Once concessions are granted, a bully will return for more and more – until you stand up to them.

Organizing Educational Workers

In order to now defend ourselves, we need to relearn our own history and draw on the experience of other educational workers.

It was during the 1970s that teachers in large numbers mobilized and organized into unions. Many of the leaders and ranks of that new movement had been inspired by the anti-Vietnam war, civil rights and women’s movements. Strikes by teachers led to an increase in their standard of living, even as real wages began to decline for manufacturing and craft workers. The newly organized teachers fought for, and kept winning, better contracts.

College professors were slower to appreciate the fact that we are workers – and confusion about this remains a cause for concern. Without significant resistance on campus, employers have been able to seriously erode our working conditions. Tenure is rapidly disappearing and the dream of an academic career, with time for travel and research, has been replaced by a super-exploited contingent workforce.

The rationalization of educational labor was propelled forward by the changing needs of American capital. The initial growth of community colleges and four-year public universities followed the expansion of modernized industry during the prosperous post WWII years – but the needs of capitalism have changed. What we see today is a generalized dismantling and dumbing-down of public higher education.

Private and public employers have used a number of tactics to disorient and divide the educational workforce.   Particularly pernicious is the myth of “shared governance.” To think that the governing of the university is shared, would be like thinking that the galley slave and the Emperor are equally enjoying fresh ocean breezes and a day on the water.

Professors, students and hourly staff have virtually no say in any major decision that occurs in the University. The illusion of shared governance has allowed employers to create of a stratified workforce of unprecedented magnitude. We have tenured professors making a living wage, with all the other benefits of academia, working alongside low-wage workers – adjunct instructors who are doing exactly the same work, but at slave wages.

This disgraceful situation has profoundly weakened our union. On the one hand it has marginalized and brutalized a significant portion of the workforce that cannot reasonably afford to be engaged in the university.

On the other hand it has put pressure on a milieu of senior faculty – fostering complacency and identification with management. University administrations have deliberately attempted to obscure the boundary between union and management through the creation of quasi-administrative posts, attempts to transform department chairs into management positions, bypassing faculty senates, etc.

Under increasing job pressures, faculty have too often failed to act in solidarity with the students, staff, minorities and the working-class communities surrounding the campus. This situation is many years in the making and has left us isolated from our natural allies.

A Serious Challenge

It would be foolish to think we are not in a difficult situation. We are up against a remorseless bureaucracy determined to restructure the University on behalf of its corporate patrons. The BOR has bipartisan support from the state government. And we should understand that Malloy is not acting on his own – he is an ambitious politician who is working hand-in-hand with the national Democratic Party apparatus.

The corporate media will continue its campaign to portray professors as a privileged elite. The same bureaucrats that have grabbed public funds, handed out no-bid contracts, and committed acts of racist and sexist discrimination will now point the finger at professors.

They will single out a few select individuals that make a lot of money or have run into legal problems, and they will attempt to justify their anti-democratic actions as necessary to prevent public abuse.  They will promise to be our friends and they will assure us that this will all go away if we remain passive.

In short, they will use all the tricks that employers have always used to render us helpless.

A Strategy to Win

They want us to think that we are helpless and that we cannot win.

But the truth is, we are not helpless and we could win – but it will require a dramatic learning curve. The union will have to act quickly to develop a strategy to create a powerful defense of the union and the university.

We need to explain the critical nature of this struggle, so that professors all across the country understand what is at stake: if the Board of Regents succeeds in breaking our union and ending tenure here, similar attacks will take place elsewhere – it will be a significant setback for public education.

To be honest, it will be an uphill struggle – but many of the important victories in labor history have taken place when things seemed unfavorable to workers. We do not always get to pick when battles take place – they are brought to us.

We have important allies that we can reach out to. First and foremost among those are our students – they are facing enormous challenges – rising tuition, larger classes and the prospect of long-term debt paid out of low-wage jobs. Our students are justifiably angry at their situation. We can win their support by extending solidarity to their struggle to eliminate student debt.

Our fellow professors, trapped in low-wage contingent adjunct positions, are a critical component of the workforce. We can appeal to them by fighting, not just to defend the wages and benefits of the tenured professors, but for the lowest paid and most marginalized section of the workforce.

The hourly staff people of the University are also suffering under the blows of attacks on public education–through concessions, speed up and out sourcing of labor – we need to forge a unity with them.

Beyond the universities walls are important potential allies in the African-American, Latino and other minority communities. Minority workers will be dramatically affected by the weakening of the state system – where are the children poor families supposed to go for a four-year quality education if this university system is destroyed? We can reach out to churches and community organizations and ask them to support our struggle.

We can involve antiwar and environmental activists – they have rightly seen that their movements cannot be separated from the larger fight for social justice. We can reach out to faculty unions across the country with petitions and statements – they will understand exactly what these changes would mean for higher education. We can enlist the aid of celebrities and Noble laureates, artists and authors that understand and value education.

Building such an inclusive, broad-based movement – and expressing that unity in rallies, pickets, and street actions – is the way that working people have won every right that we have. Solidarity is our fundamental weapon.

Respect and Collegiality

The corporate media often implies that the public is antagonistic to college professors. Certainly there are people whose anger is being misdirected away from the real culprits and towards immigrant workers or teachers. But most workers understand and value educators. They have worked hard to send their children to college precisely because they appreciate what we do. Many have had their most meaningful life experiences in the university.

We are part of a national struggle to save public education. Universities are one of the few places that bring together diverse populations in collaborative work for the express purpose of advancing knowledge and social justice. We are lucky to be engaged in an occupation that daily makes a significant contribution to a better world.

With very few exceptions, college professors enter the classroom with the idea of elevating the human condition. It is our collective insistence on teaching that so antagonizes those like the Board of Regents, which would diminish what we do in order to meet the economic expediency of the moment.

The fight for universal access to education has gone on, in one form or another, since the very inception of the working class, and it is a fight worth waging.

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One of the most disturbing and dangerous proposals of the BOR is the idea that professors could be sanctioned for not being “collegial.” But their idea of collegiality is probably different from my own – they want us to smile politely while they dismember our university. They want us to ignore the abuses of the administrative bodies. They want us to meekly acquiesce to cutbacks and tuition raises.

My idea of collegiality is different.

I think the most collegial thing we can do right now is act to defend our union – whether that means linking arms in the street, or yelling at the top of our lungs on a picket line.

Speaking just for myself, I think it would be the height of collegiality if the negotiating team stood up and said:

“Screw you – we’re outta here. We’re sick and tired of your disrespect for the professors, students and staff of the university. We’ll be back when you’re ready to negotiate in good faith!”

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Photo: Banner by Mike Alewitz

4 thoughts on “DEFENDING TENURE & OUR UNION

  1. These proposals are no doubt cause for great concern. Sadly, it seems a national movement is afoot to eviscerate faculty protections, and educational quality. But I think at least as it relates to the tenure issue, faculty and their unions can get out in front of the issue, and essentially neutralize their anti-tenure foes.

    We saw such an outcome in Colorado. The anti-tenure movement was once significant here, but has since become a non-issue. I believe what stifled the issue was the agreement concerning post-tenure review. Some of you might be familiar with the infamous Ward Churchill, formerly of CU Boulder. While arguments continue as to whether or not he should have been terminated, I believe the community of scholars in his field have since almost universally condemned him as a huckster. I agree, and I believe he should never have been granted tenure.

    Under the post-tenure review system, the Ward Churchill’s of academia never gain a foothold. And let’s face it- there are plenty of examples of tenured faculty who got where they are simply by talking the talk, but never walking the walk. They find ways to grease the wheel and propel their careers forward, when in fact their “accomplishments” are nothing other than smoke and mirrors. Anyone in academia for a considerable time has witnessed this process repeatedly. And the public has every right to be outraged when their hard-earned tax dollars are used to prop up posers.

    While I have little knowledge of the Connecticut situation, beyond what I have read here, I’d bet the union could choke-off the anti-tenure rhetoric by proposing, and enthusiastically endorsing, a rigorous post-tenure review protocol.

    • Post-tenure review, if it involves the possibility of revocation of tenure, means a lack of tenure.

      Most contracts–or where there is no collective bargaining, most faculty handbooks–already have language indicating the reasons why tenure can be revoked–and at the top of most of those lists are demonstrated professional irresponsibility and professional malfeasance. This system has worked for a century.

      And let’s be honest here, the credibility of Ward Churchill’s scholarship never would have become an issue if he had not become a politically volatile figure.

      • I would have to whole-heartedly disagree that “This system has worked for a century.” And, there needs to be a mechanism to revoke tenure, via contract, that does not require “the stain on the blue dress.”

        Guaranteed contracts are one thing- but a blanket guarantee absent regular performance reviews undermines the system. Good heavens, even in professional sports, where unions are among the best, there are outs for guaranteed contracts… and those are largely based on performance.

        I will say again, though, absent compromise, the Connecticut Governor, and many others, will succeed in eviscerating faculty rights.

        Pick your poison, I say. As for Churchill, the fact it took a very large mouth to be found out as a bottom-feeder of research supports, not undermines, my position.

      • It was also revealed (and I know many outside of Colorado are not aware of the details of the Churchill affair)- that several faculty from outside of CU-Boulder, and within Churchill’s alleged field of expertise, contacted the CU-Boulder administration to report Churchill’s violations of research ethics. Those reports were made long before Churchill’s infamous “chickens” essay set off a public relations nightmare.

        And guess what- CU-Boulder ignored the complaints, and allowed Churchill to continue to publish garbage.

        That is how most, if not all university administrations appear to treat tenure in these situations.

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