Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Million Dollar Question

Another plea to the collective wisdom of Blogoramaville, this one having to do with a faculty-professionals union's priorities. I want my half dozen regular readers to help me start a meme.

Like the California Faculty Association and the Professional Staff Caucus at CUNY, United University Professions is a union that represents all teaching faculty, from Lecturers and Visiting Assistant Professors all the way up to Full Professors, in our case in the SUNY system (where we're a bit different is that we also represent academic professionals). In that infamous comment thread at How the University Works, I criticized UUP's leadership for, in essence, failing to live up to PSC-CUNY's and the CFA's example.

Mayra Besosa, a full-time lecturer and former member of the CFA's bargaining team, recently explained why issues of contingent academic labor are at the front and center of the CFA's agenda and why faculty solidarity across ranks is so crucial. She doesn't get into that many specifics, but in Marc Bousquet's How the University Works, there's an aside that caught my attention and inspired the thought experiment I'm about to put out there.

One recent California State University contract--through which the California Faculty Association compelled the administration to raise tenure-track hiring by 20 percent annually over the life of the contract in exchange for concessions in their cost of living adjustment--is an eye-opening, and heartening, exception.... (57)

With that set-up, here's my scenario for Blogoramaville to ponder:

Pretend, for the moment, that you are represented by a faculty union (let's call it UUP). Negotiations for a new contract are around the corner. UUP leadership is divided between those who want to emphasize traditional bread-and-butter issues (salary and benefits the top priority in negotiations) and those who want to try a different approach (prioritizing the expansion of the tenurable faculty as a negotiating strategy rather than only as a lobbying campaign). So they work together to develop a survey and put the question to a referendum. The survey is designed to help them figure out the complexity of the members' views; the referendum to gain clarity on the level of support for the new approach.

With me so far? OK, I'm not actually going to develop that survey myself, but think of your rationale for your decision on the referendum as what it is designed to elicit. So what I'm looking for from you is your decision and reasoning behind it on the following question:

UUP is considering a new strategy for the next round of negotiations. We are willing to offer some concessions on our demands for improvements in salary and benefits if New York State will agree to incorporate key provisions of the AFT's FACE Campaign into the next contract. So, for instance, if the state commits to reaching a 75/25 tenured/tenurable faculty to non-tenurable faculty ratio, having 2/3 of students in SUNY classes at each campus taught by tenured/tenurable faculty, and acting on our long-standing demands for improving the compensation, security, working conditions, academic freedom, and professional development opportunities of the nontenurable, we'll be open to finding ways to help them pay for all this. Do you support this approach to the next round of negotiations? Why or why not?

This is what I'm calling the million dollar question. Here's hoping it goes far and wide and gets some interesting responses.

And yes, there is a backstory to my asking this. But no, I'm not going into it now. Oh, and since I am not even a member of my chapter's Executive Board any more--thanks to the slowness of mail to and from Japan--this post has nothing to do with the current tentative agreement that UUP members will be voting on soon. And very little to do with the recent election of a new UUP President.

[Update 2/19/08: For a cogent clarification of AFT's FACE Campaign goals in Washington state, check out the latest from Craig Smith.]


SMStreet said...

I do NOT support a push for a higher tenure-line-to-non faculty ratio because (1) it's a simplistic cure for the complex problems of contingency and corporatization; (2) it loses jobs for contingents, many of whom have served SUNY well for decades; (3) it's inefficient: not only do nationwide searches cost money, but freshly credentialed hires from out of state take years of acclimatization to NYS, to their campuses, and even sometimes to teaching itself; (4) aside from the question of academic freedom (which is valid but in practice is not nearly as exclusive to tenure as its defenders claim; witness the legions of adjuncts who are charged with teaching critical reading and writing, which can't happen at all without challenging students' intellectual assumptions), much of the argument for tenure rests on the assumption that the non-tenured are less committed to their campuses than the tenure-invested will be; this, too, is a more clearcut distinction in theory than in practice, esp. since many contractually insecure contingents expend extra efforts to prove their value; (5) to attempt to restore a 75/25% FT/PT ratio is to push against all the forces that have almost reversed that ratio nationwide since 1975 (see AAUP's figures in Jan./Feb. Academe's Nota Bene, p. 6), and in those 30 years the academe has adapted to incorporate whole new fields of endeavor, let alone different student needs and demographic -- so why not, instead, instead of trying to revert to the past adapt to these changes by pushing instead for a more achievable and further reaching goal: extend forms of tenure, with more of the rights and responsibilities pertaining to it as well as proportional compensation, to the already serving, already acclimated, already excelling contingent faculty? This would preserve tenure; it would legitimize contingents and integrate them more fully into their professional communities; by making contingency less of a bargain it would offer management less chance for abuse while preserving its vaunted flexibility. It'd be no snap, but it'd be a new solution for a new academy instead of a futile, costly attempt to return to a vision of the academy that, after all, dates back to 1915, the year of AAUP's first document on tenure. What's needed is new approaches and new paradigms, creative thinking, open eyes and open hearts -- not the same old pitched battles.

Steve Street, SUNY-Buffalo State College,

The Constructivist said...

Steve, thanks for the detailed response. As you can see in a more recent post, I'm thinking through various models and solutions aloud, so I really appreciate the arguments you put forward here. More later!