Thursday, September 16, 2010

CFA President Kathy Oberdeck's speech to the General Meeting of September 13, 2010

Thank all of you for attending today’s membership meeting and for supporting CFA. It’s an honor to serve this organization because Campus Faculty Association brings together teachers and scholars from all over campus, and I get to know the people who really make this place work
Reviewing the Past Year
For this meeting in particular we come together at a historical moment when these questions are more critical than ever. The University of Illinois has been through a year of crises and changes—crises over the integrity of leadership and the arrival of a new president, crises of academic labor relations in the form of the GEO strike, crises in budgetary shortfalls accompanied by rapid-fire administrative fixes. This made for a very busy year for the Campus Faculty Association. Over the last twelve months, our members helped draw attention to the need for new administrative leadership and for more democratic processes of decision making on campus. We have marched with the GEO to maintain the salary and tuition waiver support that compensate our excellent graduate students and make graduate degrees accessible to the wide diversity of students—from across a range of ethnic, gender and class backgrounds—whom a great public university should serve. We have responded to mandatory furloughs with teach ins, Senate resolutions, research, rallies and mass lobbying in Springfield. These actions demanded more transparency in budgetary decision making, and speaking out to the Legislature on what kind of funding is needed to keep quality education accessible to the citizens of Illinois. As importantly, they were aimed at enlarging our own membership to include more faculty from across our campus who are concerned about the conditions of their teaching, research, and service. They see the Campus Faculty Association as an important vehicle for making faculty voices heard in decisions that affect those conditions. Our membership grew by 40% through these important initiatives, through the work of members with academic organizing experience who helped some of us think more strategically about how to talk to members about organizing, and because many of you went out and talked to your colleagues, cross-disciplinary associates, friends and neighbors about your concerns about the University and how the CFA can help.
Toward the Future: Collective Bargaining and the CFA
For this year, it is our top priority to make the Campus Faculty Association visible and available to an ever wider circle of University of Illinois faculty of all descriptions—full and untenured, faculty from the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, faculty of color, women faculty, single and partnered parents, senior faculty on the verge of retirement, to name just a few. As you’ll be hearing a little later from our organizing committee, we welcome and urge more and more members to have these conversations with colleagues, friends, neighbors and acquaintances about the CFA’s purposes. CFA will grow only through your efforts and it is vital that CFA grow.
We’re also here to discuss a revision of the statement of purpose contained in our Constitution, and also to be featured in our website and recruiting literature, that will help convey to more of our colleagues what we’re about. That statement of purpose restates principles the CFA has been committed to for decades: a democratic University in which faculty have a meaningful voice through shared governance; the defense especially of those who might experience discrimination because of race, gender, disability or sexual orientation bias, among others. It also poses an open process of collective bargaining to ensure our ability to defend faculty’s individual and collective welfare in the areas of economic compensation, academic freedom, the integrity of our teaching and research, the fairness of University policies as they apply to diverse faculty and students, and the capacity of this university to offer the quality higher education that we consider the foundation of a democratic society. This revised statement of purpose will signal to potential members our commitment to a strong faculty voice in University decision making, but can only be meaningful if we expand our membership to a proportion of the faculty that would make CFA representation of faculty interests a reasonable claim.
In addition to getting on your radar a number of events planned to expand our membership and familiarize faculty with some of the benefits of collective bargaining, we wanted to start the semester off with this meeting to talk face to face about what many of us might hope and fear about collective bargaining and why we need it. What do we mean by “an open process of collective bargaining”? To some, collective bargaining conjures unsavory images of self-serving union bureaucrats meeting in inaccessible chambers with top-level administrators to hammer out decisions on pay and conditions to which union members will be asked to conform. Certainly, this is hardly an attractive model for an organization that takes as its main rallying cry the democratization of university structures that make decision on increasingly corporate, hierarchical, and opaque models. But this image of collective bargaining it is not born out by the examples of collective bargaining closest to home—examples like the GEO, where a large negotiating committee represented union members in bargaining sessions with University administrators. It’s also an image of collective bargaining that’s inconsistent with our own view of the range of issues that could be bargainable—not just salaries and benefits, important as they are, but also issues of academic freedom, working conditions, and transparency.
Others worry that collective bargaining will commit them to a strike on questionable pretexts, potentially imperiling their sense of duty to their students. These are understandable concerns, fully congruent with our statement of purpose’s declarations of commitment to the quality education we believe this University should offer. But the collective actions that provide teeth to collective bargaining can take a variety of forms, and none of them would be approved without a vote of the membership.
Another pressing question is, WHY collective bargaining? Don’t we have shared governance? What about the Academic Senate, the stewarding excellence teams that involved faculty and administrators in reviewing possible budget streamlining, and our individual contributions to a host of departmental, college and campus level committees where we look after the curricular, research and service missions of the university, often at the expense of our own research and writing agendas? As a current or recent participant in all of them, I have great respect for these various venues for faculty involvement in making and executing University policies. But we can find a lot of evidence that they are not sufficient to secure University of Illinois faculty a voice in the decisions that affect our conditions of work and our commitment to the University’s core missions of teaching, research, and public service. I want to give a few examples from recent and ongoing CFA activities to illustrate this.
Much of our growth last year came because faculty were upset about a sudden and, upon inspection, rather ungrounded decision on mandatory furloughs. CFA actions on common Furlough days helped to raise important questions about what sort of funding the University has and where it is being spent. These efforts have matured into a report, currently on our website and reported to the press, of remarkable rises in the numbers of administrative positions and the salary figures devoted to them over the last six years. This is an important context for many recent concerns. The general trend toward administrative top-heaviness affects the way the university responds to problems like the budget crisis. They turn to furloughs instead of caps on runaway academic salaries. They offer a system of project teams to identify plans for streamlining that was overwhelmingly staffed by administrators rather than regular faculty. The University maintains structures of funding through the University of Illinois Foundation that can allow the continued financial connection between an off-campus academy ungoverned by ethics of open research and academic review AFTER the university had agreed with the Academic Senate to sever such ties. And Administration has also been able to pressure the Senate, with a few critical questions from CFA members, endorse the growing corporatization of the university by granting the President the title of CEO. Collective bargaining at other universities has managed to fight at least some initiatives that compromise faculty governance in these ways, and grievance procedures to address not only salary issues (many of us are not getting raises, which compounds the economic effect of fuurloughs while administrative salaries go up) but issues of academic freedom, governance, and working conditions.
In April many of us got on the bus to join more than ten thousand educators at all levels to lobby our legislative representatives in Springfield with respect to the funding that’s needed to provide quality public education at an affordable price. We invited administrators to join with us, but they seemed to prefer other channels of correspondence with legislators that they tell us are active but the substance of which we never hear. Faculty governance in a truly public university demands that FACULTY represent to the public the faculty missions of teaching and research we spend our days, and nights, undertaking, and their importance to the public. Collective bargaining agreements elsewhere have included effective legislative relations programs.
The GEO has for many of us been a model of effective and democratic academic organization, and also of the community outreach to make good on our institutional promise of teaching, research and service. Many CFA members walked with the GEO last November and learned a lot from their determination to maintain tuition waivers that enable many grad students from minority and working-class background to contribute to the mission of higher education and, as we know, enable us to attract the most talented and exciting graduate students from these and other backgrounds to maintain the fine reputation of both our graduate programs and the undergraduate teaching to which these students contribute. But now the waivers that were at the center of the GEO’s strike are under threat again, as cashed-strapped departments especially in the arts and humanities have resorted, with higher administration approval, to lowered base-rate waivers in order to keep their graduate programs afloat at all. This is a complex issue with many dimensions. It raises questions about the commitment of the University to attracting and keeping quality graduate students in the humanities and arts, it exposes the pressures on quality education in a variety of departments that find their teaching assistant budgets slashed while a variety of inticements to profit-generating graduate degrees and department funding tied to on-line course development are dangled before them. We also have growing numbers of non-tenure track faculty often entailed in these shifts, and their interests need attention and voice as well. Faculty need an independent organization that can assess and address these many transformations of the education we offer, and sustain the opportunity for education in the all-too-quickly disappearing capacities for critical thinking, civil discussion, and reasoned argument, made available to a wide public. We need the strength in numbers to be that organization.
We can do this with a purpose that invigorates our colleagues and a commitment to engaging them in that purposes that brings more members in. Before we break for some small group discussions about your views of how effectively our new statement of purpose supports those goals, I want to mention briefly some upcoming plans for this semester that are intended to help us move forward on this agenda, and some specific ways for some of you who want to get more involved. THIS FRIDAY, Sept. 17, our organizing committee is meeting to make plans for a fall organizing campaign, discuss communities of faculty to which we can most effectively direct our efforts. As Siobhan Somerville and Clarence Lang from the organizing committee are going to explain shortly—WE ARE ALL ORGANIZERS AND EVERYONE IS INVITED TO COME TO THIS MEETING. It will be held at noon, Friday Sept 17 in 210 Illini Union.
Organizing IS our main priority—but while I’m on the topic of things your CFA could use help with—we also have an communications committee, currently very snazzily headed up by Harriet Murav, that needs more help to get our messages out. And we have an open position of Equal Opportunity Officer for someone who wants to help organize our initiatives on issues of minority, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination and bias.
The next week, the BOT will be meeting on the Urbana campus at the I Hotel. The GEO is already planning a rally to tell them about our concerns about tuition waivers, salaries, and other issues they will be addressing. EVERYONE IS URGED TO ATTEND THIS RALLY, and let the BOT –to which the CFA continues its fight for faculty representation—know that the CFA is watching and listening.
OCTOBER 7 is a NATIONAL DAY of ACTION for education. The labor coalition of this campus is planning a public action for that day that you should keep your eyes out for our announcements of those events.
Finally, in NOVEMBER we will be having another CFA members event—to which interested potential members will also be welcome---on the benefits of collective bargaining, where we plan to have speakers from already organized Illinois campuses like SIU and EIU. We’re working on scheduling that around the schedules of the speakers we’re seeking, but we hope it will be an opportunity to further the discussions we come up with today about our new statement of purpose and its focus on collective bargaining.
So I’m going to turn things over for a few minutes to Siobhan and Clarence to talk about organizing, and then to small groups of you to talk about our statement of purpose. We’ll come back to have a presentation on the dues issue that you were notified about—obviously all this organizing and expansion takes resources, and you’ll hear about our own budgetary crisis in providing those. For now, though, let me turn things to Siobhan and Clarence. Thank you.

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