Monday, August 18, 2008

Monopoly unionism is inimical to academic standards and enterprise

The faculty at Montana State University in Bozeman will soon vote on whether to unionize. If a majority vote yes, the school will gradually descend into academic mediocrity or worse.

The vast majority of unionized faculty in higher education are employed in government colleges and universities. This is because in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, ruled that faculties in private higher education are "managers" and hence are exempted from the mandatory recognition and bargaining provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Private-sector college and university administrations may choose to recognize and bargain with faculty unions, but they are not compelled to do so even if a majority of faculty members want them to. By contrast, unionization in government colleges and universities (as well as K-12 education) is controlled by individual state laws. Most states have enacted statutes, modeled on the NLRA, that force administrations in government higher education to recognize and bargain with faculty unions if a majority of faculty members vote to unionize.

Consider the worst feature of NLRA-style unionism: exclusive representation. If 50 percent plus one of the members of a faculty vote to have, say, the local National Education Association (NEA) be their representative in bargaining with their university over the terms and conditions of employment, all faculty members who were eligible to vote must accept the union's representation whether they want it or not. Faculty who prefer another union or some non-union organization to represent them are out of luck. They are even forbidden to represent themselves. The winner of the election becomes the monopoly representative of the faculty, and there are no regularly scheduled reelections. As individuals, professors lose voice. All professors are treated exactly like all other professors. Excellence is not rewarded and often disparaged; poor performance is protected; individual autonomy vanishes; and strife replaces collegiality.

Unionists justify exclusive bargaining on the grounds that it is merely workplace democracy. Most faculty accept the legitimacy of majority rule in governmental matters. So, unionists argue, to be consistent, faculty must accept its legitimacy in the workplace. This is a silly, inapt analogy. There are three branches of American government- executive, legislative, and judicial. There is no fourth branch of government called unions. Democracy, forcing a numerical minority to submit to the will of a numerical majority, is appropriate in governmental matters but not in private matters. The sale and purchase of one's labor is a private matter.

On legitimately governmental matters individuals cannot be allowed to go their own way. Government makes decisions that must apply to all its citizens uniformly. But on private matters individuals must be allowed to go their own way subject only to the rule that no one can infringe on the equal rights of others to do the same. In the private sphere of human interactions, mutual consent, not majority rule, is the proper decision. Individuals may choose to associate with others who are willing to associate with them to pursue some common goal, but no one should be forced into any association by any means, including majority rule. If asked, most professors would agree that coerced associations are anathema to the academy. Too many professors fail to apply this admirable principle to faculty unionism. Logical consistency and academic freedom demand that they do so.

From the time of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum, academic freedom and scholarly creativity have been highly prized academic values. Ideally, successes and failures of individual academics are based on the values that other academics (and students) place on their work. Performance, not politics, is what counts. Of course all academic institutions fall short of the ideal. Even at the best schools, campus politics intrudes into decision-making. But when it does, most academics struggle to minimize its impact. As soon as faculty unionism intrudes, politics displaces excellence. Professors come to be treated, by their unions as well as their administrations, like assembly-line workers whose responsibility is limited to playing the roles assigned to them in so-called collective-bargaining agreements. All degrees of freedom in decision-making are swallowed by slavish adherence to "the contract."

The union that has monopoly representation privileges over the California State University faculty is the California Faculty Association (CFA). My experience with it is a cautionary tale. When CFA campaigned to become the monopoly faculty representative, it promised it would never try to compel payment of forced dues. Soon after becoming certified as the monopoly representative, it undertook a long campaign to do precisely that. It finally succeeded in 1999 by giving sufficient electoral support to Gray Davis in the 1998 gubernatorial election to bribe him into signing such legislation-a fine example of politics as exchange.

What else hath the CFA wrought? For one thing, it established de facto tenure for many adjunct faculty even though most of them never publish anything. For another, it quashed merit pay for faculty who demonstrate outstanding professional contributions. It asserted that all faculty contributions are equally meritorious. CFA also imposed a faculty staffing rule that says in the event of any downsizing, faculty must be let go in reverse order of seniority. Expertise and the needs of students and the integrity of the academic enterprise do not matter at all.

The CFA significantly impeded the 2005-2007 effort of the College of Business and Economics (CBE) at California State University, East Bay, to maintain its accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). In 2005 the administration hired a new dean and charged him to get the CBE ready for its reaccreditation review. It had been almost ten years since the previous review, and academic standards at the College had been allowed to decay in favor of keeping nonproducing faculty happy and quiet (that is, not filing complaints with the CFA) and boosting student enrollment. The new dean set out to remedy this decay as quickly as possible. Among other things, he tried to implement a set of incentives to get faculty to increase their research and publication activities. For example, he proposed to give faculty who published in reputable academic journals a reduced teaching load, and he proposed to give faculty who produced good research proposals financial bonuses and summer research grants to help them with their work.

The CFA, at the behest of some faculty who figured they could not compete on these grounds, intervened to impede these incentives on the grounds that they created invidious distinctions between members of the faculty. Five-year, post-tenure reviews of faculty have long been required in the California State University system. In practice they had become little more than pro forma endorsement of everyone under review. The dean attempted to strengthen these reviews as a way of reminding faculty of their academic responsibilities, particularly in research and publication. The CFA again intervened stating that "the contract" limited the post-tenure reviews to teaching performance. Notwithstanding "the contract," AACSB considers research and publication important criteria for accreditation.

In the end, CBE was not reaccredited, but was given three years to remedy its deficiencies. Failing that, CBE accreditation will be withdrawn. In a unionized environment it is doubtful that three years will be enough time for CBE to restore its academic legitimacy.


British government tries to civilize its Leftist academics

British academics will be encouraged to conduct research with their Israeli peers in an attempt to heal fractured relations between UK and Israeli universities. Gordon Brown has signed up to a $1,480,000 academic exchange scheme during his trip to Israel today. The government has been keen to promote links between the two countries to play down attempts by British academics to boycott Israeli academics over the treatment of Palestinians.

In May, members of the University and College Union voted to consider the moral and political implications of education links with Israeli institutions. But the UK government's contribution of $40,000 to the scheme which is mainly funded by charities was described as an insult by a leading Anglo-Jewish historian. Geoffrey Alderman, visiting professor of theology and education at York St John University, said: "Compared to the money that the government is giving to the Palestinian Authority, this is an insult. I would throw this back in their faces. If the government was seriously interested in a programme to foster academic cooperation, it would think in terms of millions."

The higher education minister, Bill Rammell, said the new scheme would help foster academic cooperation through joint research programmes and academic exchange trips between the UK and Israel.

The Britain-Israel research and academic exchange partnership (BIRAX) will award scientific research grants to junior academics - from postdoctoral students to mid-career researchers and lecturers - who tend to have far fewer international opportunities. The British Council will manage the scheme, which is funded by the Pears Foundation, the United Jewish Israel Appeal, with smaller contributions from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Israel's Ministry of Science.

The academic who led the call for the boycott, Tom Hickey, a politics and philosophy lecturer from the University of Brighton, said academics should consider whether it was "morally acceptable to continue links with Israeli institutions where there was evidence that they were complicit in the occupation".

The government will give the same amount to improve links between British researchers and their peers in Palestine. Rammell said this would be "in the near future".

The scheme will last for five years in the first instance, although it is anticipated that it will develop over time into a longer-term partnership.

The British Council is also working on proposals to support academic links between Britain and Palestine, which the government will offer equal funding to support. Rammell said: "There is a long history of cooperation between Israel and the UK and BIRAX will help further cement this relationship and create new partnerships. It will help strengthen academic links between individual researchers and between universities in both countries. "There have been calls in the past for a boycott of Israeli academics but I strongly believe that we have much to learn from each other and our researchers have much to gain from working together. Education should be a bridge between nations not a barrier."

Trevor Pears, the executive chair of the Pears Foundation, said: "The new scheme increases academic collaboration in science and technology with potentially lasting benefits for Britain, Israel and, hopefully, the world."

The chairman of UJIA, Mick Davis, said the scheme would strengthen "the living bridge that draws on the great history of academic cooperation that has benefited Israel and the UK so greatly over the years".


Administrators versus faculty in academe

C.P. Snow wrote of the "two cultures" of the sciences and humanities and of the divisions between them. In higher education today, many feel an ever-increasing culture gap between administrators and faculty members. Professors - at least those with tenure - sometimes share their views of the deans and presidents who lead institutions. But what of administrators? Forget the platitudes of Faculty Senate meetings. What do they really think of the faculty role in running campuses?

A national survey of administrators reveals a mixed picture. A majority (60 percent) believe that faculty members should play a bigger role in running campuses, with most of the rest happy with the status quo and only a few believing that professors should play less of a role. But while seeking more of a faculty role, the administrators share a highly critical view of faculty knowledge and perspective when it comes to campus decision making, with a broad consensus finding professors focused far too much on their own issues or departmental issues, and lacking either the knowledge or perspective to think about institutions as a whole and to promote change.

The study was prepared by a team of sociologists: Debra Guckenheimer, Sarah Fensternmaker and John Mohr from the University of California at Santa Barbara and Joseph Castro from the University of California at San Francisco. They surveyed 200 academic administrators (dean level or higher) at nine four-year colleges and universities. The institutions were a mix of sizes, were located in different parts of the United States, and included public and private, unionized faculty and non-unionized faculty. The results were presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The paper - presented by Fensternmaker - notes that whether collaborations between professors and administrators are "easy or awkward" can have a major impact on many campus policies and initiatives. At the same time, she noted that there is relatively little research done on administrators' attitudes about professors. She noted the apparent contradiction between administrators generally saying that they want faculty members more involved while overwhelmingly agreeing with factors that limit the ability of professors to be effective players in faculty governance.

Using quotes from the interviews with survey participants, the paper outlines four common complaints about professors with regard to governance: ignorance, inability to see the big picture, a self-serving approach and a lack of appreciation for the role of administrators.

One administrator was quoted saying: "Faculty usually underestimate the complexity and difficulty of making a university operate well. They think it will just happen by itself if administrators would get out of the way. This is an ignorant opinion." Another said: "I think that sometimes faculty have tunnel vision and do not understand the full picture of what it means to effectively operate and manage a college." Repeatedly, administrators said that professors didn't understand financial matters related to their institutions or issues outside of their own disciplines.

Asked about their greatest disappointment as administrators, a frequent response was "faculty resistance to change," the paper says. "Administrators varied in how they responded to this issue - some saw faculty members as a group resistant to change, while others saw it as a problem of only some of the faculty." The perspective stays with administrators even if they return to the faculty, the paper says.

One other commonality found in the study is that administrators believe that faculty fail to exercise the power that they have. Many reported that they feel that their initiatives ultimately succeed or fail when professors either embrace or ignore them. One typical response: "Faculty think we administrators have more power than we actually do and have more money than we actually do. Faculty do not understand or are aware of the great power they have. Faculty hold the key to change and institutional transformations but most are not aware of that."

The paper notes all of the ironies in the fact that administrators and faculty members both view the other side as having the power, and that administrators simultaneously want more faculty involvement and fault faculty members for lacking knowledge.

So does this leave administrators on Mars and professors on Venus? Some in the audience when the paper was presented said that the research suggests the need to focus on specific qualities that may encourage behaviors that keep the two sides apart. For instance, one professor said that he believes too many chairs "play up the us vs. them divide rather than taking a more responsible academic leadership role." So instead of explaining the rationale behind administrative proposals, this professor said, chairs are telling their departments: "You won't believe what academic affairs is proposing now."

Kristin G. Esterberg, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, who is also studying administrative attitudes about faculty, said it was important for administrators to consider realities facing professors. She noted, for example, that it's not surprising that professors focus on their departments when "faculty-reward structures focus on the disciplines." Further, because administrators can move in or out of their positions on their campuses - or switch campuses - they are "mobile in ways that faculty are not."


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