Faculty to University of Oregon: Oh No We Don’t!

by Corey Robin on September 19, 2013

Great news! The faculty union at the University of Oregon, whose struggle I reported on a few days ago, has forced the administration to give up its extreme proposals on faculty freedom, autonomy, and privacy, and has signed its first contract. Thanks in part to all of you who wrote the administration.

Here’s how one union member, in an email, describes the victory:

Over the past week, the administration has completely backed off its extreme proposals around faculty rights and free expression.  Specifically:


The contract guarantees that freedom of speech includes freedom to voice internal criticism of university personnel or practices.


The administration completely dropped its proposal to regulate faculty’s right to consult with outside organizations.


The administration completely dropped its proposal to be allowed to “monitor” and spy on faculty emails, files or web surfing, and can only access faculty computer usage for truly “legitimate” needs such as system maintenance (with “legitimate” now a defined and grievable term).


The administration completely dropped its demand about owning all creations, inventions and course materials of faculty—we agreed to set up a joint union/administration committee to discuss this issue in the future, but until and unless that committee comes to voluntary agreement, there will be no change in the current policy, under which faculty own their own products.


I’m sure that the many messages from faculty across the US and internationally helped convince the administration to do the right thing.


Thank you to all of you for weighing in on this!


Proving once again that if you care about the future of the academy you should join a union, if you can, or support academic unions, if you can’t.

I haven’t seen a copy of the settlement, but the union also reports that it won average salary increases of nearly 12 percent over the two years of the agreement and minimum salaries for non-tenure track faculty. You can read more about the settlement here.

Congrats to the union! Well done.

{ 14 comments }

1

Peter Hovde 09.19.13 at 6:15 pm

That’s the most encouraging news out of the academy that I’ve heard in a while.

2

Ben Alpers 09.19.13 at 6:22 pm

Great news! However, those of us who work at institutions without a faculty union or even, in the case of my state, in which faculty unions are statutorily forbidden can take only very cold comfort in it.

3

Tabasco 09.20.13 at 12:01 am

I don’t get it. Universities are run by people of above average intelligence, yet this proposal by the U of O administration was just stupid. Is there some mysterious process whereby faculty who become administrators lose half their IQ? You would rarely see the leaders of major corporations propose anything as dumb-assed. (Which isn’t to say that they won’t try to screw their employees; they’ll just be smarter about the way the do it.)

4

Steve 09.20.13 at 2:10 am

Spying on email? Ownership of all creations? Glad the union fought these things off, but I might have summoned a firing squad.

5

QS 09.20.13 at 2:23 am

@3

Any sense of whether this was merely an attempt by the university to shift the Overton window? That implies some sort of coordination with other university systems who would like to implement similar policies.

6

Ben Alpers 09.20.13 at 3:48 am

There are rumors that a similar policy concerning institutional ownership of faculty work is in the works here at the University of Oklahoma. Since these are just rumors at this point, I won’t go into more detail about what what I’ve heard. But I imagine that whether these attempts are coordinated or not, we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

7

JW Mason 09.20.13 at 5:12 am

This is great.

Ben A., I think you should take your comfort warm. Unions aren’t really creatures of the law. The lessons here is about solidarity among faculty; about public support — for universities, for public employees, for privacy rights vis-a-vis the boss, I don’t know in what proportions –; and about committed administrators are to reducing the autonomy of faculty, when they face resistance. It’s good news on all fronts.

We should never make the mistake of thinking our moral rights or our practical power are defined by the existing law.

I don’t have a faculty union either, so what. The questions that matter are, in some conflict, how likely are your colleagues to stick with you;; whose side will your students and the general public be on; and how much trouble will it take to make the administration back down.

8

SC 09.20.13 at 8:28 am

. . . this proposal by the U of O administration was just stupid . . .
. . . some sort of coordination with other university systems who would like to implement similar policies . . .

Reading through the history of the negotiations I certainly get the sense that: 1. The stupid was intentional, and 2. The stupid was very stupid unless we are missing parts of the bigger picture. I’m delighted the union won, for now, but concerned that we are going to see a lot more of this kind of thing.

9

matt 09.20.13 at 2:02 pm

I’d really like to know more about who the faculty was negotiating with. At a private school, the “administration” is appointed by and takes orders from the “board,” and the latter is not populated by academic-types, but by various plutocrats. These are more than capable of cooking up half-baked ideas they find they can’t really implement, because they don’t really make any sense.

Is a state school like UofO ultimately governed by a board? And are they the actual power-holding interlocutor the union must deal with?

10

JRHulls 09.20.13 at 3:39 pm

I’m surprised that no one seems to have commented on the link between ownership of faculty developed material and MOOCs. (Massively Open Online Courses) If professors ‘own’ the course material to be MOOCed, it will force universities to share revenue with them, which is probably what the universities most wish to avoid.

In effect, to establish a bargaining position, university administrators appear to have added a lot of stupid restrictions, and will walk those back except for ownership control over faculty product, which is their real goal.

I suspect that the case for MOOCs is greatly overstated, and needs to be based on well designed tests of actual class outcomes. Otherwise, it will only lead to the development of large numbers of MOOLA’s (Massively Overpaid On Line Administrators).

11

mud man 09.20.13 at 5:05 pm

Tabasco #3: … just stupid …

Is it that academics (ie faculty who become administrators) don’t have even business people’s inadequate defenses against absurdist business theories?

12

Orpho 09.20.13 at 6:30 pm

That’s great news! More union struggles, a tragedy, on the front at Duquesne University: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/death-of-an-adjunct-703773/

13

Old John 09.21.13 at 11:51 am

Good news, of course, but the real outrage is that the administration of a public university would even think about any of these abusive measures. The people who proposed these things need to be dismissed and the legislature should pass stringent laws proscribing such policies.

14

Collin Street 09.21.13 at 2:40 pm

Good news, of course, but the real outrage is that the administration of a public university would even think about any of these abusive measures. The people who proposed these things need to be dismissed and the legislature should pass stringent laws proscribing such policies.

It doesn’t work. People who are full of shit — or, equivalently, themselves — remain so even when this is pointed out to them, for the [obvious-once-you-get-it] reason that the brain that thought “hey, maybe doing X will be a good idea” is the brain that thinks, “Based on what I knew X was the right choice”.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the consequences are, if it doesn’t push them to make the link to “hey, maybe we’re the bad guys here” there’s no pragmatic real-world benefit. But that recognition has to come from within, we can’t force the issue from the outside no matter how horrible we are. Which is to say, yes, absolutely you’re right, but equally we can’t do it. If we could do it we wouldn’t need to.

Comments on this entry are closed.