A union is essential for equal representation

Thebgnews and Thebgnews

The word “union” raises strong feelings among faculty and administrators at the University. We would like to explain why we support collective bargaining and why we believe it would be a good thing for the University, not just for the faculty.

First, we confess to holding a belief that democracy is a good thing. While there is evidence that more democratically-run organizations are also more effective, we support democracy regardless. Collective bargaining creates more democracy in the workplace. Faculty elect their representatives, and at least on some issues, the central administration would be obligated to take faculty ideas into account. It always puzzles us that those opposing unions seem to prefer a more dictatorial model of decision making.

It’s essential that faculty members have a greater voice in University affairs, because faculty are here for the long haul. Top-level administrators come and go; they have a short-term incentive to build their resume and move on to the next job. Sometimes administrators do a great job, other times not.

In our 20 years at the University, we have worked under three presidents, five provosts and countless deans. Faculty who make their careers here typically stay 30, 35 or more years. The faculty have institutional memory and a huge incentive to protect the long run interests of the University. While the current administrators may be doing a good job, the next group (coming soon!) may not. They will need to take faculty input seriously if they are to do a good job, and that won’t happen unless faculty have collective bargaining.

In our experience at the University, shared governance is broken. A key reason is that at the end of the day, faculty know they have no power. On important issues, their advice is not sought out; if offered, it is routinely ignored by presidents and the board of trustees.

To cite an obvious case: despite years of Faculty Senate recommendations for salary increases, for 12 years faculty pay has ranked 12th among 13 public universities in Ohio, while the University currently charges the 3rd highest in tuition and fees. Despite claims they are ‘a priority,’ faculty salaries consistently get the “if there is anything left after everything else is taken care of,” and “oh, sorry, nothing left this year, maybe next year” budget treatment.

This sense of being ignored and absence of power causes many good faculty members who care about BGSU to refuse to serve on bodies like Faculty Senate, and this weakens the institution as a whole. It promotes a culture where professors see themselves as independent consultants. They work on their research and their teaching and that’s it. If they want a pay raise, they go and get a job offer from another university.

Collective bargaining changes faculty incentives, and it would change the culture at the University in positive ways. When faculty have real power, there will be greater incentive for all faculty to participate in service. We’ll need to get to know each other better to make sure we elect outstanding representatives. We’ll need to work together, both to hold them accountable and provide input that matters. We’ll need to ensure faculty excellence, because when one faculty member is not doing their share, it reflects badly on all of us. This won’t be a union that tolerates incompetence.

By making us more democratic and giving us a real voice in governance, collective bargaining makes faculty members more professional. And as professionals, we’ll need to find solutions to problems that face the University — no more sitting back and blaming everything on the administration. It will be our responsibility too.

With our years of experience, faculty can provide input vital for building a university that is academically successful. We’ve seen what has failed in the past and will keep our administrative team from going down those paths. We’ll look for win-win solutions. A good example is Kent State’s recent “shared success” agreement where faculty received a $2,500 bonus tied to improved freshmen retention and external research support.

We’re certainly not claiming collective bargaining is a panacea; it will only be as good as we make it. We think the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantages. The only other alternative being offered is the status quo: flat salaries, increased health care costs, “end-around” policies and curious spending priorities. By empowering faculty on important issues, collective bargaining will create solutions that serve the long-run interests of the University better than the current top-down model.

Whatever your opinion on collective bargaining, the University is a great place for open, civil debate, and we can do ourselves and our students a great service by engaging in this discussion.

Marc Simon and Guy Zimmerman are associate professors of political science and computer science, respectively. Respond to them at [email protected]