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Faculty unionization issue must be resolved for students’ best interests

Knee-jerk reactions are not always the appropriate ones.

My own politics, coming from a line of factory and blue-collar workers, encourage me to support anything which presents itself as beneficial to working people, the backbone of this country. But the recent discussion concerning unionization of University faculty might not be so easy to resolve.

Judging simply by letters to the editor and the online discussions, it seems students generally support a faculty union. The poll available online at bgviews.com has, at the time of this writing, an almost-majority calling for faculty unionization (45 percent, with four possible answers).

But this is almost counter-intuitive. Part of the anger with current University administration stems from possible tuition increases and salary hikes for people like President Carol Cartwright, whose annual $375,000 has many enraged. Yet one of the things a union would surely call for is increased benefits and wages for faculty.

Whether they deserve these increased benefits and wages is something I can’t answer. I have no idea how difficult the job of a professor is. But if students are angry about the tuition hikes now, just imagine how they’ll feel when they find themselves footing the bill for the salary raises of hundreds of faculty.

One argument I’ve heard put forward is that a union would attract “better” professors to the University. This is ludicrous and entirely contradictory to the notion of a union in any classic sense of preserving the rights and careers of those already involved in the union. If anything, the presence of a union — if it actually did attract professors with more prestigious backgrounds — would be a threat to faculty already here.

However, if a union is what faculty want, a union is what they should receive. Like so many working people in America, they have suffered layoffs, reduction in wages and disappearing benefits. Opposition from administrators, including Provost Ken Borland, has been more akin to a cornered badger than a thoughtful, countenanced profession of having the students’ best interests at heart.

The issue has been painted by the administration as creating an uncomfortable and unproductive power struggle. If a faculty union formed and was able to oppose with any force the decisions handed down by the top brass, it is argued, students might suffer from any number of misfortunes — stagnation due to constant litigation and negotiation, weakened educational opportunities and maybe even strikes.

An obvious counter to this argument is that there already is a power struggle. Faculty, or at least a significant enough portion of them to make this an issue, already feel they have no real influence at the University. There is the Faculty Senate, but this is apparently an impotent organization, unsatisfying to the needs of many.

Undergraduate Student Government also plays an interesting role in all this, in that they haven’t played much of a role at all. Arguments on both sides have been made to them, but they haven’t come out and endorsed either side. Whether this is cowardice or thoughtful deliberation isn’t clear. Efforts to explain their view, such as Thursday’s letter to the editor, amount to typical politics — 300 words which say virtually nothing.

But the USG decision to not come out strongly in favor of the administration or the faculty doesn’t justify their virtual silence on the matter as a whole. For the 16,000 students at the University, the only question that matters with regard to a faculty union is, “How will this affect me?” USG’s job — and they may or may not end up doing it well — should be to ensure that question is answered and the answer is satisfactory.

However, the only answers offered so far have been vague statements of the kind offered by Borland, when he says as he did in the prepared comments published Feb. 18, if a union comes to fruition, “A new bureaucracy emerges, and there remains little time and room left to be proactive, creative and responsive to campus issues, academic quality and student needs.”

Such a situation would surely be disastrous. What a shame it is that, between the bickering of administration and faculty and the relative complacency of USG, we pretty much find ourselves in it already.

Respond to Kyle at [email protected]

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