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Faculty Forum Papers


COLLECTIVE BARGAINING



by

Ross Carroll
Department of English


March 2, 1983



In talking with my colleagues in the English Department and in reading the Faculty Forum Papers, I have concluded that the most cogent arguments against collective bargaining fall primarily into three categories: collective bargaining will undermine collegiality; collective bargaining will fail to improve faculty salaries and benefits in times of financial difficulty; and collective bargaining will encourage standardization and discourage excellence. As an advocate of collective bargaining, I would like to look more closely at each of these concerns.

The collegiality question seems to contain two elements: that collective bargaining divides the faculty itself, and that it places the faculty in an adversarial relationship with the administration. Concerning the faculty itself, it seems clear that the faculty divisions already exist, and the discussion of collective bargaining has only brought about a healthy discussion of those differences. In fact, I might argue that had the administration intentionally set out to divide and weaken faculty, it could not have done a better job, and it is these existing divisions that weaken all of us. One is not a faculty member at Oregon State, one is tenured, tenure track, fixed-term/renewable, fixed-term/part-time/soft money/ non-renewable -- the list goes on, and none of these groups has much common interest with any other. A yes vote on March 9th or 10th won't automatically unify the faculty, but we need an organization which recognizes that we are all part of the essential function of research and instruction that this university offers, and within which we can begin to forge a community of interest which will serve the best interests of all of us. Defining those common interests may be difficult and even painful at times, but until we do we will remain divided and conquered.

Concerning the adversary relationship that collective bargaining might establish between faculty and administration, perhaps a better description would be an advocacy relationship. This, I think, is more than just semantics. The faculty needs an organization which can do more than complain and point out that we already are losing some of our best people to other institutions or to the private sector. These losses occur only after the problems have already gone on too long, and are best addressed by an organization which speaks first for faculty and which is empowered by faculty. Negotiation does not, as one writer has suggested, violate the principles of the proposed Peace Studies program; negotiations are a recognition that two communities of interest are involved and that each is empowered to work for a solution to differences which is acceptable to both. At the moment, the administration has both advocacy and power; the faculty has neither.

The second point argues that regardless of how strong the faculty alliance may be, it cannot bargain for funds that are not available. To whatever degree this is true, it ignores the effect a union can have on how funds are allocated. In a typical tax levy for a school district, for example, voters know exactly what programs they are voting for because bargaining at the K-through-12 level has clarified faculty status, salaries and benefits. Voters might know that failure to pass a levy will eliminate a district's hot lunches, advance placement program, and activities busses. If they vote down the levy, they know those programs will not exist because they have chosen to eliminate them.

In higher education, however, it is the university's responsibility to provide programs with the money allocated, and "sound fiscal management" dictates that this is often done at the expense of personnel. Thus, instead of saying that we cannot provide a certain program at a certain level of funding and that funding must be increased or the program reduced or eliminated, we employ pay cuts, larger classes, or fixed-term or part-time employees to provide a service the legislature is not really willing to fund. The ultimate extension of this idea is that with maximum "efficiency" and "productivity" we can do anything with nothing. The long-term effect is already quite clear; life may not be perfect for K through 12 teachers, but they certainly enjoy relatively better pay and benefits, more job security, and more clearly defined and equitable personnel procedures than we have in higher education. Their sole advantage has been in collective bargaining.

Finally, there is absolutely no reason to believe that collective bargaining will discourage excellence. Excellence, first of all, comes from within, and those of us who are committed to our work, who value the recognition of our colleagues, and who take pride in the accomplishments of our students will continue to strive for excellence regardless of the vote on March 9th and 10th. To suggest that we will not is false and furthermore is a disservice to the integrity of the faculty. Collective bargaining will not end merit pay and will not eliminate standards for tenure. It will give faculty a stronger voice in setting policy in these areas, and thus will serve to encourage excellence. It will also, to the benefit of the majority of us poor plodders, serve to adequately compensate mere competence, itself no small achievement at the modern university.

As many have pointed out, collective bargaining will not be a panacea for Oregon State University, but the Faculty Alliance does offer a framework within which faculty can work together for the greatest good of all of us. Our first step must be a yes vote. Then the real work will begin.

Ross Carroll
English Department
March 2, 1983

Opinions expressed by authors of Faculty Forum articles are not necessarily those of the OSU Faculty or Faculty Senate.