27 January 2012

Union! Union! Union!

The administration has let WSU professors down; time to organize

Published 1/20/2012 Daily Evergreen / Washington State University
By David Demers, associate professor of communication

Sometime during the next couple of weeks the WSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors will decide whether to begin the process of forming a collective bargaining unit for WSU professors. Here are five reasons why faculty should unionize:

1. The provost’s policy for evaluating and terminating tenured faculty violates AAUP guidelines pertaining to academic freedom. The provost’s office has forced at least “five to 10” tenured faculty to resign or retire in recent years because they received below satisfactory ratings in as few as three annual reviews.

Vice Provost Frances McSweeney revealed this practice under oath during a deposition she gave in fall of 2010. I am the plaintiff in that lawsuit (Demers v. Austin, et al.), which is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. AAUP says annual reviews for tenured faculty should be used for faculty development, not for termination decisions, mainly because annual reviews can be easily manipulated to fire faculty who are openly critical of administrators and their policies.

2. President Elson S. Floyd’s administration did not provide faculty with “ample voice” in the budget-cutting process, which also was biased. These were some of the key findings of an online survey of WSU faculty conducted last year. WSU faculty have low job satisfaction and low morale. Although budget cuts are partly responsible, the results of the study suggest that the “termination policy” mentioned above may also play a role. The survey found that even tenured WSU faculty (50 percent of all faculty) believe they have little job security. In fact, WSU scored lower on this measure than 80 percent of comparable universities and organizations.

3. Floyd and his administrators do not support free speech rights for faculty in their service roles. They made that clear last year when they convinced a federal judge to toss out my free-speech lawsuit, arguing that faculty, as employees, do not deserve First Amendment rights outside of the classroom or their research programs. If the administration wins the appeal, it means WSU can punish faculty who criticize administrators and their policies. If faculty cannot criticize without fear of reprisal, then shared governance is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless.

The irony is that WSU’s most famous graduate, broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow, was a staunch supporter of free speech rights and the First Amendment.

4. Administrative salaries have increased five times faster than faculty salaries. From 2001 to 2009, salaries of administrators working in the provost’s office jumped about 80 percent, according to state salary records. In contrast, salaries for faculty during that eight-year period increased about 15 percent, less than the rate of inflation. The average administrator in the provost’s office now earns nearly $160,000 a year. The provost’s salary, $250,000, increased 66 percent. The president’s salary, $625,000, also more than doubled. Administrators also get to cash in some of their “banked” sick days when they leave the university. Faculty on nine-month appointments do not.

5. There is no independent appeals procedure for faculty who believe they have been unfairly treated at annual review time. Currently, they can appeal only to deans or the provost, who almost always side with unit supervisor. The Faculty Status Committee can but usually refuses to hear annual review appeals, because it is too busy with tenure-denial cases. But even if the committee heard such appeals, it has no power to force the administration to change a review rating. A union, on the other hand, would have more power to force administrators to follow due process procedures.

David Demers is an associate professor of communication at Washington State University.