Remarks to Board of Trustees

Good morning.

My message this morning can be summarized like this: The Board of Trustees and the administration, because of your radical approach to collective bargaining, are heading for a major confrontation with the faculty. That confrontation is totally unnecessary. But that confrontation, if it happens, will do serious and lasting damage to FIU. We call upon you as stewards of the public trust to do your duty and prevent the university from being damaged.

Let me elaborate.

While you have changed your chief negotiator since we last met, your team has not been allowed to change their approach. They still insist that the faculty rights and protections that have been in the collective bargaining agreement since 1976 will be removed to university policy only, with the collective bargaining agreement left as a nearly empty shell.

If rights and protections are in the bargaining agreement, faculty have a role in their own governance—rules are not imposed, but bargained. And if they are in the agreement, there is recourse if supervisors violate those rules—first, an informal resolution if possible, if not then a grievance, and finally resolution by a neutral arbitrator, if necessary.

But if those rights and protections are only in university policy, then we are invited to give input, but we do not share in the final decision on them. Worse, if supervisors violate their own rules, we have no recourse except a process rigged against us, where supervisors decide whether supervisors have violated the rules. Thus there would be no procedure that ensures that FIU follows its own policies.

If the system of rights and protections, guaranteed by a collective bargaining agreement, and enforced by a grievance and arbitration procedure were working badly, then it would make sense to change it. But it has been working very well! No one has been able to point to abuses or even inefficiencies in that system!

We have heard it argued that you want a system where the locus of decision-making stays within the university, rather than going to an outside arbitrator. But even your chief negotiator agrees that so successful have been our attempts to resolve disputes locally, that few grievances had ever gone to arbitration at FIU—only six in the 18 years she was an FIU administrator. Six. Where is the problem here?

Florida Atlantic University, the University of South Florida, and the University of Central Florida have already settled on new collective bargaining agreements with their faculty which preserve the previous system. If they can live with it, why disrupt FIU by trying to change it?

As you might imagine, faculty are angry about losing rights and protections they have had for 29 years, and smart enough to see a rigged system when they are presented with one. They do not intend to give up what they have had without a struggle. Neither would you.

If you persist in your approach, you will force faculty to do everything we can to defend a system that offers us some protection and rights. We will do our best to explain to all who will listen what the struggle is about. We will reach out to supporters in the student body, at other universities, in the community. We will be at war. And we will continue to fight as long as it takes to win back our rights and protections.

I can confidently predict that if you persist, the FIU Faculty Senate will pass a motion of no confidence in the president and probably in the board as well. Such a motion of no confidence will not be ignored by the media. Imagine our chances of winning a medical school once it happens.

The Senate will pass such a motion not because the Faculty Senate has been taken over by radicals from the union, as the president has been alleging, but because the Faculty Senate is the democratically elected representative body of the faculty, and accurately represents the opinion of the overwhelming majority of faculty.

75% of this faculty signed authorization cards indicating that they wanted a collective bargaining agreement with rights and protections, and wanted the United Faculty of Florida to be their bargaining agent. If we had been forced to an election, I’m very confident more than 90% of the faculty would have voted for the union, as 94% did at Florida State University last year. If you ignore this overwhelming sentiment of the faculty and proceed to gut the contract, you cannot expect the faculty to take it lying down.

FIU will get the reputation as that place where the Board and the administration is at war with its own faculty. Our best faculty will get fed up and leave. Why stay at a place in the midst of a war, when one could go elsewhere? As the hostility toward faculty at FIU becomes known in the international academic community, it will become more and more difficult for us to recruit top-notch researchers and educators. Why go to a war zone?

Before you go further we urge you to investigate what has happened to institutions of higher education where the administration has gone to war with its own faculty. You don’t have to look too far. Do you really want to risk damaging FIU the way Miami-Dade Community College has been damaged by the turmoil between administration and faculty there?

Most of you are business people and we know you have no love for unions; who wants to share decision-making with your employees? We are not sure you realize it yet, but a university is a different kind of enterprise. It’s non-profit, of course, but more than that, virtually all of its capital is intellectual capital, its capital is the faculty.

In a sound business model for that kind of enterprise, one would think the last strategy that you would want to adopt is one that antagonizes and drives away the faculty. Destroy the intellectual capital stock and what do you have left? But that is the road you are on.

I thought good business decisions involved a cost/benefit approach. The potential costs of your strategy seem huge, yet we have not heard anyone explain what the benefits would be, let alone how they could possibly outweigh the costs.

This leads many faculty to conclude that this strategy is not motivated by a close examination of how to make FIU work more efficiently, but by a preconceived anti-union bias imported from the business world that you intend to impose on FIU. And this only angers us more.

The faculty calls upon you to rethink your radical approach, to begin to examine the advice you have been getting from your legal staff, which assures you that you can easily defeat the union.

How good has their advice been over the last year? They told you the original negotiator was doing fine, that bargaining was proceeding well, that we would be happy with the proposals they put on the table in November. None of that was true.

Now they tell you they have a strategy to get rid of the union that is sure to work, that the laws of Florida are rigged against us, that soon the union will dry up and blow away. Don’t they? Are you willing to risk damaging the university, given the accuracy of their previous advice?

FIU is a public university. You have been entrusted with it—you are the stewards of the public interest. No matter what your personal opinions about unions, your responsibility is to the public interest, and that is a public research university which continues to progress, not one torn apart by internal strife that is totally unnecessary and avoidable.

Let me ask you one more time: What is working so badly at FIU that you are willing to risk damaging the university by alienating your own faculty?

We all would be eager to hear your response. Thank you.

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