From staff reports
Faculty Senate late Monday narrowly approved a resolution that opens the door to a campaign for a collective bargaining agreement for faculty members at Ohio University.
The 23-18 vote, with three senate members abstaining and six absent, gave senate's backing to begin a card drive that will determine if there is support for an election. The American Association of University Professors began distributing authorization cards after the meeting, which drew about 12 faculty members in addition to those on the senate.
Ohio law requires organizers to collect the signatures of at least 30 percent of faculty who are eligible for the bargaining unit before an election can be scheduled. There was discussion at the meeting of who ultimately could be included in a bargaining unit, but that question will be resolved by the State Employment Relations Board if the AAUP gets enough signatures to request an election.
The Senate resolution, earlier versions of which were introduced in June and September, cites a need for greater shared governance and cooperation among the faculty, administration and Board of Trustees.
"The question is, what exactly is it that binds the administration to follow the policies and procedures in this document?'' said Kenneth Brown, senator and sponsor of the measure, referring to the faculty handbook. "Nothing. It's a gentleman's agreement, and it depends on mutual trust."
Faculty Senate Chair Sergio Lopez-Permouth asked that the vote on the resolution be done by secret ballot, saying doing so would negate peer pressure and fears of retribution. Though Senator Chris Bartone objected, saying the vote should be a matter of public record, the motion for the secret ballot was approved with only two senators dissenting.
A wide-ranging debate
In a discussion that followed introduction of the resolution, senate members engaged in impassioned debate over whether a union contract would prompt higher salaries for faculty, with senators quoting studies that produced opposite conclusions.
Senator Joe Bernt said a contract could result in higher salaries, but later called the salary issue a red herring. "It's not so much an issue of money; we can debate the numbers," he said. "We need to focus on why ... the administration and faculty are no longer working together."
Other comments centered on the issues of faculty governance and whether a union would strengthen the faculty voice, with Brown and former Faculty Senate Chair Phyllis Bernt maintaining that it would.
A number of faculty senators, including Toby Stock, said they were concerned that the wording of the resolution could be interpreted as an endorsement of the union rather than a signal to begin a more detailed look into the pros and cons of a bargaining unit.
Stock urged members to table the motion indefinitely to allow more time for research. His motion was defeated 25-18, with one member abstaining.
Krendl addresses senators
Before the vote, Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl addressed faculty members.
"I have done a little of my own research on collective bargaining," she said. "The question that I wanted to be able to answer for myself, as the chief academic officer of the university, was to what degree does having a unionized faculty aid in enhancing academic excellence."
Krendl said unionized institutions in Ohio are either Tier 3 or Tier 4, and "whatever the AAUP has brought to those institutions, it has not been the ability to build their academic reputations.''
She added that although some talented faculty members seek positions at unionized institutions, others avoid them because of union intervention in merit pay and grievance issues, among other things. Such universities also face challenges in recruiting strong chairs and directors internally because those who assume the roles cease to be considered faculty, she said.
In Ohio, universities with unionized faculty include Akron, Central State, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Kent State, Toledo, Wright State, Shawnee and Youngstown State. In addition to Ohio University, those without unions are Bowling Green, Miami and Ohio State.
Krendl noted that universities -- unlike agencies serving the poor or mentally ill -- were spared in $1.27 billion of state budget reductions since January, adding, "I am haunted by this cold, hard fact and determined to do everything in my power to make sure that we do not default on the opportunity that we have been given. … To me, this is the business of the day, and I am at a loss to explain how a faculty union will help us to be successful in this enterprise."
The provost excused herself from the Senate after her remarks, saying she wanted the faculty to feel free to engage in a robust debate on the resolution, a move the Faculty Senate Executive Committee also encouraged.
The full text of Krendl's comments and materials showing faculty compensation trends at universities with and without faculty bargaining units can be found at www.ohio.edu/provost/Collective-Bargaining.cfm.
Contacted after the vote, she said she is talking with the senate's executive committee about ways to provide an even greater voice for faculty and open more channels of communication.
"We are trying to hear more about the concerns that are out there, listen to suggestions and share information about strategic directions in the university. From what I gather, a lot of the conversation tonight was about learning more and understanding more about the implications of (shared governance), with and without a union.''
Brown criticized Krendl earlier in the evening for not signing several recent Faculty Senate resolutions. But in her later comments, she said many of those measures would have required her to overstep her authority as provost.
She added that she would like to return to how faculty resolutions previously were deliberated, when resolutions were initiated and vetted by committees. This practice also engaged the provost in discussions that helped remove roadblocks before resolutions were put to a vote. "I'd like to go back to a committee process where resolutions are well-vetted and senators are involved in a deliberative process on issues."
Krendl pointed out that the collective bargaining was not sent to faculty prior to the meeting, limiting significant participation in the discussion.
"What are the responsibilities of shared governance in a representative body like the senate? On an important matter such as collective bargaining why were the faculty and faculty senators not given a chance to examine the resolution in advance of the meeting?"
President urges well-informed decision
In a memo e-mailed to faculty this morning, President Roderick J. McDavis shared his commitment to moving forward in a collegial way and urged faculty become informed about the issues.
"This is one of the most significant issues to be decided on our campus in many years, and the implications of a faculty union should be carefully evaluated by all concerned," McDavis wrote. "I agree with those faculty members who have stated that this decision should be made on the basis of data and objective information about the costs as well as the benefits of unionization."
The president said he would work with faculty to promote an informed discussion on collective bargaining. The administration, he added, will share information that may be helpful as faculty members consider their views on unionization.
"All of us share a common commitment to the education of our students, to scholarly excellence, and to the proud history and promising future of Ohio University. ... Whatever your choice (regarding unionization), I am confident that we can work together to continue to serve the best interests of our university community."