On October 10, 2019, President Schill wrote to the campus community to commit himself to four principles: honesty, transparency, respect, and grace. Regarding transparency, he wrote, “Trust can only be built through transparency.” We don’t always find common cause with President Schill, but in this regard we could not have been more in agreement. Transparency was one of the founding principles of United Academics, and we have always tried to be as transparent as possible, including when we speak in your name at the bargaining table.
Unfortunately, for the second straight bargaining session, the administration team has insisted that bargaining sessions can only be open to observers when they want them to be and have maintained they have the “right” to close them at their whim. On Tuesday, they made it clear to us that they do not plan on bending on this issue. They keep insisting that the teams can only be truly honest with each other if no one is listening to what they say. We cannot think of anything more antithetical to the spirit of academia than the principle that truth can only be spoken if no one can hear it.
Given their insistence, only two conclusions seem viable: either President Schill’s commitment to transparency is not as robust as he led the campus to believe 18 short months ago, or his bargaining team is trying to tell us that we can’t trust them. Either way, the implications are troubling. We will learn over the course of the next ten months or so of bargaining which conclusion bears out.
We understand that ground rules are not the fundamental problems we need to address with administration. At the same time, it is difficult to proceed without a firm foundation under our feet. The purpose of the ground rules is for the two parties to find agreement on how bargaining will proceed, made even more important since we have a long road of negotiations ahead of us. We believe that agreeing now to a clear set of rules prevents us from encountering problems down the line that could cause a major disruption. At minimum, we don’t believe either team should have the right to unilaterally close a session.
We attempted to assuage administration’s concerns by proposing that if either team feels there is a problem with observers, we can caucus to allow the lead negotiators to meet and resolve the issue. This was not good enough for the admin’s team, since they believe it’s not about any one particular event but the fact that the presence of people observing via Zoom puts us in a “fishbowl” and, as a result, bargaining will inevitably become bogged down.
We operate under the theory that having observers forces us to be deliberate and careful with each other. We think this is the best way to build trust, and that by closing the doors to our members and interested parties, we invite less care, less open communication, and less civility.
We will offer another ground rules proposal at next week’s session.
Despite our lack of agreement on ground rules, United Academics presented three proposals: Article 4, Article 9, and Article 14. Generally speaking, these proposals present small changes. However, in the case of Article 4 we propose a more transparent — there’s that T word again! — process for units and administration to create or amend unit policy and governance documents. We had worked out most of the details during last year’s bargaining, and in short, our proposed process allows for clear communication between departments, Deans, and the Provost. This gives all parties a chance to explain and understand proposed changes to policy, particularly if changes are made outside of a unit or department.
We meet next week Tuesday, March 9 at 2 pm. We will continue to advocate for your right to be part of this process.
Your UA Bargaining Team