OP-ED: Faculty must have a say in determining UConn’s future

Faculty must have a say in determining UConn’s future Diana L. Rios, Associate Professor of Communication and El Instituto 

Published 12/30/15 in The CT Mirror Viewpoints http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/12/30/faculty-must-have-a-say-in-determining-uconns-future/

An important key to organizational success in a workplace is the role of the employee voice. That is, the ability for key stakeholders, those who do the work, to voice their concerns, ideas, and opinions to influence the direction of the organization. In higher education it is vital that those who teach and conduct research have a strong voice in the operations of the university. Those who do the core mission of the university are the faculty – the professors, the researchers, and the lecturers.

Faculty exercising their voice in university decision-making is called “shared governance.” This means that educators have a seat at the table when it comes to hiring other faculty, selection of academic administrators, preparing the budget, and determining academic policies. At the state’s flagship university, UConn, it means UConn American Association of University Professors – the union that represents the faculty– should have an opportunity to weigh in on matters of academic and operational importance.

It might be helpful to note that UConn-AAUP is not a special interest group solely looking out for the interests of its members. It is a public interest group looking out for the future of student learning, public higher education, meaningful research, and the future of the state’s economic viability. Not to mention, the union is not a third party entity but is made up of the university’s scholars, researchers, and others who do the core work of the university.

With that said, the staunch advocates for public higher education and stewards of the state’s future – UConn-AAUP- should have a strong role in influencing university decisions that impact the common and public good.

Unfortunately we have witnessed exclusionary praxis from the UConn administration in recent months – dismissing the role of UConn-AAUP and leaving them out of vital decision-making. If this pattern continues where educators don’t have a voice in student learning conditions, scholarly work, or university direction, then the quality of education at UConn will suffer immensely.

We have seen the rise of UConn as a top 20 public university in the country, with AAUP and faculty having a role in decision-making. So why would the university administration want to vanquish shared governance and leave out the faculty?

Is it a matter of money? Is it a matter of budgetary emergency? Does it save money? Faculty having a voice does not fit the bill of being a fiscal issue. But, there is a trend across higher education – administrative bloat and power. This power concentration pushes aside the faculty and other core contributors, and advances administration’s own self-interested agenda to build their resumes and hop up to new high paying administrative jobs.

Administrators come and go. Faculty stay. They stay because they care about their students, their research, the university, and their communities. They stay because they have historically had a seat at the table to voice their concerns, ideas, and be a partner in advancing the university organization.

We are defending the soul of higher education. We need to let the state, the UConn Board of Trustees, and the university community, know that we need to protect the faculty voice for a better UConn and a better future for our state.

I care deeply about my university.

Diana I. Rios is an associate professor of communications at the University of Connecticut.

Sign the Petition to Protect the Faculty Voice

The UConn-AAUP entered negotiations in good faith on September 11, 2015 and presented proposals to strengthen the overall educational environment. The Administration has put forward proposals that seek to profoundly undermine the structures of shared governance that helped launch UCONN to become one of the nation’s top universities. The Administration’s proposals effectively redefine the University as the Board of Trustees, the President, the Provosts, and the Deans, and disempowered, in deeds if not in words, students and faculty.

UConn-AAUP’s proposals seek to protect public higher education and the bedrock values of the university including academic freedom, an atmosphere free of discrimination, competitive compensation to recruit and retain world-class faculty, and the strong voice of educators in setting and advancing the academic priorities of the University.

We believe in the strong and robust voice of educators in the academic operations of the University and maintain that collective bargaining is the most effective means to protect and enhance faculty governance. Moreover, collective bargaining in good faith gives the faculty an effective voice in the decisions that vitally affect the professional well-being of faculty and the academic and personal well-being of their students.

We the undersigned support UConn-AAUP’s proposals to protect and strengthen the core values of higher education. We call upon the Board of Trustees to support a contract improving faculty working conditions and supporting the faculty voice in academic decision-making. The UConn-AAUP is committed to fostering a strong academic environment that builds on our shared success.

Link to Petition

Edward C. Marth Mentorship Award

On Monday December 14, 2015, Associate Professor of Political Science, Shareen Hertel, was awarded with the Edward C. Marth Mentorship Award established by the UConn-AAUP to recognize the leadership and dedication of our former Executive Director Ed Marth. The award honors UConn Graduate Faculty members for their outstanding commitment to mentoring graduate students over the course of their careers. Professor Hertel joins a well respected cadre of previous recipients and is well deserving of this years award for her hard work and dedication.

Congratulations Professor Hertel!

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Response from President Herbst to UCONN-AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom

Statement made at 11/18 rally for Academic Freedom

UCONN-AAUP Academic Freedom Statement

On November 19, UCONN President Herbst responded with the following in a letter to the UCONN-AAUP office, ” I have received UCONN-AAUP’s statement regarding academic freedom which was hand delivered to my office on November 18, 2015. Thank you for your input”.

UCONN Faculty and Students Stand Up For Academic Freedom

UCONN Faculty and Students Stand Up For Academic Freedom 

On Wednesday November, 18, 2015 a group of 100 + faculty and students organized by the UCONN Chapter of the UCONN-AAUP demonstrated outside the office of UCONN President Susan Herbst for the first time in the Chapter’s history calling on the administration for action on academic freedom – the freedom to teach, to research, to critique the university, and to participate in public debate – without fear of retaliation.

In the current contract negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement, the UCONN Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has proposed language that would allow academic freedom to be added as a core element of the contract allowing for possible violations be brought through the grievance and arbitration process.

Academic freedom is a core founding principle of the AAUP and many universities have adopted policies and procedures based on AAUP’s 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom. It states, in part, “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends on the free search for truth and its free exposition”.

UCONN-AAUP Internal Organizer, Chris Henderson, said during the rally, “We know that academic freedom is the bedrock principle of higher education and we know that the administration shares that view with us but academic freedom in University Bylaws alone are simply not enough – in this day in age. We are asking that Academic Freedom violations have every avenue available for redress including but not limited to the grievance and arbitration process. In a more corporatized university and society – we need to make sure that academic freedom is not diminished in any way possible but is in fact strengthened and guaranteed”.

In a formal statement at the rally delivered by Evelyn Simien, Associate Professor of Political Science and the Africana Studies Institute stated, “As per student, state appropriations have dwindled and the voices of private donors have become louder once again, such freedoms are increasingly under attack at public universities, both at the national level and here in Connecticut.  To cite but a few examples, the struggles of Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Ivor van Heerden and Dominique Homberger at Louisiana State University, and David Demers at Washington State University have shown us that the issue of academic freedom is as important now as when the AAUP was founded over this very issue, 100 years ago”.

The crowd marched down to the President Office outside Gulley Hall chanting “What do we want…Academic Freedom…When do we want it…Now”.  A small group of faculty entered the building to deliver a formal letter from the UCONN-AAUP to President Herbst. However, President Herbst was unavailable due to her attendance at the earlier Board of Trustees meeting discussing diversity efforts on campus.

Diana Rios, UCONN-AAUP Chapter President and Associate Professor of Communication and El Instituto said,

“Several decades ago it was through the ideals of Academic Freedom and social justice that allowed students, staff, faculty and community members to envision and build programs of ethnic studies, gender studies and, many other emerging areas of scholarship and teaching, that are common disciplines today on campuses across the US.

What Academic Freedom means for someone who is teaching in the laboratory, lecture hall and even online is that the instructor can present challenging materials and ideas in order to inspire students to think out-of-the-box. In our ivory tower, we hope for students stretch beyond their comfort zone for intellectual development and personal growth. In our world there are well-known and lesser known controversies in the humanities, social sciences, engineering, business, and other fields—that all need to be explored and debated.

I stand here in defense of Academic Freedom.

We stand here for Academic Freedom”

Many AAUP Chapters have language in their collective bargaining agreements that gives faculty the right to grieve violations of academic freedom. In Connecticut, Connecticut State University (CSU) –AAUP agreement with the Board of Regents offers a mechanism of redress through a faculty-administration review panel and committee charged with investigating and addressing potential violations of academic freedom. UCONN-AAUP believes that the UCONN administration should support a similar effort.

 

Negotiations Observer Sign-Up’s

The following are open slots to be an observer during contract negotiations between the UCONN-AAUP and the administration.

Please note that the observers do not engage in negotiations and cannot ask questions or make comments at the table.

If you are available please email Chris Henderson at chenderson@uconnaaup.org

Wednesday, Nov 18th – 8 AM – 12 NOON – STUDENT UNION RMS #324/322 ( 1 opening) 

Monday, Dec 7th – 8 AM – 12 NOON – STUDENT UNION RMS #324/322 ( 2 openings) 

Wednesday, Dec 30th – 8 AM – 12 NOON – STUDENT UNION RMS #324/322 ( 1 opening) 

 

 

SEBAC Statement on Cutting State Workforce 11-2-15

“Because the richest 1% in Connecticut pay state and local taxes at about half the rate of the rest of us, further staff reductions and other budget cuts mean that residents won’t be getting the vital services they need. Reducing further a state workforce that is already stretched thin would be unfair to the public that depends on them.

“It’s also unfair to the maintenance worker and bridge inspectors ensuring our roads are safe for travel. It’s unfair to the social service workers who care for children with developmental disabilities and seniors struggling to remain in their home. It’s unfair to the criminal justice professionals sworn to keep our neighborhoods safe.

“But what’s most unfair is that the issue of taxes will be apparently limited to more breaks and giveaways for big corporations in discussions between the governor and legislative leaders. Our public service workers want our elected leaders to ask the tiny minority benefitting from the economy to step up and start paying their fair share. That’s how to prevent balancing the state’s budget on the backs of working families and the middle class.

“It’s also an important step toward reducing the biggest problem facing our state and country — income inequality.