Yesterday I sent this e-mail to the president of our local union, letting him know that I would be leaving the union and becoming a “fair share” member. I will now pay 85% of regular union dues (which help fund the regular operations of the union, from which I benefit), the other 15% supposedly being fees that go towards political activity which I refuse to continue to support. I was going to provide commentary, but I think I’ll just leave the letter as it is and respond in comments if there are any questions. One bit of clarification for readers who are unaware: the Inter-Faculty Organization (IFO) is the Minnesota-wide union representing state professors; the Faculty Association (FA) is SCSU’s local “branch” of the IFO.
As you may or may not have known, I have decided to leave the FA starting Fall 2012. This is mainly the result of issues I have with both the IFO and SCSU’s FA. My decision to leave was not an easy one. The monetary gain is less than $200 and it means I can no longer serve on committees that I have come to value. I would like to share a little bit of why I am doing it so that the you can understand some of the frustrations I’ve had and my reasons for leaving, and it might inform you as to why some faculty members choose to be fair-share members rather than full FA members.
Let me start by saying that I am proud of most of the work that the FA has done while I’ve been Treasurer these last two years. Faced with lower funding from the IFO, we really cut back on our spending and are now on a sustainable path for the future. You, Tom and Polly did a great job managing the spending and cutting out anything that isn’t absoultely necessary. The funding system from the IFO is in part why I am reluctant to pay the extra 15% to go from fair-share member to full FA member. SCSU sees virtually none of that money because of the IFO allocation regime. The vast majority of our funds go to payroll and we have little left for anything else. It’s literally down to popcorn and pretzels for our meetings. It seems to me that in the grand system of the IFO, we’re really in a horrible position. So my opposition to the IFO stems in part from there. If I could earmark my funds to go to SCSU’s FA, this story might be different.
As a Libertarian, I do not consider myself a pro-union person. I do recognize the importance of unions in higher education, so that professors are not punished for unpopular research or opinions. The line that I have heard often from the IFO in this “right to work” debate is that nobody forces you to join a union. But in the case of the IFO, it’s not that simple. In order to receive tenure and promotion, you have to fulfill all 5 criteria, one of which is service to the University and College. The most common way to do that is to serve on committees, and the only way to serve on university or college committees is to be a member of the FA, so we are essentially forced to join or suffer a lower chance of getting tenure/promotion. Now that I have tenure and it looks like I will be promoted to Associate Professor, this threat is no longer relevant. In fact, much of the time I have spent involved in FA activities is (sadly) not appreciated by my colleagues or the university, and as it has come at the expense of research time, it has actually prolonged my promotion by one year; my effort to help has cost me a few thousand dollars already. So unless the administration and my department reconsiders the relative importance of service (which I don’t foresee any time soon), it is clearly in my best interest at this point to leave the union and focus on research if I want to be promoted to full professor.
Aside from the issues of my own personal workload, there have been a few seminal events that have culminated in this decision, and I’d like to go through them so that perhaps you can understand what they have been like from my perspective.
First, the cutbacks and retrenchment that occurred recently were accompanied by several unfortunate things. Everyone I heard speak up about politics in the EC meetings trashed Republicans and praised Democrats. Even when my colleague King Banaian was voting on issues in favor of the IFO, Executive Committee members still insulted him as being “one of them.” I have heard things said about Republicans in EC meetings that, if they had been said about any group of people (minorities, women, etc.), would have been considered racist, sexist or homophobic. There is no respect paid to the fact that millions of Minnesota voters voted in “those people” to try to fix the deficit problem not by raising taxes but by cutting spending. It is as if the message being sent by the FA is: “You people who vote for Republicans are too stupid to understand how government should work or how important education is, so just shut up and give us your money so I can get a raise.” I’m a registered Libertarian who tends to vote Republican because of my focus on economics over social issues, and it pains me to hear people talk so horribly about people with whom they disagree. I do not believe that the solution to every problem is throwing more government money at it, and for that I am insulted by people who are supposed to represent my interests as a faculty member. It’s shameful, especially when it happens by members of EC.
Second, the reaction to the firing of Mahmood Saffari was absolutely ridiculous. In the face of zero evidence, the jump to blame his firing on racism would be comical if it weren’t so sad, and it made the FA look foolish to everyone outside the FA. Equally absurd was the idea that the retrenchment was going to inordinantly affect minority faculty members, and the FA had issues with that. First, a contract is a contract is a contract – unless something happens and the politically correct police don’t like it and want to change it, I guess. Second, the fact that most of the youngest professors here are minorities is a GOOD THING! It’s a sign that the administration is NOT racist, that it’s making positive steps to hire more minorities into open positions. And when our union rules dictate that last hired = first fired, so those recent minority hirings may have to go, suddenly the administration is seen as being insensitive to minorities? Ridiculous!
Third, I feel that the IFO has its hands in far too many political issues that have nothing to do with education. The IFO issues a decree against the Voter ID law, which has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to teach my students. (I never hear the IFO say anything about representing students – it’s always about representing faculty – but on this one issue, now we’re supposed to care about how students may be affected if they have to show an ID.) I e-mailed Russ Stanton about this and asked him why the IFO would take a position on something that has nothing to do with education. His reponse was that the IFO Board decided on it, and the IFO is a democracy, and if I don’t like it I have two choices: get involved or leave the IFO. I’ve been involved and seen how people with my political beliefs are treated, so I have chosen to do the latter. Please let Russ know that I have taken his advice and left, and I thank him for his encouragement. (The recent incident where he wanted to “out” whoever at SCSU was sharing his e-mails is just another reminder that he thinks politics first and education second.)
Fourth, a letter in the IFO March 2012 newsletter written by the current IFO Action Coordinator, Monte Bute, initially referred to Libertarians as “noxious” for supporting right-to-work legislation. I e-mailed him to express my disgust that he would use term for people in his own organization and he agreed it was inappropriate, so he changed it… to “deluded.” Thank you, but I don’t want my union calling me deluded because I disagree with them on something. The take-no-prisoners attitude at the IFO, where people who disagree with them are seen the enemy, is repugnant and I refuse to let my dollars fund a campaign against my own personal beliefs. Please let Monte know that his was the straw that broke this camel’s back, as his piece in the newsletter is what finally convinced me to leave.
If you want more people to join the IFO, you have to show how you are working for them and including everyone in the decision. In far too many ways, I believe that the IFO is working against me and actually considers me an enemy because I disagree with their idea that the best solution for the future of Minnesota is to raise taxes on some people to give it to others. I’m a public employee and my income comes from the citizens of the state of Minnesota. I know that every dollar of my income comes from someone else’s tax dollars, and I believe we have a moral duty to ensure that every dollar we spend is spent appropriately before we start asking for more of other people’s money.
I hope that at some point in the future I can consider re-joining the FA. I have worked on the TPR committee and served as Treasurer for the last few years. My experience has taught me much about how the union, the administration, and this university work. Having a seat at the table has been extremely informative, especially during the retrenchment process when my job was on the line. I will miss serving on some committees, but I feel at this point that I have to make a statement about what I find to be unacceptable in the union and this is the only way available for me to do this.