At the recent AFT-Oregon Convention, United Academics Representative John Davidson was awarded the John Connor Memorial Award for his selfless, spirited devotion to United Academics and inspiration to his fellow union activists.
John was nominated for the award by VP Ron Bramhall on behalf of the United Academics bargaining team. Ron submitted the following statement when nominating John:
In the course of negotiating our first Collective Bargaining Agreement, we had nine activists sitting at the table throughout the ten-month process. The whole team put in countless hours, exhibited unceasing energy, and dedicated themselves to strengthening the quality of education and research at the University of Oregon through building their union.
One of the team members, however, was doing all of this while also teaching and struggling with kidney failure. Our brother, John Davidson, is our nomination for the John Conner Memorial Award for his service to our union, his ability to elevate us all, his gentle but relentless pursuit of justice, and his selfless dedication to making the university a better place to work.
John first got involved with the United Academics organizing campaign in the summer of 2010. After ratification, John became member #15, signing his membership card on September 26, 2012. He has served as an Organizing Committee member, on the Bargaining Caucus, on the Bargaining Team, and is currently a member of our Representative Assembly.
The thing that really stunned and inspired all of us on the bargaining team was that John largely kept all of this to himself. We know now what he was going through over those months by piecing together bits of information here and there. He’d miss a bargaining team meeting one day and be apologetic about it the next time we saw him. Only later did we find out that John had missed the meeting because he was in so much pain that he couldn’t get out of bed. Only slowly did it dawn on us that our colleague who was doing just as much work as the rest of us, who was putting in just as many hours, who was so bright and so sharp, had a body that was slowly shutting down.
In the middle of the summer of 2013, John received the news that his sister was not going to be able to donate her kidney to him. The news was devastating on so many levels, not the least of which is that he had requested a leave of absence during the Fall term to have surgery. Now that the surgery was not happening, John found himself facing unemployment and without health insurance. Being who he was, he did not make a big deal out of it, but, almost without anything needing to be said, the bargaining team was immediately ready to do anything we could – and we could do a bit, given that the administration had to sit at a table with us 16 hours a week – to make sure John was taken care of as best he could be. Ultimately, his department found a way to keep John on the books to maintain his health insurance and see him though his surgery now scheduled for December.
Later that summer, when bargaining was at its most intense, John missed a couple of weeks of sessions. His loss was felt by the whole team. One of the roles on the team that John adopted was being a tireless advocate for the non-tenure-track faculty at the UO. John had worked as an Adjunct faculty member in the Political Science department for some years, so the subject was close to his heart. His absence made the rest of us more conscious of the need to look out for our non-tenure-track colleagues; it was as if each of us took on the responsibility of filling the hole that John’s absence on our team left – even in his absence he made us better bargainers, better unionists, and better people.
The John Connor award seeks to recognize a member who exhibits selfless, spirited enthusiasm, and devotion to the cause of the union, and serves as an inspiration to fellow union activists. In nominating John Davidson, we are nominating a man who matches these qualities exactly. There is not a single bargaining team member who does not feel that we are all better for having worked with John and that our union would not be the same without all that he did. We miss him very much and look forward to his return to activism.
John was not able to make it to Sunriver to accept the award in person, but sent the following statement, which was read to the assembled Delegates:
Dear AFT Oregon,
I’m deeply honored to be receiving the John Connor Memorial Award and very sorry that I cannot be there to receive it in person.
I wish I were half as deserving of this honor as my colleagues have suggested in the nomination form that they submitted. But the truth is: there has very rarely been much sacrifice involved in my recent union activities. Whether the time was spent on bargaining, organizing, constitution drafting, or other work, the rewards almost always exceeded the inconvenience.
As best as I can tell, the creation of this union has been profoundly inspirational for everyone involved in the effort. The respectful, democratic energy of the meetings, the empathy, the openness; the pleasure of manifesting shared principles alongside such skilled and committed colleagues – all these things have made this effort one of the most nourishing and rewarding experiences of my life. And I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself.
I’m happy to accept this award on behalf of everyone who’s been working to create this powerful new voice and vision for University of Oregon faculty. I know that we all wish to thank AFT and United Academics for the passionate and skilled staff assistance that was indispensable to the effort’s success. We will attempt to return the favor, by acting with strength, maintaining an independent voice, and adhering to an ethic of justice. And by supporting our colleagues throughout both academia and the public schools in their efforts to restore security, dignity and academic freedom to the educational environment.
Congratulations, John! We look forward to working with you in the coming years to continue building our union.