Reclaiming the Promise of Higher Education

At the recent Higher Education Conference, the American Federation of Teachers showed the attendees a video describing the union’s vision of reclaiming the promise of higher education. The video lays out AFT’s agenda for improving our colleges and universities, providing greater access for all of our students, and mitigating against the growing student debt crisis.

It also features two of our union officers right in the beginning.

 

UO Senate unanimously passes Academic Freedom Policy for faculty, staff, and students

Today the UO Senate unanimously passed an academic freedom policy that, if signed by UO President Gottfredson, will be among the strongest in the country.

The new policy gives free-speech protection to all UO faculty, students, and non-faculty employees for the purposes of teaching, research, shared governance, and public service, and states that “The academic freedoms enumerated in this policy shall be exercised without fear of institutional reprisal.”

The Senate’s “Ad Hoc Academic Freedom Committee” was chaired by United Academics union President Michael Dreiling (Sociology). Securing a robust academic freedom policy has been a top priority for UAUO, and we applaud the Senate for what it accomplished today, after many months of work.

The motion is posted on the Senate website here, currently in draft form. Under UO’s Constitution the president has 60 days to either sign the policy, or trigger a veto or revision process that could lead to an assembly of the entire faculty.

The draft policy would have allowed the UO administration to weaken the shared governance free speech protections for students and non-faculty employees. But after a discussion of the importance of  the role of these groups in the university’s shared governance, the Senate voted unanimously to change the language so as to be clear that all “members of the university community”, i.e. students and non-faculty employees such as staff and administrators, would also “have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy or practice”.

The final language approved by the Senate is as follows:

Policy on Academic Freedom

The University of Oregon encourages and supports open, vigorous, and challenging debate across the full spectrum of human issues as they present themselves to the university community. The University of Oregon protects free speech through Policy No. 01.00.16. This policy on Academic Freedom builds on these existing commitments by recognizing the special contexts of scholarship, teaching, governance, and public service.

SECTION 1

a. SCHOLARSHIP.  The University’s research mission requires that members of the UO community have autonomous freedom to conduct research and produce creative work, and to publish and disseminate that work, limited only by the standards and methods of accountability established by their profession and their individual disciplines.

b. TEACHING. The University’s responsibility to help students to think critically and independently requires that members of the university community have the right to investigate and discuss matters, including those that are controversial, inside and outside of class, without fear of institutional restraint.  Matters brought up in class should be related to the subject of courses or otherwise be educationally relevant, as determined primarily by the faculty member in charge of the class.

c. POLICY AND SHARED GOVERNANCE. Members of the university community have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy or practice, whether acting as individuals or as members of an agency of institutional governance.

d. PUBLIC SERVICE. Public service requires that members of the university community have freedom to participate in public debate, both within and beyond their areas of expertise, and to address both the university community and the larger society with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, cultural, or other interest. In their exercise of this freedom, university community members have the right to identify their association or title, but should not claim to be acting or speaking on behalf of the University unless authorized to do so.

SECTION 2

These freedoms derive immediately from the university’s basic commitment to advancing knowledge and understanding. The academic freedoms enumerated in this policy shall be exercised without fear of institutional reprisal. Only serious abuses of this policy – ones that rise to the level of professional misbehavior or professional incompetence – should lead to adverse consequences.  Any such determinations shall be made in accordance with established, formal procedures involving judgment by relevant peers.

John Davidson Wins John Connor Memorial Award

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.

Election Results, Convention Delegates, March 3rd, 2014

In accordance with the UAUO Constitution and Bylaws, the election for delegates representing our union is now closed.  The elected delegates serve to give the union a voice at meetings of the state and national unions with which we are affiliated: the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). 

These bodies have been our statewide and national advocates for decades, and their effective advocacy was part of the reason there will not be an anti-worker initiative on the ballot in Oregon this fall. Below are the election results.

American Federation of Teachers Oregon Convention

United Academics will pay for Top 8 vote-getters.

  1. Michael Dreiling
  2. Debra Merskin
  3. Bill Harbaugh
  4. Deb Olson
  5. Yvonne Braun
  6. Ron Bramhall
  7. Eric Mentzel
  8. Karen Creighton
  9. Carmen Rivas

American Federation of Teachers National Convention

United Academics will pay for Top 5 vote-getters.

  1. Michael Dreiling
  2. Debra Merskin
  3. Bill Harbaugh
  4. Yvonne Braun
  5. Ron Bramhall
  6. Eric Mentzel
  7. Karen Creighton

AAUP Annual Conference

United Academics will pay for Top 5 vote-getters.

  1. Michael Dreiling
  2. Debra Merskin
  3. Bill Harbaugh
  4. Yvonne Braun
  5. Eric Mentzel
  6. Carmen Rivas
  7. Nathan Dunn

UNITED ACADEMICS RECEIVES MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AWARD

At the UO’s recent celebration luncheon for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our bargaining team was awarded a 2014 Equity and Inclusion Innovation Award. The award honored the team’s efforts to include in the contract a requirement that all faculty (tenure-related and non-tenure related) include a discussion of their contribution to institutional equity and inclusion in their promotion statements.   

Text of the speech given by Professor Yvonne Braun on behalf of the United Academics Bargaining Team on accepting the 2014 Equity and Inclusion Innovation Award:

Thank you, Vice President. I am deeply honored and humbled to accept this award on behalf of my tremendous faculty colleagues on the United Academics bargaining team, and I also want to recognize our two chief negotiators, Dave Cecil and Mike Mauer.

I know I speak for the whole team when I say this award is particularly meaningful to us as our whole approach to bargaining was rooted in the values of equity, transparency, fairness, and inclusion. Our hope was that we could play a small role in bringing greater alignment between these values and institutional policies and practices in our university community.

One specific way is having faculty include contributions to institutional equity and inclusion in their promotion statements. For us, this was in response to a series of interrelated concerns.

First, we were concerned about issues related to service. As you all know, service expectations are not uniformly applied nor are the obligations to serve equally shared.

Second, and relatedly, we were concerned about the patterns associated with disproportionate service, such that women and faculty of color often do much higher levels of service. Specifically, institutional strategies to diversify and be more inclusive have relied on the work of a small group of committed faculty to support these institutional goals.

Considering both of these points, we wanted to create avenues for greater recognition of faculty work that serves these institutional goals, in recognition of their importance to the institution and our university community.

We also aimed to regularize service expectations for all faculty by creating mechanisms that serve to incentivize, validate and reward such service via inclusion in critical institutional policies such as promotion. 

In the longer term, our hope as faculty and as members of United Academics is that this will encourage all members of our university community to consider how we all share the responsibilities, the opportunities, and the benefits of building a more equitable and inclusive institution.

Thank you again for the honor of this award.

United Academics’ Bargaining Team Honored with MLK Award

At the university’s recent celebration luncheon for Martin Luther King, Jr., our bargaining team was awarded a 2014 Equity and Inclusion Innovation Award for the team’s efforts to ensure that service is recognized and honored during the promotion review process. Our Agreement includes a provision allowing both non-tenure-track and tenure-related faculty to include a discussion of their contribution to institutional equity and inclusion in their promotion statements.  

Text of the speech given by Professor Yvonne Braun on behalf of the United Academics Bargaining Team on accepting the 2014 Equity and Inclusion Innovation Award:

Thank you, Vice President. I am deeply honored and humbled to accept this award on behalf of my tremendous faculty colleagues on the United Academics bargaining team, and I also want to recognize our two chief negotiators, Dave Cecil and Mike Mauer.

I know I speak for the whole team when I say this award is particularly meaningful to us as our whole approach to bargaining was rooted in the values of equity, transparency, fairness, and inclusion. Our hope was that we could play a small role in bringing greater alignment between these values and institutional policies and practices in our university community.

One specific way is having faculty include contributions to institutional equity and inclusion in their promotion statements. For us, this was in response to a series of interrelated concerns.

First, we were concerned about issues related to service. As you all know, service expectations are not uniformly applied nor are the obligations to serve equally shared.

Second, and relatedly, we were concerned about the patterns associated with disproportionate service, such that women and faculty of color often do much higher levels of service. Specifically, institutional strategies to diversify and be more inclusive have relied on the work of a small group of committed faculty to support these institutional goals.

Considering both of these points, we wanted to create avenues for greater recognition of faculty work that serves these institutional goals, in recognition of their importance to the institution and our university community.

We also aimed to regularize service expectations for all faculty by creating mechanisms that serve to incentivize, validate and reward such service via inclusion in critical institutional policies such as promotion.

In the longer term, our hope as faculty and as members of United Academics is that this will encourage all members of our university community to consider how we all share the responsibilities, the opportunities, and the benefits of building a more equitable and inclusive institution.

Thank you again for the honor of this award.