volume 39, number 2
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Editorials

From the Editor

—David Waldstreicher , Faculty Herald Editor


I hesitate to comment on the ongoing negotiations between the university and TAUP. I know that there are some veteran readers (and former editors!) of the Faculty Herald who would prefer that the Herald be a union-free zone, and fear, with some reason, that a balanced discussion is unlikely if not impossible in an essentially pro-faculty forum.

Yet I am disturbed by what seems to me to be an evident trend, not so much in the negotiations themselves (which seemed until the past few weeks to be proceeding with some movement on both sides), but in the tenor of the fight in public.

Here’s what I’m seeing. The union and the faculty who support the union are behaving like a union does: holding rallies, signing petitions, putting out leaflets. There are electronic versions of TAUP’s updates, but otherwise the operation is appropriately low tech, low cost, reasoned and careful. The union has its own language, to be sure – proposed payments in lieu of dues by members of the bargaining unit who don’t join TAUP are called “fair share” (rather than the perhaps more legally precise or neutral term, “agency fee”). Early on, union leaders (or I should say, our colleagues, since they are all faculty members) occasionally stated their sense of a lack of urgency on the part of the administration’s team. But these words were leavened by acknowledgements of a more pleasant aura than the last round of negotiations in 2004, as well as an appreciation for President Hart’s public statements on faculty governance and standards.

The union’s measured statements, especially in print, reflect our identity in this regard. Our union is run mostly by faculty members who still have to do their teaching and other work while these negotiations drag on longer and longer. Sure, the unions and the faculty are self-interested. But we cannot, without the sacrifice of our reputations, distort the truth – and I have seen no convincing evidence that the union has done so in any way.

The administration, however, has an increasingly professional, corporate-style publicity arm that uses the university’s biggest guns – press releases, the use of email, the Temple Times – to make its case. In those venues, we are getting expertly spun statements about finances and about the potential impact on faculty of a move toward merit and performance pay and away from across the board increases. We are hearing more and more about budget difficulties that should limit faculty raises to less than what would meet the recent annual inflation rate – but nothing in these articles about proposed cuts to the many exciting and expensive ventures that we have heard so much about in other venues. Thirty-eight million dollars over five years for Project Enterprise – but hold the line on another million or two more for faculty each year. Now we hear of impending belt-tightening because of cuts from the state – though in more muted tones it is admitted that our enrollments continue to rise and are not likely to drop in the near future.

We may be watching a shift in the larger culture finally reaching us on Broad Street. When I was in grad school at Yale during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the university treated its unionized workers awfully – as everyone seemed to acknowledge – leading to labor strife every couple of years at contract time. Graduate students, who were woefully undersupported by contemporary standards, built a strong unionization movement – ultimately unsuccessful in gaining recognition as a union from Yale or the National Labor Relations Board, but quite successful at gaining huge increases in teaching assistant stipends and health benefits. The reason both Locals 34 and 35 and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization achieved so much (though sapped by outsourcing and job re-categorization) was not just their strong organizing of prospective members: it was their ability to win the hearts and minds of the students and, initially, the faculty. Back then, Yale’s administration hardly even tried to make its case in the media; when it did, the results were howlers. Repeatedly, Yale preferred to buy out the unions and the graduate students when the strife got just too embarrassing.

Now the corporate (if public) university is willing to spend to control the image, hiring more and more people whose very jobs depend on how boldly and effectively they can hold the line against the faculty. (At Yale, President Benno Schmidt failed – and was pushed out; Judith Rodin and Richard Levin managed to forestall unionization by the grad students as deans of the Graduate School; they became the next presidents, respectively, at Penn and Yale.)

The representation of our needs and demands as a case of special pleading has recently been taken up by media, legal, and human resources professionals whose job it is to make the administration look good, by many (if not any) means possible.  Particularly disturbing in this regard were Temple negotiator Human Resources Vice President Deborah Hartnett’s comments in response to a lead editorial in the Temple News (Dec. 2, Nov. 18). Replying to Anthony Ranere’s statement that Temple wanted “complete control” over who receives merit pay increases, Hartnett cited faculty committee involvement in recommendations – as if the final say on anyone’s raise under merit or performance pay is not, and would not continue to be, in the hands of the deans and the provost. Hartnett went further and termed the “open performance pay review process” akin to tenure and promotion and thus likely to “attract the best scholars and teachers to Temple. Pay increases based on performance can be likened to the grades you earn in school. How fair would the process be if a professor were to say to your class that no matter how much or how little work you do, you’re all getting the same grade?”

Now, I don’t much mind being compared to undergraduates, or my tenure and pay compared to a grade--if the metaphor works. But it doesn’t work at all. Grading is based on the very professional judgment and knowledge that we get paid for, but what would be the equivalent of getting no raise over a period of years and thus having inflation eat away at one’s salary? Flunking? Most students who flunk at Temple do so because they don’t show up or do the work – surely not true of the 43% of faculty who didn’t get merit pay this year. If Hartnett made an argument like that in a paper for my class, I’d give her a C. But I still hope she gets a cost-of-living increase.

The rhetoric of this negotiating season reveals a harsh truth of today’s academy. The middle ground of equality among teacher-scholars is narrowing rapidly. In the future mega-university there’s a place for a small number of research stars at high salaries and a large number of teachers at low salaries. The middle ground – the ground where faculty traditionally meet and, not coincidentally, govern themselves because of their common interests and vision – is being deemed irrelevant, selfish, outmoded. It is no coincidence that such language flows so smoothly from human resource professionals. It is the logic of the corporate university.

Especially because salaries for new faculty are determined by “market conditions,” across the board increases are the only thing that keeps a measure of equality in the system, an equality that is needed for us to function as a faculty, and not just a collection of employees of the corporation who have nothing to do with one another aside from and the transmission of orders from above. Our salaries, benefits, and perks are already unequal and growing more so in ways that sap collegiality. A mostly merit pay system of raises would exacerbate such inequalities, creating the irony of rising inequality among the (lessening number) of tenure-track and full time faculty at a “people’s university.” And forget taking on an ambitious research project that might take ten or twenty years to reach fruition. Who can afford to forego the short-term rewards of an annual merit system in order to produce the kind of work that will last longer than our lifetimes?

Why all this pressure on the merit and “performance” system to “attract the best scholars and teachers to Temple”? Why not simply continue to hire at competitive or high salaries – which seemed to work in 2004–2006? One unspoken cause here is the small number of endowed chairs at Temple outside of certain of the professional schools. Across the river at U Penn, there are scholars in my field who received endowed chairs after publishing only one book (usually sufficient only for tenure). George Mason University – a growing urban public university – just created an endowed chair in Islamic Studies with the money we refused for that purpose. Temple has had world-famous scholars in the humanities and social sciences who have left after being offered such chairs. And we still have folks who deserve them. They should get what they deserve – not just bigger raises at the expense of their colleagues.

We all have to eat and pay rent. Everyone who does an adequate job deserves a cost of living increase and, arguably (and traditionally), a gradual rise in salary based on experience and service. What the university calls merit pay is also a system that involves a significant accretion of power to deans and department chairs, and a lot of administrative time (read: money) that could be better spent. Most of all, the presumption that unless new merit and performance pay practices are introduced, and across-the-board increases curtailed, the faculty will not work hard and excel, seems to undercut Temple’s own claims about its faculty, and our recent success in recruiting more and more students. A little less spin and a little more consistency would go a long way to resolving the current impasse.

  

 

Letters to the Editor

12/12/2008—Regina Bannan, Professor of English Literature, College of Liberal Arts

"I was delighted to open my email this week and to see, for the first time as an adjunct, the link for the online Faculty Herald."

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12/10/2008—Arvind V. Phatak, Carnell Professor of Management & International Business

"I support Professor Maurice Wright's call for a thorough investigation by the Faculty Senate of the decision to reject IIIT's offer to endow a chair of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religion."

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—Steve Zelnick, Professor of English Literature, College of Liberal Arts

"Temple University should be well positioned on enrollments to weather the economic storm...Our problem continues to be quality."

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Philip R. Yannella, Professor of English and American Studies

"I have noticed over the years that commentators on college student learning “styles,” instructional “delivery” methods, interactivity, and so forth, rarely mention student effort."

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The Faculty of the Department of Religion

"The Department of Religion has yet to speak out publicly about President Hart’s perceivably purposeful inaction upon the offer from the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) of an endowment for a chair in Islamic Studies last academic year, but Professor Saul Axelrod’s letter prompts such a response especially because it does not present an accurate picture of the developments in question."

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Maurice Wright, Professor of Music Composition, Boyer College of Music and Dance

"By conflating events, Professor Saul Axelrod misleads the reader in his letter to the Herald published in the October issue."

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