Friday, March 22, 2013

Letter from Wes Lynch

Dear Faculty Colleagues, 

Tenured and tenure-track (TT) MSU faculty members, who are currently included within the AFMSU bargaining unit, will soon have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to decertify MEA-MFT as our union representative.  Because this vote is so important to MSU's future, I'd like to explain why I support decertification. 

Before doing so I want to make clear that I do not oppose faculty unions.  I would gladly support a union for MSU if such a union acted in the best interests of the entire faculty and did so by facilitating open communication and democratic decision-making.  Unfortunately, based on its performance, I can no longer support MEA-MFT as my union representative.  In my opinion, MEA-MFT and the AFMSU leadership have been secretive and dishonest in their dealings with the faculty and have been entirely "undemocratic.

AFMSU distorts of the truth when it claims its decisions are made  “…by a majority vote of AFMSU members….”  While strictly true, the fact is that most decisions are made by small, unrepresentative, groups at meetings closed to everyone except “dues-paying members” and the number of dues-paying members is only about 50% of the TT faculty included in the MSU bargaining unit.  And although AFMSU claims more than 50% of these pay dues, the actual number is unclear because AFMSU does not disclose this information.  Furthermore, only a very small subgroup of these "members" actually attends the meetings where voting takes place.  Thus, "majority vote” actually means a majority of dues-paying members who attend these meetings.  Often as few as 20 faculty members are making decisions for more that 400 members of the bargaining unit.  Furthermore, keep in mind that a large number of TT faculty members, specifically those in MSU's Extension Service, were originally excluded from the bargaining unit in order to increase the chance of MEA-MFT’s winning the certification vote.  In two prior certification attempts, when these members were included in the bargaining unit, MEA-MFT failed to win certification. 

A proposed new workload policy offers a specific example of the secrecy surrounding AFMSU's decision-making; this decision will have a major impact the entire TT faculty.  Before its recent postponement, discussions were underway between the MSU administration and a select (unknown) group of AFMSU representatives, to introduce a new “faculty workload policy” for TT faculty into the next CBA; the new CBA will take effect next year if decertification fails.  I would venture to guess that most of my TT colleagues know little or nothing about this important negotiation, which was abruptly postponed when it became clear the decertification vote would take place.  As initially outlined by the Provost's Office, this policy will define a standard workload for all TT faculty at MSU based on a teaching load of 8 classes (24 credits) per year.  Reductions in this teaching-based workload -- and presumably any variations among individuals or academic disciplines -- will depend solely on what other activities each faculty member is engaged in.  Presumably this would include such typical and critical faculty activities as research and service, but perhaps also other activities yet to be defined.  It remains unclear how these other activities will be counted toward the faculty member's overall workload, although this decision will probably have a major impact on each of us.  Keep in mind that the method of counting other work, or even who will determine what counts, is yet to be negotiated by a small group of AFMSU members who make up its bargaining team.  Now I'm sure AFMSU’s leadership will promise full and open discussions of these important workload questions with "all AFMSU members;" but remember that more than half of all the TT faculty are not "members."  And if past performance is any indication, even "dues-paying members" will not be privy to the critical negotiations between MSU administration and the AFMSU bargaining team.  Why not?  Because, as they argued previously during negotiation of the original CBA, revealing any details about the negotiation would "weaken AFMSU's bargaining position."  Thus, the outcome of these negotiations won't me known until they are completed; and even then they will be packaged into the new CBA, which "members" will have a single opportunity to either accept or reject – presumably again at a closed meeting attended by a small fraction of all TT faculty.  Finally, I would note that this new workload policy might very well nullify or otherwise modify existing Letters of Hire, which most of us signed when we were initially hired by MSU. 

Finally, let me correct one more AFMSU claim.  The MSU administration has never been the “unilateral decision maker on campus” that AFMSU claims it will become if decertification succeeds.  The past successes of MSU have depended critically on the quality, vision, and leadership of the faculty and particularly on the leadership of the Faculty Senate.  All members of the central administration with whom I have dealt over my 33 years at MSU have recognized the critical importance of the TT faculty to the success of the University.  They have always been responsive to faculty concerns, including concerns about the fair and equitable distribution of salary, merit raises and other benefits.  I assume this will remain true in the future, as it has been in the past, whether or not we are represented by MEA-MFT.  In fact, AFMSU has stifled the conversation between faculty and administration, which has reduced the opportunity for the kind of rich conversation needed so we can all work effectively together for the benefit of our students and the state. 

For these reasons, and many others that I'd be happy to discuss, I plan to vote FOR decertification.  Whether you agree with me or not, please vote.  Only if we hear from a “real majority" of the TT faculty will we know what's best for us and for MSU.

Wes Lynch 
Wesley Lynch, Ph.D.