August 23rd, 2012

Assaults by Outsiders on the Teaching Profession are Relentless

Professors and K-12 public school teachers alike are under unprecedented assault. At a time when good paying jobs are at a premium, the appearance of guaranteed employment for poorly performing teachers is misrepresented by union busters as indefensible. The claim is mostly false because teachers with seniority and tenured professors CAN be terminated.

The teacher unions, NEA, AFT and AAUP for professors, have much less clout to influence public opinion than billionaires. Everyone thinks they know how to reform schools because we all attended one. Well, eating at a restaurant doesn’t make one a chef.

One billionaire is Phillip Anschutz whose oil and gas money started Walden Media the creators of the pro-voucher/anti-public school documentary Waiting for Superman. Another is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who supported the documentary.

Walden Media releases a major theatrical movie Sept. 28 starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal called Won’t Back Down. “Based on a real story” that hasn’t happened yet, shot in Pittsburgh, PA, it introduces the country to a new kind of state law that allows disgruntled parents to take over a public school which can later be privatized as a charter school.

The only state with such a “parent trigger law” is California, not Pennsylvania. Many mayors declared support for these laws, including Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who previously served as attorney for the teachers union. Unions are opposed to the laws.

Not having seen the movie, I can’t comment, but a New York Times report about the movie, quotes teacher and union member Holly Hunter wondering “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”

Watch for the movie and its effect on shutting down bargaining rights for teachers.

Higher Education
Another first is underway at Wayne State University in Detroit. The president, a retired Ford Motor Co. executive, is negotiating a new contract with unionized (AAUP-AFT Local 6075) professors. The myth is that tenured professors can never be fired and they quit performing the instant they receive tenure until retirement decades later. Actually, there are grounds for firing an incompetent (and even cruel bullying) professor. From Aaron Petkov’s report in Labor Notes:

The proposed contract would allow the administration to remove faculty in cases of “the substantial curtailment or discontinuance of a program which removes any reasonable opportunity for using a faculty member’s services,” a “failure to meet professional responsibilities,” a “failure to perform academic assignments competently,” “financially based reduction in force,” and “intentionally causing injury to persons and/or damage to property, forcibly interrupting the normal daily teaching, research or administrative operation of the University or directly inciting others to engage in such actions.”

Under the new provisions, the employing University can act unilaterally. The terminated prof would have only the option of filing a post-termination grievance with possible arbitration. If the professor participated in a campus protest of any sort, she or he could be fired. So much for “academic freedom.” Most relevant is the employer’s ability to cut simply based on a “financial basis.” Given the very real economic pressures on the state-sponsored university, austerity measures are certain to be part of Wayne State’s future. Tuition for students rose from $3,970 to $10,188 in 12 years.

A 6-person committee is reviewing the proposed threats to tenure. The current contract has been extended for now.

However, capital projects continue unabated on campus.

[On June 25, 2012] Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation to authorize and assist construction for 18 projects at public universities and community colleges across Michigan. The combined long-term costs of the projects are estimated at about $613 million, according to the House Fiscal Agency. The state’s share of the costs would be nearly $305 million. Snyder plans to sign the capital outlay bill at Wayne State University. WSU plans a $90 million biomedical research building, with completion expected in January 2015.

According to Labor Notes

Other universities have been experimenting with terminating tenured faculty, including the eight-campus University of Louisiana system last year. Florida State University tried to lay off 21 tenured faculty two years ago, but the move was blocked by an arbitrator.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 at 11:30 am and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, The New America, Unions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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