House Panel Removes Faculty Union-Busting Language
by John McNay

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee removed union-busting language from HB 64, the budget bill under heavy criticism by Ohio faculty.

How this language, straight out of 2011’s Senate Bill 5, got into the budget bill is something of a mystery. No one is claiming credit for it. In fact, everyone seems to be running from it. The Inter-University Council (the council of four-year college and university presidents) denies any involvement. Several university presidents have denied any involvement.

The language comes from a Supreme Court decision in 1980, NLRB v. Yeshiva University, which found that faculty at private universities who engaged in service on committees (like curriculum, hiring, or planning) were management employees and thus ineligible for union membership. While that ruling has crippled unionization at private colleges and universities, it has never been applied to public employees at state college and universities.

The ruling, after all, completely misunderstands the role of faculty at our colleges and universities. While faculty members volunteer to serve on many committees for many purposes, the faculty voice is always only a recommendation. Faculty, alone or in committees, lack the executive power to make final decisions. In faculty union contracts across the state, it is made clear that this power resides with the administration of the institution and not with the faculty.

This is not just a difference of opinion, it is a difference of fact. Universities would look very different if faculty actually had decision-making power. There would be much more focus on academic programs and less on office palaces. More focus on low tuition and less focus on administration positions soaking up hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

This week, the Dayton Daily News published a story reporting that a financial manager at Ohio State University, Geoff Chatas, will stay at OSU with a cool $1 million bonus and a extraordinary salary of over $680,000 after reversing an earlier decision announcing that he would leave to work for the firm that had agreed to buy OSU parking services. Many people called for an ethics investigation but Chatas is conveniently now staying at OSU. A few years ago when Gregory Williams, president of the University of Cincinnati, left his position under a shadow, he received a $1.3 million bonus. The trustees at Ohio University recently contemplated buying a new mansion for its president for $1.2 million. Meanwhile, several universities are busily investing money in venture capital funds and other risky ventures rather than students.

It seems hard to believe that this kind of misuse of university resources can continue unabated across the state’s university system without any kind of penalty.

None of these things would be happening if faculty made decisions at Ohio’s universities. Yet, these kind of factors, including administrative bloat, soaring athletic program costs, and inadequate state funding are the primary reasons for higher costs for students.

If this Yeshiva language was not removed from the budget bill, many faculty would choose not to do service, or would do it under protest, and the work of the institution would be badly disrupted. Further, most of the service work that faculty do is not something for which they are compensated. It is, largely, free labor. Given the emphasis the legislature gives to promoting efficiency at Ohio’s colleges and universities, why would they want to undermine such a practice that is, in fact, brimming with efficiency?

More importantly, faculty involvement in decisions make for a better functioning university. If a college is planning to hire a new professor of macro-economics, doesn’t it make sense to ask other economists to evaluate the suitability of an applicant for the job? If you are aiming to create a new program in the business school on entrepreneurship, wouldn’t it be wise to use business faculty to choose the best and the brightest to lead the new program? And for the crucial introductory courses in math and composition, shouldn’t expert faculty in those areas have influence in the decision of who to hire?

There is no legitimate argument for making these important decisions blindly or for penalizing faculty because they are making use of their expertise.

Since imposition of the language would undermine our universities and would not make them more efficient, we are left to conclude that some in the legislature just simply wanted to take a swipe at unionized faculty across Ohio.

We know that genuine problems exist at Ohio’s colleges and universities that are making attendance more expensive for students. But when, on average, less that a quarter of college and university budgets are spent on faculty salaries and benefits, it is not possible to blame faculty for the high price of attending college.

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John McNay is a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, president of the Ohio Conference, American Association of University Professors, and author of “Collective Bargaining and the Battle of Ohio: The Defeat of Senate Bill 5 and the Struggle to Defend the Middle Class”

 
  • jr6020

    The Chatas story needs investigating. He brokered that deal with the firm that got the OSU parking services contract then announced plans to resign as financial manager for OSU to work for that same firm. Mysteriously, OSU agrees to up his compensation to keep him there. Were possible ethics charges the reason he backtracked? Randall Meyer, the current Ohio IG, needs to step up and initiate an inquiry…

  • Brian T. Higgins

    Look at the names of the members of the House Finance Committee. Of those members, who put forward a bill in the spring of 2013 attempting to gut public employee unions? I am not stating, merely speculating.

  • Eric

    You forgot to mention that committee service, while not necessarily required, is generally a prominent component of performance evaluations – especially for tenure and promotions. That makes it very easy for administrators to take advantage of junior faculty members by ‘recruiting’ them for many committees with the implicit threat that declining to serve would reflect poorly on their ‘commitment to the organization’.

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