Academic Bargaining in Hard Times

Editors' Note

As we suffer through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the theme of the first edition of the Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy (JCBA) - Academic Bargaining in Hard Times - appears extraordinarily relevant. Indeed, most labor leaders and managers agree, even in the best of times collective bargaining in the academy is difficult. Experienced negotiators know that there are always tough issues and sometimes even tougher personalities to deal with at the bargaining table. But when the economy is on the upswing the chances of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement are pretty good, providing, of course, that either side doesn't raise expectations too high. After all, a thriving economy provides the resources often needed to soften the toughest personality and paper over the most difficult issues. Money certainly isn't the ultimate panacea for settling a contract, but an abundance of dollars has a way of bringing people together.

On the other hand, as the former AAUP Director Ernie Benjamin argues in his short essay, Academic Bargaining in Hard Times, a sinking economy creates problems for higher education negotiators on both sides of the table. It's not easy to reach consensus on such tough issues as salary freezes, layoffs, tuition hikes, higher student faculty ratios, increased privatization, greater dependence on adjuncts and the accompanying loss of tenure and threats to academic freedom, and more dependence on private support, sometimes in the form of corporate intrusion into research and even teaching.

Do we need to say in this new journal that the U.S. economy is in trouble? It's pretty obvious. Just think of some of the aphorisms aging Boomers grew up with: "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel," was a mantra of the fifties. The Yankees are still doing okay, but have you been to Pittsburgh lately? How about the famous "What's good for General Motors is good for the United States." Didn't GM just file for bankruptcy?

Speaking of aging Boomers, many of us put off our retirements thanks to the near collapse of the stock market and the U.S. banking system. The feckless actions of our contemporary financiers dwarf the cupidity of Dreiser's Frank Cowperwood in the first volume of his Trilogy of Desire, The Financier. Boomers may have put off their retirement, but it may be worse for younger folks who may not even have a retirement program. To some, greed may still be good, but let's not forget that unfettered financial capitalism contributed to the decline of the stock market and forced the federal government to spend billions of tax dollars to save our financial system.

If the theme of bargaining during hard times is relevant, the essays are enlightening. Richard Boris, Director of the National Center for Collective Bargaining in Higher Education, opens with a short piece welcoming the inaugural issue of the JCBA. He writes about the need for an independent forum to discuss issues important to both labor and management and notes that public institutions of higher learning are under the gun. He calls for the JCBA to provide a long needed forum where labor and management could develop strategies to initiate a national conversation on the importance of the American academy to our national interest. In a short op ed essay, City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein agrees with Boris' depiction of the declining status of public higher education. Goldstein's response to declining public investment is an ingenious concept called the CUNY Compact. The Compact, according to Goldstein, will allow CUNY to rebuild the ranks of its full-time faculty, while also providing a rational tuition policy. The Compact is a way to achieve adequate funding even during the worst of times.

Professor William Zumeta provides data summarizing the state of the national economy and examines the impact of the crisis on public institutions of higher education. Zumeta concludes that the latest economic crunch has reinvigorated the long-term squeeze on state support for public higher education. He calls for Congress and the states to break out of the past budget patterns of cutting support to institutions of higher learning. Zumeta provides a clear picture of the decline in public support for higher education, but does not provide a road map to reverse the process.

Jeff Lustig attempts to give more direction to possible solutions to the crisis. Lustig's case study of the California state system also documents the decline in public support. Lustig argues that budgetary attacks are not the inevitable result of economic crises. Lustig argues that traditional lobbying of the state legislature is not enough. To resolve the issue of chronic budgetary cutbacks, a political solution that recognizes the ongoing attack on the public sector in general is needed. This approach, of course, differs with Gerald Turkel's understanding of the issue.

In a well argued essay, Turkel focuses on the relationship between the fiscal squeeze and the increased privatization of virtually every aspect of public higher education. He sees academics as potential opinion shapers and calls for more activism in the formation of coalitions that question the basic tenets of privatization.

There's no doubt we're living in tough economic times, and public unions as well as public institutions of higher learning are confronting extraordinary challenges. Perhaps the economic crisis will undermine labor-management relations, leading to more conflict and less cooperation. Then, again, the severity of the situation may shine a bright light on fundamental shared interests and bring labor and management together on a number of jugular issues, such as fighting for better budgets. We don't have a crystal ball to see the future, but with the new Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy we now have a forum to discuss and research the issues.

We welcome your comments and suggestions.


Jeffrey Cross, Co-Editor
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
Eastern Illinois University

William Scheuerman, Co-editor
Past President
National Labor College



Richard Boris


Practitioner Perspectives