By SHANNON O. WELLS
Following a spirited discussion about the relationship between Pitt’s shared governance and the fledgling faculty union, Faculty Assembly approved a position statement clarifying and codifying its traditional and anticipated ongoing role regarding policymaking and “other matters of University shared governance.”
As part of her meeting report on Nov. 30, Senate President Robin Kear stressed the importance of the Senate’s role amidst a rift with the union based on the administration’s participation in shared governance policy discussions.
“Shared governance is here to make things better for faculty, for students, and we are here to put into operation the best possible versions, policies, recommendations, guidelines,” she said, noting this is done by considering “all the varying viewpoints: faculty in many different schools and units, our staff, our administrators and our students, our undergrad and graduate students and our postdocs, too.
“And we build understanding and consensus,” she added. “Is this an easy process? No. Is it perfect? No. Is it worth defending? Yes, I think so.”
Kear’s comments stem from a disagreement between shared governance and the union involving direct dealing — whether University management can talk to members of the union bargaining unit about mandatory bargaining subjects without the union’s involvement.
“The Union of Pitt Faculty’s threat of unfair labor practice charges if administrators participate in shared governance has had a chilling effect on administrators’ participation and the faculty voice of that consensus process,” Kear told Faculty Assembly.
Tyler Bickford, who leads the union’s bargaining committee, maintains the union is the exclusive representative for the bargaining unit on mandatory issues of wages, benefits and terms and conditions of work. However, a clear definition of “terms and conditions of work” hasn’t been established.
Bickford did not attend Wednesday’s Assembly meeting, but has agreed to meet with Kear and other union and Senate representatives on Dec. 5 to discuss the growing impasse and seek compromises.
The new shared governance position statement reiterates the fundamental role of Faculty Assembly and Senate Council, which “fosters discussion and maintains adequate communication channels among students, staff, faculty, administrative officers, and the Board of Trustees” on a range of matters affecting the welfare of Pitt and its constituents.
While Senate recommendations are advisory in nature, the statement clarifies they “are most often arrived at through a transparent, constructive and collaborative dialogue between the parties involved.” Referencing the recent “altered and evolving landscape affecting representation of some faculty interests,” the statement concludes that:
Following several suggestions to tweak wording of the bullet points, which Kear amended, the position paper was approved with 24 voting yes, six no, and zero abstentions. Although several voting Assembly members left the meeting because of its unusual length, enough remained to constitute a quorum, Kear said.
Many expressed support of the position paper and lamented the contentious relationship that’s emerged this fall. Incidents leading to the rift include a union-led protest rally in late October that was not announced to all bargaining unit members, ongoing concerns about excluding School of Medicine faculty from the unit, and a union request to remove an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) policy from a Faculty Assembly agenda and exclude administration officials from its discussion.
“Speaking for me, there are legal things that fall under collective bargaining, and we have no problem with that. That’s something that we are happy to let happen, and to support in that lane,” said Chris Bonneau, political science professor and the Senate’s immediate past president. “But there’s a whole bunch of things that aren’t that involve the governing of the University, because ‘working conditions’ can mean anything. The temperature in my office is ‘working conditions.’
“So for shared governance to work,” he added, “we have to be able to work with administration, with our colleagues across the University, and students and staff and postdocs. … The concern is that we’re being used as a pawn here, as a negotiating tactic, and we’re being squeezed. And that, I think, is not conducive to good governance with the University … for everybody.”
Carey Balaban, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, spoke passionately about the School of Medicine’s exclusion from bargaining unit involvement.
A large number of faculty who are covered by shared governance — including more than 2,600 in the School of Medicine — are not part of the bargaining unit, he said. “Are we considered to be faculty? Do you consider us to be part of administration or do you consider us to be irrelevant?”
Peter Bell, a chemistry professor and member of the union, claimed the bargaining unit was “legally forbidden” from including the School of Medicine, but added, “I think it’s our position that should the School of Medicine want to form a union, we’d be supportive of that.”
In the meantime, he suggested “working collaboratively” through shared governance as a viable venue for the School of Medicine to air concerns and seek protections.
“I think it would be worthwhile to bring those things up through the process here to make sure that our colleagues in the School of Medicine are protected or have those same benefits,” he said.
Bonneau, while clarifying that a legal technicality did create an initial hurdle to School of Medicine’s involvement, noted that the union ultimately objected to the administration’s desire to include the school’s faculty in the bargaining unit.
“Our interaction with administrators is being partially curtailed by legal action by the bargaining unit, and that’s a problem,” Balaban responded, noting that the School of Medicine comprises more than half of Pitt’s faculty. “And you need to understand that that is a fact … and I’d appreciate to hear the answer the bargaining unit has to that and maybe some action to resolve it, so that we’re still represented through shared governance.”
Alicia Melnick, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, was among those who questioned some language in the new shared governance statement.
“The first part of (the statement) comes straight from (the Senate’s) bylaws and from our website and from our mission, that makes a lot of sense to me, and I even understand and agree with making a statement recognizing that (the) union only represents partial faculty,” she said, noting her concern is with “the bulleted statements of ‘the (Senate) must remain unimpeded.’
“I think we have to recognize that there are efforts being made (to cooperate). The meeting on Monday (Nov. 5) is an effort being made to collaborate and move forward,” she added. “And I think that putting out a ‘must’ statement like this is a very strong stance to take days before that meeting takes place and may intentionally or unintentionally cause that meeting to not go as well as it potentially could.”
Nick Bircher, a bargaining committee member and professor in the nurse anesthesia program, pointed out that discussions of certain direct dealings — those based on both “mandatory and potentially permissive subjects of negotiation” — by administration with the Senate is the “basis on which you would form an unfair labor practice.”
Kear countered that the union could use other alternatives for negotiating policy that don’t exclude or “impede” shared governance entities.
“I fully agree,” Bircher said, “but the question is, how do you reconcile ‘completely unimpeded’ with mandatory topics of collective bargaining? You can’t have it both ways.”
Bonneau noted that shared governance’s position is “much of the policy process is not mandatory. … We’re able to have this debate in this open meeting with people like (Bircher) who are on the bargaining committee, and people who are also active in the union, like (Melnick and Peter Bell), because our meetings are open, and because we’re sharing information and trying to work together, something that we’ve struggled over several months to have that conversation with union leadership. So it’s great that you all come here and have this conversation,” he said.
“They should show some reciprocity there.”
In other business, the Faculty Assembly approved policies pertaining to:
Facilities and Grounds: Comprised of two parts, Operations and Maintenance, and Design and Construction Projects, the policy intends to establish the authority and responsibilities for the management of the University facilities and grounds; establish and codify a “standard of care” for operations and maintenance of facilities; and consolidate into a single policy from various prior “directives” regarding design and construction project management.
Faculty and staff relocation: To govern how the University reimburses departments and units that have decided to pay for specific moving expenses of new faculty or staff hires — both new hires and current employees transferring to a new University location — and covers moving household items and traveling. It does not cover lab or other research or teaching materials, which are already handled by another policy.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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