“In the most elemental form, the faculty has traded its voice in internal government and management for the union’s voice, and the union’s only legal role involves terms and conditions of employment for bargaining unit members,” reads a May 2012 memo written by the University of Oregon’s then-legal counsel Randy Geller, calling to abolish the UO’s Faculty Senate and advisory committees that are a part of the university’s “shared governance.” In shared governance, a university’s faculty has a say in how the school is run.
The confidential memo surfaced, thanks to Prof. Bill Harbaugh’s UO Matters blog, as the university and the United Academics faculty union prepare for bargaining this spring. The memo from Geller to interim president Bob Berdahl and other administrators was written shortly after the union was authorized, and after a bill in Oregon’s Legislature reorganized the Oregon University System and allowed the UO to have its own board of trustees.
The 10-page memo suggested, among other things, that union members be kept off committees, such as intercollegiate athletics, campus planning, environment, LGBT concerns and student conduct and community standards.
When EW asked if any action had been taken on Geller’s suggestions, UO spokeswoman Julie Brown responded, “I’m confused by your questions. You’re talking about a dated advisory memo between people who don’t work here at all or don’t have the same administrative roles any longer.”
Brown says, “If you’re asking if the university has operated differently since 2012 in regard to the University Senate, it has not. That body is still an important part of campus governance and faculty are centrally involved.”
UO professor emeritus Frank Stahl, who has long been involved with the Faculty Senate and shared governance, says, “This memo looks to me as though [Geller] has used unionization as an excuse for a broad attack on the governance rights (granted by the UO Charter) of the teaching faculty. His arguments look specious to me. I trust that the UO administration and/or the board do not take them seriously.”
UO Matters writes that “Geller’s proposal seems insane, but key parts of it have already been implemented,” pointing to “administrative advisory groups that Bob Berdahl and Mike Gottfredson set up to replace Senate committees,” such as the President’s Advisory Group on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Public Records Administrative Advisory Group.
The memo says, “The reality is that the role of the faculty, including bargaining unit members, has been significantly diminished, and we will not do nearly as much work by committee as we have done in the past, including via the Faculty Assembly or the University Senate.”
Using committees for decision making is an essential part of the UO’s shared governance, says Jane Cramer, a professor in political science and chair of the United Academics Diversity and Equity Committee. She says universities with their many stakeholders run better collectively, which “is nearly opposite of how good businesses are usually run, in efficient and top-down managerial style.”
Cramer says, “We know shared governance can work at a unionized university,” giving Rutgers University as an example. She adds that one reason many faculty voted to unionize was to strengthen shared governance and the Faculty Senate. “The Senate is broader than the union,” she says.
Cramer says, “We welcome that the UO had the enlightenment to get rid of” the sort of advice Geller was providing. Geller now works for Harrang Long Gary Rudnick, the law firm representing the Eugene School District 4J in a public records case against the R-G.