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The Point: The Battle of the Status Quo vs. Health Promotion


Greetings, Colleagues:

I think this is a tough time of year for many of us, so I want to start with a note of encouragement: I hope in these increasingly dark days of December you are doing all you can to take care of yourself—for your own sake and as the necessary predicate for taking care of each other. We cannot be good teachers, friends, family members, or union comrades without a commitment to health—that is, to what our campus upper administration has been feverishly attempting to coopt as part of its increasingly insupportable rebranding of our university as a “leading antiracist and health promoting institution.”

Why do I call this “insupportable?” 

Simple: I watched every compelling minute of two expanded bargaining sessions this past week.

The second one, held last Friday, was especially revelatory. You will hear more about it this week, but I wanted to give a quick recap while the intensity of my disappointment in the administration’s bargaining team is still fresh. I can index my feelings about administration’s cruel intransigence by writing one phrase that numerous members of their team used over and over again—so frequently that it is almost impossible to imagine that it was not a previously agreed upon talking point. That phrase? “Status quo.” 

You know what’s amazing? Administration members not only deployed this phrase regularly—not once. not twice, not three times (I lost count)—but they used it with a positive valence. I was so proud of the member of our core bargaining team who ultimately interjected to say that “it is shameful to talk about the status quo” in a positive light in this pandemic moment. I also appreciated the member of our team who made it clear that we are not interested in “codifying the status quo” when that status quo includes so many elements of exploitation. The most unintentionally hilarious moment of the session came in response to this, when the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources said “I don’t think we are looking to cement exploitation into the contract.”  (I think the remarkably low pay and relative lack of job security for Non Tenure Track Faculty and administration’s continuing insistence on no cap on weekly hours for librarians might indeed parse as Exploitation Cement to plenty of us.)

At this session, administration intensified its commitment to the immiseration of UMB librarians—and even tried to create distance between faculty and librarians in one insulting sleight-of-hand proposal that would at once offer a small benefit to faculty but withhold it from librarians: try harder next time! We are a union—sticking together is right there in our name.

But it is a different item I want to focus on as I close this week’s column. If you have a minute, look at item 27.10 in our contract. It has to do with tuition discounts for unit members and their families. The FSU made the most modest of proposals to change the wording of this—essentially to guarantee that if a unit member is terminated after their dependent has enrolled (as has happened to NTT faculty recently), their dependent can continue at the discounted rate for that year.  

If that very small benefit is not “health promoting” I don’t know what is—imagine the chaos in the household of a terminated FSU members whose child’s college career is thus also put into jeopardy.  But the university’s Senior Director of Labor and Employee Relations rejected it out of hand, making vague noises about this being a system-wide policy that UMB’s upper administration is not interested in challenging. How about going to bat for our most vulnerable community members instead?

I was hoping the provost might have jumped in at this moment to at least offer some words to explain how the university administration is promoting the health of such students, members of our community, who have been enrolled at the university, but now may need to withdraw because of their parents’ employment status.  But no such luck. In fact during much of the session, the provost seemed much more interested in splitting hairs than articulating moral leadership.

For instance, a discussion of a different issue—how various departments calculate course releases—got sidetracked when a member of our team asked why the provost called this an “insignificant” issue.  His response was organized around his insistence that he never actually said the word “insignificant” but simply that administration did not consider this “a significant problem.”  When another member pushed him to affirm that he believes the current protocols on this front are “equitable,” the provost responded by saying that administration does not see “evidence of major inequity.” Sigh.

I don’t want to finish without a special shout-out to the Associate Vice Chancellor who responded to our team’s questioning of why administration was putting a different (bad) proposal on the table: the blithe response boiled down to a claim that “we hear that faculty want” it. This gave our bargaining team the opportunity to remind administration that actually the union—not the administration!—represents faculty concerns. 

That is one of the rare elements of the status quo I am willing to defend.

Hope you can make it Thursday at 12:30 to the planned interunion action on the first floor of Quinn.

This is your union! Let us know at what elements of UMB’s “status quo” need to be challenged.


Jeff Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage