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The Point: What Now?


Greetings, Colleagues:

I hope the beginning of the semester has brought you minimal chaos and some engaging contact with colleagues and students.  It has been a lonely time for many of us, and starting a new semester at least offers the promise of some energizing f2f activity.

Although it was remote, I found it incredibly inspiring to attend the FSU members meeting, along with dozens of you, last Wednesday to discuss the tentative agreement we are currently voting on.  Once again, the core bargaining team demonstrated that they did their work with dedication, a fighting spirit, and amazingly careful attention to detail.  And hearing all of your smart questions and comments reminded me that the engagement of membership is the most crucial sign of union power that there is.  I am not in the prediction business, but I left the meeting feeling confident that the tentative agreement will be ratified and that its implementation will benefit so many of us.

Which leaves us with the question raised by my title for this week: What now?

I want to use this week’s Point to raise a few areas where we might think about putting our attention, now that the messy business of contract negotiation seems to be done.  But really, my central aim this week is to urge you to develop your own list: what should the FSU be focusing on in the coming semester and year?

Educating Administration About Our Working Conditions

I’ve heard from a number of colleagues who share my concern that our remote situation has left upper administration more out of touch than usual about the actual conditions we work under.  The steady stream of blithe demands, shallow encouragements, and workplace speedups coming from Quinn (wait, is that another new data management program you want us to learn?) makes it clear that we have some work to do educating campus leadership about the realities of working at UMB.  Emblematic here is the January 13th email we all received from the Provost with updated “Minimum Faculty Responsibilities” which included, in case of “unplanned” absences, “identifying an alternative instructor.”  I pictured one of us moseying down to the Faculty Lounge, having a quick smoke and a donut, and seeing who was available to pick up a week or two of our classes. This is small beans, obviously, a scenario most of us won’t have to deal with.  But management’s inability (or unwillingness) to read the room bespeaks a crisis of communication and perhaps in shared governance more generally. We need to take—and make—as many opportunities as we can to remind management about how the pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on so many of us to work beyond capacity. Especially if UMB is going to continue to rebrand as a “health-promoting” institution.

Support for Other Unions—On Campus and Beyond

This is simple and profound.  Our own staff colleagues and graduate workers continue their own difficult contract negotiations.  It is our moral responsibility to support these other campus unions and to our strategic benefit to do so.  In my time as an active union member, one of the few times I have been deeply uncomfortable with an FSU position came when a previous leadership team decided to separate our parking bargaining process from the other campus unions.  I think this resulted in a poor result overall; even worse is what it said to the other unions on campus. While the FSU must always center its members needs and desires, we cannot operate in a vacuum: graduate workers and campus staff make the work of the university possible, and we have to find as many ways as possible to support them in their fights for health, safety, and livable wages.  I recognize that what happens at rich private universities like Columbia will not have direct application to our campus. But seeing how quickly Princeton voluntarily raised graduate stipends (by 25%) in the wake of the successful Columbia graduate strike has some loud messages we should listen to about graduate worker power.

Demanding Transparency and Equity in System-Wide Budget Processes

How much do you know about how UMASS budgets work—from the macro system wide level to the granular level of your own department or unit? 

Same here.

This year I am pledging to learn at least a little bit about how the budgeting process works and call on all of you—especially those of you who are trained in suchlike!—to join me.  I’m motivated here by the work done by our comrades in Rutgers’ faculty union, who spent years studying their system finances and issued a damning 100+ page report.  If you don’t have time (lol) for all that, please try to at least take a look at this useful summary.  Even the most cursory look at the document reveals scarily relevant conclusions:

  • Financial power is concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable central administration
  • Non-flagship campuses are penalized in a variety of ways, creating perpetual austerity
  • Revenue generation is privileged over academic mission

And so on.  The ultimate takeaway is that faculty, staff, and students have virtually no say in the budgeting process and it is long past time for us to educate ourselves and articulate our positions in an organized and powerful way. Education is the first step and I want to urge you to attend a fascinating looking “Statewide Campus Debt Reveal Project” workshop that will be hosted by some of our union comrades at Salem State University this coming Thursday at 3 p.m.  These colleagues have done some truly fascinating forensic accounting work on their own campus.

Member Services and Member Service

What do you need from FSU leadership? How can we on the Executive Committee do a better job of hearing and addressing your concerns? And conversely: what do you want to contribute this year? What would make it more possible for you to meet those goals?

This is your union! Let us know at what should be on the FSU agenda for 2022.


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