This last Monday’s bargaining session is not what you would call radical or highly successful, but for me it represented a shift in thinking about our bargaining experience. Even though we did reach a tentative agreement on medical disputes and came close to a couple of others, for me, the progress was in the interactions between the union and the administration. More than once we had discussions about the issues, what we were attempting to achieve with our language and what the administration was attempting with theirs. We did not sit around and sing Kumbaya together, but I think it did foster some indication that we are all interested in helping to strengthen the university.
It strengthen was during one of these explanations of viewpoint that I realized one of the difficulties we are wrestling with at the table is with the level of organization. Anyone who has been at MSU long can tell you that it has a very strong decentralized approach to many of its academic policies. This approach allows departments to have a lot of freedom for how they approach education, which can be a good thing. However, this approach has allowed for some departments to exploit non-tenure track faculty. Many of the things the union is asking for is a centralizing and standardizing of some academic policies, which may go against MSU’s institutional “grain”.
So, I guess the epiphany for me this week was that institutional structure may be one of the bigger hurdles we have to overcome to reach our goals for this contract…and it isn’t just a greedy, power-hungry administration trying to keep the little guy down (I think).