Many of you will remember a letter to the NEIU Board of Trustees that Dr. Timothy Barnett circulated on our off-campus union list earlier this semester. President Hahs wrote a response to the letter, and we have commented on her letter and sent our perspective to the BOT. Below you will find first our comment and then below that the letter President Hahs sent.
To: NEIU Board of Trustees
From: NEIU/UPI 4100 Executive Board
Date: December 15, 2014
We are writing to comment on President Hahs’ November 12, 2014 letter to you in response to Dr. Timothy Barnett’s October 3, 2014 letter.
We want to clarify that Dr. Barnett is a member of the NEIU/UPI Executive Board. Not all members of our Board are compensated through their contractual workload, but he is among those who are. Our chapter president makes the assignment via his department chair and it is reviewed by Academic Affairs each year. Dr. Barnett is a member of the Communications Committee and UPI endorses all fliers posted by this committee. Additionally, Dr. Barnett edits and is one of the primary writers of the union’s Newsletter. We would also like to note that the Rainbow Flags and the Solidarność posters in office windows are a UPI initiative. To post a flier on a window is not to sneak around in stealth. Anyone who knows this university well knows whose windows have a Rainbow, et cetera, on them. Not every action done by a UPI member is union endorsed, but the above activities are.
There were non-UPI endorsed fliers during the last contract negotiations, and non-UPI endorsed posters have been put up over the past six months or so. Dr. Barnett has not participated in either of these actions.
Rather than further revisit the past to set the record straight, however, we should consider what President Hahs’ letter tells us about the realities—and challenges—NEIU currently faces.
First, in the claim that “[i]n many respects it is the same list of complaints and concerns that you have heard previously,” we hear disregard and dismissal. These complaints are heard again and again because they speak to real problems that are not being addressed. Since 2010, our enrollments have declined by 12.5%. This decline is much greater than the decline in high school graduation in Chicago. At a time when CPS graduates most need an affordable urban university, within easy commuting distance, we have been trying to attract students from out-of-state and generating terrible press through the process. We are driving away our traditional student base, diverse and non-traditional students, by cancelling classes and reducing our course offerings.
Second, you are making a mistake if you think just a few activists on campus are agitated and unhappy. The university professionals doing the work of the union are many. We serve on Departmental Personnel Committees, grievance and sanction panels, are appointed to university committees like the Refresh of the Strategic Plan, sit at information tables in the union square and so on. And many union members this year have been attending union events.
If you have 10% of your membership out participating, the standard “rule of thumb” in union organizing is that your unit is mobilized. Our ranks range between 550 and 600 members. We have not had fewer than 80 people at a membership meeting this year. Further, over 150 attended a four-hour Friday membership conference at the beginning of the year, over 200 people participated in the sit-in against course cancellations, and then one week later over 100 attended a commemoration of the 2004 Work Stoppage. It is important to note that different people are coming out to each of these events. We have seen a large percentage of the membership active over the past months, between a half and two-thirds. They are concerned about how this university is failing our students, and to read and engage—rather than dismiss—Dr. Barnett’s letter would give you a good sense of what these professionals think is wrong with the direction the university is taking.
Third, we would like for you to consider what President Hahs’ letter, as an artifact, tells us about the present situation at the university. Compare her letter and Dr. Barnett’s. Both acknowledge that we have a problem working together collectively. Both are concerned and both convey dismay and even anger. Both reference the past, but only one is trapped in it and unable to move forward. And only one conveys disdain toward criticism itself. You can’t run a quality university and take that kind of stance toward an individual faculty member and toward the faculty as a whole. To do so is unwise because vital information is being disregarded. There is a flight from reality governing this university that must stop.
The members of NEIU’s faculty and staff are its engines of prestige and productivity. Our mission cannot advance when we are marginalized. Our “morale” is low because the administration is interfering with our ability to teach and mentor our students. The only way to circumvent the basic principle of all economics—if you raise the price of something, the quantity consumed will drop—is to maintain and advance the quality of the product. We are not doing that. Enrollment is dropping.
These are matters the Board of Trustees should be considering and reconsidering at all times.
Michael Armato, Sociology, Constituency Representative, College of Arts and Sciences
Shelley Bannister, Justice Studies, Grievance Committee
Timothy Barnett, English, Communications Committee
Russell Benjamin, Political Science, At-Large Representative
Huseyin Colak, Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies, Constituency Representative, College of Education
Steve Frankel, Biology, Vice-President
Richard Grossman, History, Constituency Representative, College of Arts and Sciences
Amy Hendricksen, Center for College Access and Success, Constituency Representative, Academic Support Professionals (Other Campuses)
Carlos Lebron, Academic Advising, Constituency Representative, Academic Support Professionals (Main Campus)
Paul Lempke, Art, At-Large Representative
Jian Li, Management and Marketing, Constituency Representative, College of Business and Management
Jason Lukasik, Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies, Constituency Representative, College of Education
Sophia Mihic, Political Science and Philosophy, President
Cyndi Moran, Communication, Media and Theatre, Grievance Officer
Zachary Schiffman, History, Secretary
Charles Steinwedel, History, At-Large Representative
Daniela Truty, Educational Leadership and Development, Constituency Representative, College of Education
Lisa Wallis, Library, Treasurer
Michael Weinberg, Library, Constituency Representative
From: Sharon Hahs
Date: November 12, 2014
Re: Letter from Tim Barnett
Attached is the letter from Tim Barnett that I spoke about with most of you individually in our visits about the November Board meeting. In many respects it is the same list of complaints and concerns that you have heard previously.
Dr. Barnett would put the Board in an inappropriate position. He implores you to bring back Ken Andersen, even as he acknowledges that faculty and administration originally brought him to Northeastern. His appeal to you as the Board of Trustees is misplaced.
Dr. Barnett speaks of preferring to teach, build programs and meet with students, and not wanting, instead, to do union work, including not wanting to “post flyers.” The UPI has neither endorsed nor acknowledged these flyers. Moreover, these flyers are anonymous, personal attacks, posted secretly on walls and windows rather than during regular university hours.
Finally, Dr. Barnett revives an incident from the fall of 2010, in which he states that “President Hahs told an assembly that we are responsible for our own morale” at a Town Hall meeting. It was actually the State of the University address, which is recorded and available in the Library. I answered questions after the formal remarks.
This “misquote” found its way onto an anonymous flyer depicting me scolding a small child and saying “You are responsible for your own morale.” It was reproduced by the Independent in October of 2010. I addressed the anonymous misquote in a letter to the editor of the Independent in November 2010: “What I actually said is, ‘At the risk of really ending on a bad note, I want to make one more comment. I want to be respectful that people feel demoralized, but I also want to remind you that we are each responsible in an individual and a collective way for the morale of our [own] person and of the colleagues that we work with. So, I would like to encourage you to keep that in mind and that we all try to work together to improve morale. It is not to say that it isn’t low. It’s to say that it is a collective responsibility to make it better.’
Improving morale is a goal we should all share. Misstating the record does not advance this goal. Sadly, I share Dr. Barnett’s views on morale expressed in the letter, but he also states that morale is so bad that we can’t work together to improve it. On this, I disagree.
Let me know if I can provide further information. I will continue to address these concerns. Thank you.
cc: Tim Barnett
Provost Richard Helldobler