A Lesson from Obama: Teachers’ Unions and Administrators vs Faculty Elitism


Arnie Duncan, Sec. of Education, sees the solution to the decay if  our secondary school system as requiring a free market .. odd for a liberal, perhaps courageous for a democrat, and very irritating to the teachers’ unions.  Obviously Obama is not anti union.   Can a  Union address the disparity in pay without also giving up the need for academic elitism?   The issues is also central to the changes now effecting the UW.

Dancan’s views can be expressed in psuedomath:

School success = parental motivation + teacher motivation + administrative competence.

His argument is that parental choice is the strongest force to improve schools. However, unions oppose parental choice because it threatens job security and pay for teachers. Of course, the unions must protect the interests of their members.

At our level, the equation is  a bit different because we are selected by the students, the students have immense self interest in how well we do, and our system provides huge motivations for faculty to succeed.

UW success = student motivation + faculty motivation + administrative competence.

The common element in both equations    is the administration.  It is not at all clear that administrators themselves benefit by making better schools.

This brings me to the issue of faculty unions.  I fear a a situation where the UW is torn between the rightful demands of a faculty union for faculty benefits and the inevitable goals of admins to increase their own powers.

The intent of the UW Faculty Code was for pay to be a matter for individual negotiation.  Implicit was an assumption that academic standing .. elitism … would determine faculty pay.  In a sense admins were a mixture of referees who assure rules are followed, servants who see that the money is there as needed, and senior faculty who provide leadership.  That model has eroded and now the admins, like the ruling classes of Soviet Russia ,  have become a self interested entity.  By and large admins lack the academic credentials of the faculty under their authority .

The line between pay and academic standards is fuzzy .. especially so when the admin itself has no intrinsic interest in academic standards.  Now the UW admin, in its referee capacity, has cut that link,   claiming that the economic contingencies necessitate ignoring the principles agreed to in the faculty code.   The Senate is not a bargaining agent for the faculty, they or we have no voice in this decision by our $1,000,000  a year lame duck President.

Emmert and Wise are obviously well insulated from “their” faculty.  Wise has even gone so far as to claim that she is above the rules that regulate ethics for the rest if us.  Obviously the pay of admins and even the size of their  coteries, is independent of the simple view of academic administration as the servant of faculty and student needs.

Can a  Union address this disparity in pay without also giving up our commitment to academic elitism?  My own preference would be for a much more powerful Faculty Senate.

Your Comment