Because I had been receiving questions about the two candidates for Faculty Senate President Elect, Steven Zdatny of History and Thomas Chittenden of Grossman School of Business, I asked both to respond to the following question so I could share their unedited answers with faculty, and they both graciously agreed.
My question was this: What are your views of United Academics, its role in the lives of faculty, and its relation to the Senate and to faculty governance generally?
Their answers are below, in alphabetical order.
Tom Streeter, President, UA
Thomas I. Chittenden, Senior Lecturer, Grossman School of Business
A strong union makes a strong university. United Academics has done a lot for UVM faculty improving wages, regulating workloads and protecting our interests through collective bargaining. UA advocacy has raised the shared communal value of Lecturer contributions at UVM over the past 10 years but as a (senior) lecturer I yield to the intellectual heft and priority our tenured faculty rightfully wield at UVM. It is imperative that our efforts in United Academics and the Faculty Senate remain committed to the disciplined free inquiry at the core of our institution enshrined in the tenure of our thought leaders.
As for the relation between the UA and to the senate, the Faculty Senate has "authority in matters related to the academic mission" (Constitution and Bylaws Preamble) and United Academics is "committed to academic freedom, high quality research and education, shared governance, and social and environmental justice." (http://www.unitedacademics.org/). These two statements evidence the alignment of our governance bodies. Faculty need UA to advocate for fair working conditions and Faculty need the FS to shepherd the academic mission. Our Senate and our Union are made up of the same faculty which is why FS and UA collaboration is essential to advance our mutual interests for our students, our faculty and our University.
I have been a proud member of UA since I started back at UVM in the spring of 2010. I’ve been in the Faculty Senate since the fall of that year. I've been active in the UA as a Delegate, a Representative and on the State & Higher Education Issues committee. I’ve been active in the FS on the Student Affairs Committee, the Educational Research and Technologies Committee and the Executive Council. I see a strong collaboration between UA and the FS as essential for the success of the university and if elected will be committed to that continued collaboration.
Steve Zdatny, History Department
As you know, I do not belong to UA. When I arrived at UVM in 2008, I came in as department chair and therefore was not eligible to join. Since I left the chair in 2013, I have not taken the opportunity to join; although, of course, as represented faculty, I have continued to pay my fees to UA. I have had more than one conversation about joining, in particular with my colleagues and good friends, Frank Nicosia and especially Sean Stilwell, but I have not been convinced.
I am no stranger to unions. In an earlier life I was a warehouseman in New Jersey and a Teamster and have spent most of my professional life as a historian of, among other things, French working people and the French labor movement. I have taught in several institutions, but UVM is my first unionized faculty, although when I left West Virginia University in 2008, there was a union drive on, organized by the AFT. I hadn't quite made up my mind when I departed.
Simply put, I accept, based on what my colleagues have all told me, that UA has been a great boon to faculty salaries and benefits. That is all to the good--depending, of course, on where all that money comes from, since it needs to come from somewhere: students, other employees, the state, the administration. In any case, I am happy to be the beneficiary of others' good work. At the same time, I am uncomfortable with what seems to me to be the adversarial culture between the university and the faculty that seems to have developed. That is in the nature of things where you have a bunch of different interests trying to work together in a constrained system. But the air of labor v. management that appears to permeate relations between the administration and the faculty does not seem like a game I want to play in. So I have stayed out of it.
When it comes to faculty governance, on the other hand, I am all in. It is precisely why, despite my inclination to keep my distance from trouble, I let Sean Stilwell convince me that it would be a good idea for me to run for FS president. It goes without saying that the faculty and the students are the beating heart of university life. The administration is there to make the productive work of research, teaching, and learning go as smoothly as it possibly can. Obviously, the senate, as the collective voice of the faculty, has a key role to play in making sure all this happens to best effect. In my six years on the senate, however, I have not been convinced that this has been the case. The senate, in my view, has spent too much time listening to reports and not nearly enough time debating them. It's the main reason, I think, that when I look around Waterman Memorial Lounge, I see so many senators checking their email, rather than paying rapt attention to the latest update from the Sustainability Committee, or some analog. I would like to make the body more attentive and more engaged. I assume that would profit the cause of faculty governance.
I would be happy to answer any other questions that you and other colleagues might have. Please feel free to share these thoughts with the UA membership. And thanks again for giving me the chance to make my position clear. It was an excellent idea.
Very best regards,
United Academics is the union of full- and part-time faculty at University of Vermont, with over 700 members from departments and colleges across the campus. We represent faculty in negotiating and upholding contracts, and we advocate for fair labor practices within and beyond our academic community. We are a member-led union committed to academic freedom, shared governance, social and environmental justice.