President Felicia Kornbluh's remarks at the Fall 2015 UA Member Meeting

President’s Address

Felicia Kornbluh

United Academics

For The Member Meeting: November 2, 2015

               Today I want to talk briefly in three parts: 

First, the assault we are facing and the vision of the world that motivates that assault;

Second, what we as faculty, and education workers, and union members have as a contrasting vision, what our sense is of the kind of university we hoped to work in and we want to help create;

and Third, to begin to think together about what are the concrete steps we can take. 

               I want to start off by acknowledging everyone for your contribution to United Academics: Past leaders; NEW MEMBERS: The most important people here   Delegates; Departmental Representative; members of the Executive Council; Member of our staff; Allies of United Academics, friends of our union.

               And ALL members of United Academics –who joined with the intention of joining with other faculty at UVM to accomplish things we care about.    

               My intention today is that you leave here knowing that the union absolutely needs you and every colleague you can bring with you into active membership. 

I. Challenges

               We face a historically new situation. 

- Thanks to our predecessors in the 20th century, universities have been special places, held apart from the most dehumanizing dictates of market capitalism. 

- Since the 1970s, public-sector unions, such as ours, have been a port in the storm for organized labor.  It has been possible for labor to keep unions alive and even expand our efforts to humanize the workplace in the public sector. 

- UVM has benefited from a demographic “bubble” that has allowed it to expand and bring in more revenue without lowering admission standards. 

               These are all changing.   In fact, we have so many challenges, we could spend hours just talking about those.  So, very briefly --

At UVM: Budgeting (the “Incentive-Based Budgeting” model and its concomitants): By design, cost is designed to be in the driver’s seat in ALL university decision making – by every Dean in every College, and therefore by every Chair and Department head.; Erosion of faculty governance, for example, in the powers of the Faculty Senate.; Continued biases on the basis of race, gender, (dis)ability, nationality and sexuality; andNOT looking at how we can have smaller classes, give students more attention, engage in more ethnical and critical reflection, reduce our teaching loads.  

State legislature – multiple proposals – including Higher Education “performance measures,” distracting from the scandal of Inadequate funding : Vermont 49th in the country in its support for higher education (in the dollar value of its per-pupil expenditures)

U.S. Supreme Court: Friedrichs v. CTA case, which could imperil our ability to have a class of “fee-payers” whom we represent in bargaining but who do not affirmatively declare that they are members of the union. 


               Those are serious and sometimes overwhelming challenges, attempts to transform UVM as we have known it, to operate like a private business, with managers calling all of the shots, with students conceptualized largely as “customers” here to provide a revenue stream, and with the emphasis ONLY on the bottom line instead of expanding knowledge, opening minds, and encouraging the free exchange of ideas.

               We have to counter these challenges, but we also need to put forward our contrasting vision, to insist that WE ARE THE UNIVERSITY.  We need to be a key part of the decision making process, and to involve people to create the kind of university that Vermont deserves.

That’s what our union is: a chance to come together, to talk about what WE want to create, to unite with student and community allies, to contrast our vision with the administration’s vision, and to work in solidarity to stop the outrages -- and start to create something better.

               Doing that isn’t easy.  But we have the power of the faculty and the people who work here, the support of many students, and a set of legal and organizational tools created through past struggles.  Those include the union itself, our right to decide on our goals and to bargain with management, and a contract that we can enforce.  Those are potential resources – resources we can strengthen! 

II. What to do/Hope

               The main source of hope here is our committed union itself.  Just recently the part-time bargaining unit of UA finished negotiating a remarkable contract.   Brian Tokar will share details in a minute – but in summary, it makes the part-time faculty of UVM among the best protected in the country. 

               The Contract Administration Committee for good reasons keeps many details of its work confidential.  But it, too, has stood up for individual members of UA with incredible tenacity and dedication – and won much for those individuals. 

In the past, some of you may have brought a concern to the elected representatives of the union or the staff.  You may have heard, “There’s nothing we can do,” because the contract has already been signed, or state labor law doesn’t seem to address the situation that concerns you or your colleagues.  You may even have said that yourself when somebody came to you with a question or a concern.  Starting today, we never want to say there’s nothing we can do.  We can build on our success at contract bargaining and the bringing of grievances to expand our work to face our new situation: We don’t yet have all the answers.  But many of us in UA want to work together to be more creative in our response to some of the challenges we face – and we want to be more effective, and more powerful. 

Please be part of the effort to widen the conversation in UA, to make us a union that can really never again say, “no, there’s nothing we can do for you.”  To do that we need to build active membership.  We need informal interest groups, committees, and Delegate and Representative structures that are firing on all cylinders. 

III. Suggestions

We need to start by increasing our capacity to listen to our members, and talk with them. 

Several of us have discussed the idea of having departments invite in people from the union for 15 minutes or so.  When UA gets invited in, we need members who will volunteer to attend those meetings, to have questions to ask members at those meetings, to tell people what we are already doing, and to ask for suggestions about other things to do.


  • What two topics would you want UA to emphasize if leaders of the union were to come to your colleagues or your whole department or college?   
  • What other strategies and ideas would you propose in the face of our current challenges? 

Thank you