Torch Voices: Dr. Jim Nystrom

Editor’s Note: This is a guest column by Dr. Jim Nystrom, Associate Professor, FFA Executive Board Member, FFA Leadership Council Representative.

Today, Wednesday, 13 February of the so-designated year 2013, the Ferris Faculty Association (FFA) will hold a General Assembly to discuss the five year contract extension on offer from the Administration of this university. Voting by members of the FFA will commence right after the conclusion of the meeting, and members have three days to vote Yes or No on ratifying the contract agreement. If a majority of those voting vote Yes, then the Administration will present it to the Board of Trustees on Feb. 22 of this year, at a regularly scheduled board meeting. It is expected that the Board will ceremonially approve the contract and it will be “business as usual.”

Timing is critical, as the new state law concerning “Right-to-work” (or “Freedom-to-freeload,” depending upon one’s orientation) will go into effect late in March. As it is, if a contract is in place before Right-to-work goes into effect, then a union shop can stay a so-called “closed shop” for the duration of the contract. Current employees and new employees will still have to pay dues.

If the contract is voted down by the FFA members, negotiations will start over (as the current contract expires this summer). If this would occur, most predict it will NOT be “business as usual” here at Ferris. New and current employees could choose not to pay union dues, and they would still receive the benefits of any contract that is put into place. It seems reasonable to suspect that everyone could eventually choose not to pay, and thus the union(s) cease(s) to exist. (Not everyone agrees on this last point.)

The question then is (for me at least): Would this be a bad thing for Ferris? That is, maybe “business as usual” may not be in the best interests of all concerned parties. One only has to look to the article in last week’s Torch: “Universities need to do more …” by Peter Forum, to see that all is not grand in the land of higher education in America. The simple facts are that we DO charge too much and typically DO deliver too little. Any huge shake-up of this sort will most certainly expose some of the dirty laundry associated with a modern university, where current administrations pretty much have a free hand to do whatever they please (for the simple reason that most Boards provide little or no true oversight). It is (almost) always left to the unions (of many different levels of employees–not just faculty) to keep the education mission running–despite the best efforts of the typical administrator to crash the whole damn thing. But if there are no unions to make sure everything keeps running, will it? It probably will, but employees at all levels will surely have to be more accountable than they currently are in the “business as usual” mode.

How am I going to vote you may ask? I will not tell (I may even abstain); but I will say that as an FFA Executive Board member, I do officially endorse the ratification of the contract.