A Word of Caution

A WARNING:

What are your employment rights here at SIUC? As the Grievance Committee of your Faculty Association, we regret to inform you that there are some serious problems at this university. And we extend to you this WARNING: Whenever you receive any important commitment — or promise — from an administrator about your working conditions, get that commitment – or promise — in writing, make sure that it is signed by the administrator who made the commitment, and, most importantly, make sure that the letter of commitment is also signed by any administrator who might have any say about the commitment, all the way to the Chancellor, if necessary. In addition, if any of these administrators is replaced, make sure to get the signature of the new person in the office. Although this process might seem tedious, it will enable the Faculty Association and its attorneys to enforce your rights through the Contract grievance procedures, the Judicial Review Board grievance procedures, and, if applicable, a court of law or an external administrative agency.

It truly pains us that we are compelled to give you such advice; however it is based on the actual experiences that Faculty members have had regarding commitments and promises that were made to them orally and in writing by administrators. The Faculty Association would be derelict in its duty to adequately protect those it represents if we did not give you this warning. As illustrative examples, we will describe three cases involving the Faculty.

CASE 1:
In the first case, a member of the Faculty was offered in 1997 a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes (MEEP), with an assignment of 75 percent in the Center for Advanced Friction Studies (CAFS) and 25 percent in MEEP. In the offer of employment the Dean of the College stated that the person would be given a summer appointment by CAFS. The person involved accepted the position, and, for the first two years, was indeed given three months support during the Summer in CAFS. In the year 2000, the director of CAFS reduced the summer support to only two months. In the year 2001, no summer support was offered at all. When this was brought to the attention of the present Dean of the College, he refused to do anything about it, saying that the offer made by the previous Dean did not state just how much the support for the summer would entail. He had no answer to the question of whether “”zero support”” was enough to meet the commitment. The matter is now going through the grievance process.

CASE 2:
In the second case, in 1997, a Faculty member of the College of Liberal Arts contracted to serve at the Nakajo campus of SIU. Before leaving to teach, he filed his retirement papers. This helped out the College in its long term planning, and, in return, he received a Memorandum of Understanding from the Dean of the College, promising him that he would be able to get a part-time position when he returned. When he came back from Japan in 1999, a new Dean was in place, who refused to give him the part-time position, claiming that she had no funds; the faculty member went to the previous Dean, who now occupied the position of interim Chancellor. The previous Dean then informed him that he was unable to tell the new Dean what to do. A grievance was filed through the Judicial Review Board [JRB], and just before the case was heard, the present Dean was able to locate a new source of funds that allowed the faculty member to get his part-time position after all.

CASE 3:
In the third case, an Assistant Professor in the College of Liberal Arts was hired in 1998, with six years post-doctoral experience. When he was interviewed, he was given assurances by both the Chair of the Department and the Dean of the College that he would be given credit for the work he did before arriving here and he would not have to wait the full probationary period. As the Chair of the department wrote in a letter, “”[He] was hired here at SIUC with very clear, and I believe altogether reasonable assurances that he would be promoted just as soon as possible – that the scholarly and teaching record he brought with him already qualified him for the higher rank, and for tenure.”” In the Fall of 2000, after serving two years in rank, the Faculty member applied for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor. The appropriate faculty of the department voted unanimously [21-0] in approval. This vote was supported strongly by the Chair of the Department, the College Promotion and Tenure Committee as well as the Dean of the College. His application was denied, however, by the Provost, who wrote that “”my intent is to maintain our tradition of awarding a promotion for a substantial body of research and for successful teaching accomplished primarily during the time one is a faculty member on campus.”” A grievance was filed through the JRB. During the hearing, which took place in July 2001, the Provost was asked whether the policy of this administration is to honor commitments made by previous administrators. The answer was, basically, no. It was at this point of the hearing that the Chair of the grievance panel made the following statement: “”Let me…use the term a ‘teaching moment.’… I assure you when I came here, which was in 1984, I was lied to, miserably. And there is few, in fact there is very few institutions where this doesn’t occur. So I think this is a learning experience I’m sure everybody to a large extent has had. … This is a part of life, what makes those bumper stickers: stuff happens.”” This Chair of the JRB Panel was willing to accept the practice of treating commitments as lies that need not be honored. He went on to recommend to the Chancellor that the grievant’s request for promotion be denied.

The case then advanced to the Chancellor who now had an opportunity, as one of his first official acts, to reverse the past practice of ignoring commitments to faculty. The proceedings of the hearing, including the above quote, were brought to his attention several times both in person and in writing. So, he was well aware of what had occurred in the hearing. It needs to be emphasized that the recommendation of the JRB panel is not a binding one, and, in fact, the previous interim Chancellor, only a year ago, refused to accept the recommendation of the majority of the JRB panel, and, instead, denied tenure to a Faculty member. However, in this case, just last week, the Chancellor decided to go along with the Chair of the panel and deny the grievant the promotion to Associate Professor.

CONCLUSION:
It is regrettable that the advice that the Chair of the Panel gave has been absolutely true to this very day: SIUC is not one of those institutions where commitments are honored rather than just dismissed as lies that can be ignored. Consequently, you need to take the teaching moment very seriously. It cannot be emphasized often enough that in the present environment you need to make sure that any commitments that are made to you are backed up in writing by all administrators who are in the chain of command. However, with your support, the Faculty Association will use its full power to change the culture at SIUC. Perhaps before the year 2019 SIUC will join the ranks of schools where integrity and honor are paramount and a warning such as this would not be necessary. But until that time, remember that the only institution on campus whose sole purpose is to support the Faculty is the SIUC Faculty Association. If you are not a member, please join because we have strength in numbers. And if you have any difficulty, please contact the Grievance committee so that the Faculty Association can give you its full support. If you are interested in information about becoming a member, please contact the Chair of the Membership committee, Kay Carr (kjcarr@siu.edu); if you have a question about grievances, please do not hesitate to contact the Chair of the Grievance Committee, Marvin Zeman (mzeman@math.siu.edu) ; if you have any general concerns and you do not know to whom to address them, please contact the President of the Faculty Association, Morteza Daneshdoost (daneshdo@siu.edu).