[I want to let my readers know that I have not been posting much for the past six months because I am fighting an extremely rare, late stage form of lymphoma. Accompanying this disease is a particularly nasty neuropathy, which is slowly crippling my legs and feet.]

If sociology is to have any relevance for everyday life and ordinary folks in the 21st century, then it needs to produce instantaneous definitions of the situation that will help inform our social interactions. This “e-mail as essay” is an application of the Thomas theorem: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.This essay interprets events that have occurred in the previous 72 hours, and prescribes civic action for the next 72 hours.

Gary and Faculty Association colleagues

Thank you, Gary, for the sincere effort to restore collegiality and solidarity within the union ranks. The powers-that-be, whether intentionally or not, have managed to divide us. Let us not forget what has caused this regrettable exchange between colleagues over a scarcity of space –the administration’s refusal to meaningfully share power with other stakeholders within the university.

As long as the President and the President’s Council  believe that they have a God-given right to rule arbitrarily and without adequate prior consultation, we are destined to either fight among ourselves—or to began fighting back against those who, due solely to their own egregious behaviors, are rapidly becoming our enemy.

I have added below an embellished version of a statement that I rather bluntly made on behalf of the Faculty Association at the last Planning and Budget Committee (P&BC) meeting. I ask that union members study this analysis. Without an adequate understanding of our current situation, we cannot begin to forge the strategies and tactics required to compel respect and shared power from the administration. What happens in the next 72 hours concerning space reallocation within the university will be decisive for both the future of the union and of Metropolitan State. Be vigilant and be active.

The unions, and particularly the Faculty Association (FA), feel that the administration has ignored pleas for a more grassroots collaborative model. Faculty members are demanding that the president and her administration be more willing to share power. When I sat on the P&BC in the early 2000s, the group felt more like a community, the power wasn’t necessarily equal, but it was shared. The unions are ready to draw a line in the sand. If the administration refuses to collaborate, they had better be prepared for a more adversarial and conflict-ridden future.

The FA Executive Committee is apprehensive that a redesign of our university plan poses the danger of becoming nothing more than new window dressing. I would argue that the real problems of this university are not the plan or the budget reductions we face, but rather the rigid hierarchy and status system that are at work in this institution.Some have the authority to give orders, while others have the obligation to obey orders.

“Orders” is the operative word. I liken Metropolitan State to George Duby’s study of medieval France, The Three Orders. The three orders in the 12th Century were the medieval knights who fought and ruled (administers who govern), the priests who prayed (faculty who teach), and the peasants who supported the other two orders (the other Metro State unions who do our heavy lifting). That system of status inequality finally collapsed with the coming of the French Revolution. Enough said.

Even the best-laid plans of the administration too often break down in implementation, and that will continue as long as the President and her Council continue to see their role, in the words of George Bush, as the “Decider.” As examples of arbitrary and capricious “deciding” I cite the following: the scheduling redesign, website redesign, Gateway redesign, budgeting redesign, and commencement redesign. [Now we can put space reallocation at the top of the list.]

While the university does make use of the governance process of meet-and-confer in decision-making, it is often too little too late—and it has become essentially meaningless. Why has this happened? To put it baldly, some members of the President’s Council are making decisions without forewarning and feedback.

Realize that aside from the Provost, all members of the President’s Council have been at the university less than three years. Most practice a corporate or bureaucratic style of leadership and management. This culture, which we have seen steadily encroaching upon our community since the days of Susan Cole, has taken even deeper roots during the past two years. This is an alien appendage on an institution with a more collegial and collaborative heritage.

I see no malignant intent on the part of any member of the President’s Council. I do see some folks naively bringing along their previously acquired taken-for-granted beliefs and acting as if those assumptions prevail at Metro State as well. I also see some folks who believe that their positions confer upon them a certain authority to take unilateral action. This may be what they experienced in previous bureaucratic organizations and they just assume all institutions follow this seemingly ubiquitous model. The honeymoon is over.

Several recent fiascoes within the university are a result of vice-presidents not listening to other stakeholders and/or not understanding the implications of what they were doing. I am ‘up to here’ with these preemptive strikes—each of the three orders at Metro State deserves to be a full participant in university decision making. In the future, we can pull together and develop into an exemplary urban university, or we can enter into an era of class warfare among the three orders.

The administration expects us to obey their “order(s),” but they do not take the time to seek out, or to understand, the positions of the faculty and staff. The Faculty Association urges the administration to seek our counsel, and to take into account that we may have something to offer—we did not just fall off the turnip truck. We are tired of having things explained to us only after the fact at meet-and-confer. The train wreck, by then, has already occurred.

Yesterday’s administrative forums demonstrate a significant tool for communication and some generic feedback. I have no doubt these efforts are sincere and that the administration finds them useful, as do faculty and staff. However, the administration has grown excessively fond of (and dependent upon) these dog-and-pony-shows as the principal form of communicating and seeking feedback.

Unfortunately, forums are essentially one-way forms of communication. The random individual responses at these events are just that, individual responses. We need a new structural mechanism that will provide real give-and-take between the formally recognized bargaining entities prior to meet-and-confer. This applies particularly to new initiatives coming from the members of the President’s Council that have not yet scrutinized by other relevant stakeholders.

To end on a positive note, what we now need organizationally is to restore some facsimile of the old Joint Initiative Groups. Those bodies were temporary ad hoc groupings, bringing relevant stakeholders to the table to design and beta test ideas before implementation. When their work was finished, they dissolved. Their vetted proposals then went through the traditional governance process.

What these ad hoc groups of stakeholders do particularly well is to hold managers feet to the fire. Administrators must bring their proposals to the table and field-test those plans against the experiences of people who work where the rubber hits the road. There is an old-fashioned name for this process—grassroots democracy.

The highway is alive tonight
Nobody’s foolin’ nobody as to where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of Tom Joad

“The Ghost of Tom Joad”                                                                                          Bruce Springsteen & Rage Against the Machine