Several items of current interest for our members:
Minutes from the November 11, 2015 General Membership Meeting.
This past Monday morning, December 7th, several members of your OU-AAUP Executive Committee met with trustee Mark Schlussel (our BOT Chair), President Hynd and Provost Lentini. While this was not a meeting with the Board of Trustees, it was a meeting offered by Trustee Schlussel and accepted by me and other members of your chapter's Executive Committee.
Of course, we talked about the recent Chief Operating Officer (COO) hire. Trustee Schlussel and President Hynd continue to assert that this hiring decision was wise and represents no conflict of interest violations. Those from the Executive Committee reaffirmed that the faculty overwhelmingly feel that due diligence required that the Board first define the position and explain its need, and then conduct an open search. Furthermore, Oakland University's faculty do not understand the need to compress the COO search process merely to provide a hasty outcome.
The absence of an open search has been particularly troubling in light of the fact that our new COO was drawn from the Board of Trustees. In several public forums, faculty members have raised questions whether it is appropriate for Board members to accept high-salaried administrative positions with the university. Many are not assuaged by the Board's insistence that its own conflict of interest policy was not violated. We noted again that the perception of conflict of interest can be as damaging to the university's reputation as a confirmed conflict of interest. Faculty overwhelmingly hold this opinion because we are a public institution of higher education, and we have a mandate to rigorously follow open hiring practices and refrain from any actions that could be perceived as cronyism.
We also took the time at the meeting to contextualize the hiring of the COO from the faculty's perspective. The faculty's experience with the previous president had undermined both trust and cooperation. While we welcomed the establishment of a new presidential administration that touted its support for the faculty and professed its desire to improve the working environment, the experience of negotiating the current faculty contract revealed little change from previous negotiations. This disconnect between the assertion of support and the administration's stance during bargaining left many faculty disenfranchised even before the appointment of the COO.
Trustee Schlussel, Provost Lentini and President Hynd emphasized their desire is to improve the focus on academics at Oakland University and stated that they consider the support of the faculty to be essential to this goal. They hope that faculty would work with them to move the university forward in this new direction. We in turn, indicated that the faculty are fully dedicated to improving the educational experience for our students.
So, what can we do moving forward? We acknowledge that the faculty cannot force the Board to hire transparently; the Board is responsible for enforcing its own policies. We can be skeptical about the stated intentions of our Board and the administration. We can, at the same time, follow Trustee Schlussel's request to "have an open mind" as we observe the actions of the new COO. Regardless of these choices, we have the duty to object when we think things have been done badly and applaud the good actions of our university. At this juncture in President Hynd's term of office, very skeptical faculty members are still waiting for actions that match the rhetoric. This point was also communicated at this Monday's meeting.
As the president of the OU-AAUP, I will continue to read emails from faculty, respond to questions from journalists, discuss with my colleagues, and talk with our students to develop an understanding of the community's attitudes. I will pass on pertinent information to the administration so that they may act in a more informed manner. I will continue to identify those issues that we can affect and will use the contract to defend the interests of our membership.
Oakland University AAUP Chapter President
An important and hard-won decision was recently reached in an AAUP/Oakland arbitration, a decision that has significant impact on every Oakland faculty member. The grievance concerned a faculty member who, on the basis of a student’s recording of the faculty member’s remarks in class, was issued an order of persona non grata and summarily removed from campus on Sept. 27, 2013. On the basis of the student’s recording alone, without interviewing any other member of the class or the faculty member, the administration judged the faculty member to be a threat to the safety of others on campus. The persona non grata order, issued by the OU Police Department, also mandated that the faculty member undergo certain medical and psychological exams.
Understandably, the AAUP grieved this action. Not only did the administration's action violate contract provisions that are specifically designed to deal with such a situation, but the claim of an immediate threat to the campus community, followed by rapid removal from campus, seemed a clear violation of principles of due process and fairness.
The Arbitrator, agreeing with the AAUP's reading of the contract, found that the administration violated Agreement Article IX, 66 c. and d. by failing to give notice to the faculty member and the Association prior to effecting the action, and by failing to state in writing (to the faculty member and the Association) the reasons for the action.
The Arbitrator also found that the administration violated Article XXXIII, 216 by failing to disclose relevant information "within a reasonable time after receiving a request."
The issue of a hearing is not directly addressed in the Agreement, but was based on Oakland University ordinance 9.04. This ordinance reads as follows:
Any individual who violates these ordinances and whose actions pose a threat to the health and/or safety of the university community, or to university property, or whose actions constitute trespass may also be referred to the university administrator designated by the president for a hearing which may result in an order denying the offending individual access to the campus for a specified period of time.
On this issue the Arbitrator found that use of the word "may" indicates that a hearing is not necessary, and therefore found for the administration.
The Arbitrator's ruling marked the conclusion of a lengthy grievance and arbitration, extended in part by the administration's delays in turning over information and in scheduling arbitration dates. The Arbitrator's finding on behalf of the Association regarding the timely disclosure of information is therefore particularly gratifying and encouraging.
The other part of the Arbitrator's decision in favor of the AAUP is an important one, as it supports the Association's understanding of the plain language of Article IX. Significantly, the Arbitrator found that the faculty member did not, in fact, pose a health or safety threat to anyone on campus and therefore the administration needed to adhere to the advance notification requirements of 66 c. and d.
Had the administration's actions been upheld in this case, our protections against extreme disciplinary actions would have been significantly eroded.
The Association is pleased to report the outcome of this grievance, particularly as current labor laws tend to favor management positions. We also want to acknowledge the hard work on this case of both our Grievance Officer, Kevin Murphy, and our attorney, Robert Fetter.
Kevin T. Grimm