Last night WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge reported something rather significant – namely that a group of LSU professors are starting up a union in response to looming budget cuts at the university. We’re told that such a union will be affiliated with either SEIU or AAUP (American Association of University Professors), and that right now it’s a minority of LSU’s faculty who are interested in this project. But that minority includes several members of the LSU faculty senate, and in two weeks they’re going to begin “organizing” – which anyone has seen how that process works can tell you will be a big mess.
“When instructors get notices of firing basically, there’s an increase in pressure to want to consolidate, group together and figure out a way to handle the issue,” said food science professor and faculty senate committee member Paul Wilson.
“We’re looking for a way to increase faculty leverage as we attempt to save this institution, save the state,” said faculty senate president Kevin Cope, “and with that, ask the state to be honest in its dealings with its most trained personnel.”
However, professors said at this point, it seems the only way for them to defend themselves is to pull together.
“We need to have somebody represent the faculty that can go there and say, ‘Hey, listen, this is their story, this is our story,'” said Wilson. “We’ve gotta keep things on common ground so we can come to some sort of agreement.”
Let’s explain why this is such a stupid idea. It’s actually quite simple.
First, as of right now there are lots of people out there who are responding to reports of massive cuts coming to higher education (which as Jeff Sadow notes is facing a major trimming due to a failed state fiscal structure) by saying “I sure hope they can find a way to keep LSU somewhat whole; it would be a shame for LSU to have to give back all the progress it’s made over the last few years.”
Most of those people are not troubled by the idea that state government ought to be cut. Most of the people in Louisiana are appalled at the size of Louisiana’s government, have been appalled at its size for a long time and aren’t particularly happy about the fact that state legislators and the governor can’t seem to bring themselves to make major changes to how things are done.
But LSU is an interest group with a large following in Louisiana. LSU is a major part of the state’s culture, as will be in evidence on Saturday when well over 100,000 people descend on the campus to tailgate for the first home football game. Lots of people who didn’t go to LSU still take tremendous pride in the exploits emanating from the university.
LSU isn’t much thought of with respect to its component parts, though. People who want to “save LSU” don’t generally think of saving tenured professors’ salaries. And people who want to “save LSU” usually stop a bit short – particularly in a rough economy – at the idea of paying higher taxes to support those salaries.
So when the professors at LSU start talking about unionizing, and when SEIU’s name starts being thrown around, and when talks of a walkout begin amid a continuing rough economy and increasing taxes on the federal level, the support among the public for “saving LSU” is going to drop like a stone.
Besides, Louisiana is a Right-To-Work state. A professors’ union isn’t likely to gain much traction anyway.
This has the feel of a bunch of left-wing academics looking to the national scene, seeing the higher profile of unions in the Age of Obama and figuring this is a good time to get in on the action. But if they go through with this plan, every state legislator with a Nicholls State, Grambling or UL-Monroe in his or her district is going to have ammunition to refuse funding for those spoiled union goons at the flagship school.