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Structure of Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

One topic that came up at the NTT gathering yesterday is the need for a chart, diagram, guide, or infographic, that concisely explains how governance and collective bargaining are organized in higher ed in Massachusetts. It's an incomprehensible alphabet soup until you learn how things work.

For example: in public higher education, the "board" might be the Board of Higher Ed, which governs higher ed -- except for the UMass system that has a Board of Trustees instead. Both UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst have unions called "MSP" to represent faculty, but they're totally different organizations. By contrast, UMass Amherst has MSP and UMass Boston has FSU, but they actually are legally one entity called JCC that bargains for both. UMass Amherst has three separate unions: MSP, PSU, and USA that cover faculty, professional and classified employees, but FSU does all three at Boston. Lowell, Amherst, and Boston are all affiliated with MTA, but Dartmouth is in AFT. Eventually, you learn all this stuff, but its impossible for someone who doesn't know it to understand how things work.

I think it would be a great idea to have a big chart or infographic that could show governance (from the top down, of course) and then union representation (from the bottom up) with names, acronyms, and leadership info. I think it might really help people get up-to-speed on the structure of things.

NTT Gathering

Last year, I attended the first NTT Gathering that brought together non-tenure track faculty from across the UMass sytem to talk, primarily, about issues of equity. They met again during the summer, when I was out of town, and again today. I drove with a colleague to Boston to attend the meeting.

It was a smaller group this time, but represented a sampling of the activists from Amherst, Lowell, and Boston -- as well as several community colleges. It was interesting to hear what's going on on each of the campuses.

Amherst just held an NTT summit where faculty came together to establish positions for bargaining. I was also able to report about the conversation I had with Marty Meehan last spring after our first NTT Gathering and read the letter I had drafted to him.

Boston has been struggling with a budget deficit where the administration was directed to make deep cuts in their NTT faculty. The union has been pushing back with actions to raise visibility and highlight the nonsensical false economy of cutting the NTT faculty that actually generate the vast majority of the revenue of the campus.

The Lowell group is drawn primarily from the adjunct faculty that have been trying to negotiate their first contract as a new union under very trying circumstances. They've made some progress, but talks have mostly been stalled for more than a year.

There was also a community college group that spoke to the challenges of organizing the adjuncts because it tends to be composed of three populations: (1) people who are full-time but teach an extra course or two to earn a little additional money, (2) people who are in business or a profession and want to teach as a hobby, and (3) people who are trying to make a living as an academic. Since these groups have very different interests, they're difficult to organize or mobilize toward common goals.

We talked about how to move forward and how to organize the group. I recommended avoiding the model of having a "board" with "officers" as I thought that was mainly necessary to provide oversight of money or assets, which we don't have. I suggested a steering committee with a chair whose members could serve as conduits to the other committees we might organize. I suggested it be less formal, but the sense of the group was to have equal representation with two from each UMass campus and a couple more that could represent the state universities and community colleges.

We set future meetings for November, February, and April with some goals to aim for to refine our message and plan some actions to raise visibility for the issues. I'm pleased to see it happening and, although I resisted efforts to get dragged into being on the steering committee, agreed to help draft the mission statement.

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