by Daily Editorial Board
On Thursday, the Minnesota Daily broke news that University of Minnesota administrators had spent more than $515,000 of state taxpayer and tuition money in its litigation against faculty unionizers.
The funds, spent between March and mid-July of this year, were paid to an outside law firm — Fredrikson & Byron — a legal counsel the University continues to work with.
The use of funds in such a fashion has drawn criticism from some faculty members and state legislators, alike.
Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, told the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group in a press release last week, “I’m sure no one in the legislature … intended for over half a million taxpayer dollars we appropriated to the University of Minnesota’s general fund to be used for attorney’s fees fighting the University’s own employees in exercising their right to form a union.”
Hours after the Daily published its report, University officials contacted the paper via email, saying they would ensure no tuition, state or federal funds were used to pay any legal fees incurred during their continued battle with faculty union advocates in court. Interim Vice President and CFO, Michael Volna, said he’s unsure why money was pulled from that account to cover the costs of the fees.
In July, President Eric Kaler addressed his colleagues in a statement, saying, “For my part, I do not support a faculty union. […] I firmly believe our work as faculty members depends fundamentally on our autonomy as individuals executing our three-part mission of teaching, research, and service.”
Kaler argues that there is little evidence to suggest that unionization would enhance research — though, it seems likely that $515,000 could spur great forays into teaching, research and service, had the University doled out its money differently.
Across the nation, faculty members lament cuts to higher education, low pay and tenuous job security — especially adjunct and non-tenured faculty members. At the University, officials suggest that the creation of a bargaining unit between faculty and the Service Employees International Union would “not conform to law.”
One fact remains salient: If the faculty union push is successful, the University could be home to one of the largest faculty unions in the nation. While the University may peddle empty rhetoric — highlighting concerns over potential financial and structural reverberations unionization could have on the University — it seems plausible that the school’s real concern lies in the power a unionized faculty would wield.
While some faculty members are opposed to the union effort, a strong, unionized faculty would surely serve as a watchdog against its administration.
In its mission, the University states that the school is “founded in the belief that all people are enriched by understanding [and] is dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth.”
So, we ask administrators: How does the University intend to fulfill its mission when the conduit for the “advancement of learning” — its teachers — are the ones being suppressed?