Department chairs likely won't face repercussions for siding with GTFs in strike

Before the strike ended, Dr. Bonnie Mann told The Emerald she believed the University of Oregon was preparing to fire her.

Mann, chair of the philosophy department, was one of the department heads caught between the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation and the administration during the GTF strike. She signed a letter with 11 other department heads saying they wouldn’t let finals graded by non-faculty and non-GTFs be entered for fall term.

Though she thought she could be facing repercussions down the road for this action, Mann now believes the administration is no longer pursuing disciplinary actions – but is speaking of the current erosion of trust between the administration and faculty.

According to Mann in a meeting with Andrew Marcus, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Marcus told her that the administration was gathering information for an disciplinary hearing.

“In the second meeting, I said ‘But I already answered this question last week, why are you asking me this again? What’s this meeting about?’” Mann said.

According to Mann, Marcus replied, “To be frank, so that we can take disciplinary action down the road.”

Administration cannot comment on personnel issues, said Julie Brown, senior director of communications at University of Oregon.

“Writing a letter to express viewpoints is well within anyone’s rights on our campus,” Brown said in an email to the Emerald. “Fulfilling duties as employees is expected, including assigning and entering for students, if a position is responsible for that duty.”

The department heads are in a unique position with the university. Heads are technically administration, but they are also tenure-track faculty, according to the Executive Director of United Academics David Cecil. United Academics is the faculty’s union. Department heads are faculty who take tasks on as a service to their departments, Cecil said.

When faculty unionized in 2012, the union and the Employment Relations Board decided that department heads counted as management, not faculty, according to Cecil. So their contracts are negotiated between the university and the department chairs themselves, and they don’t have protection of the union.

But neither Mann nor Michael Dreiling, president of United Academics, see the administration taking action since the GTFF and the administration came to an agreement in December.

“They were exercising their academic freedom, and they cannot be penalized for exercising their academic freedom,” Dreiling said. “Because the circumstances changed, I don’t imagine there would be any grounds (for discipline).”

Mann believes the same thing. In a follow-up email to the Emerald on Jan. 6, Mann said she hadn’t heard anything about disciplinary action from the administration and assumes they’ve backed off. But after the controversial Academic Continuity Plan and the faculty’s resolution to oppose administration, relations between the two may need to be rebuilt.

At the end of the strike, Interim President Scott Coltrane said it had been a challenging time for the campus, and that it was time for the administration and labor to begin rebuilding trust. A little less than a month earlier, Chuck Lillis said that the UO has a bad reputation for administration-faculty relations in an address to the University Senate.

“We’re all hoping this is just behind us now,” Mann said.

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Scott Greenstone

Scott Greenstone

Rehabilitated ex-homeschooler, former Emerald Senior News Editor, editor-in-chief of The Broadside at Central Oregon Community College, and freelance blogger for Barnes and Noble.

Now I write campus politics. Easy conversation starters include Adventure Time, Terry Pratchett novels and Arcade Fire.