Board of Trustees doesn’t want to mediate in labor strikes

If the Board of Trustees had stepped in during the graduate student strike last term, would things have gone differently?

This is the question the Executive and Audit Committee faced on Wednesday. Kurt Willcox, a non-faculty staff trustee, brought a resolution to the committee that would better inform the board on labor relations, and force them to call an emergency meeting if a strike is announced.

To many in faculty and the student body, the Graduate Teaching Fellows’ labor negotiations that ended after a finals week strike felt like a power struggle between administration and academics.

University Senate opposed the administration’s efforts to keep the strike from derailing finals week, and general sentiment among faculty, graduate students and staff was that the administration should give the GTFs what they were asking for.

This is also the case when the classified workers came close to striking in 2013, according to Willcox.

The Board of Trustees stands above administration, and many in academics and the GTFF wanted the Board to step in and mediate. They didn’t, and in fact did not address the strike as a board until after it was over.

This is what Willcox wants to change with his resolution. His resolution would require the president to report labor negotiations to the Board and, most importantly, call an emergency Board meeting if a strike is impending.

But Willcox didn’t really expect the resolution to pass from the start.

“I am well-aware there is little to no support for this resolution within the committee,” Willcox said in the meeting.

The Trustees delegated responsibilities for labor negotiations to Interim President Scott Coltrane. But this resolution classifies a labor strike as a crisis where the Board should step in.

But other members of the Board spoke loud and clear with their response: They don’t want to mediate.

Mediation from the Board would undermine the authority of the President, said Ginevra Ralph, board vice-chair. Trustee Allyn Ford (of the Ford Alumni Center, where the meeting was held) voiced his discomfort with getting involved in such an emotional, complicated process.

“I just don’t feel competent being put into that role,” Ford said.

This resolution could be construed as an attack on leadership in the university, Board Chair Chuck Lillis said in the meeting—specifically on him and the president. Willcox insisted that it’s not, and that it is common in education for the governing board to step in.

After some discussion like this, the committee voted the resolution down unanimously.

“They don’t see themselves as having a role between the president and any of the unions on-campus,” Willcox told the Emerald. “They see themselves as having given authority to the president and want the president to handle this.”

Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.



Tell us what you think:

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.