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The Unionization of Cleveland State An Insider's Story

by Rodger M. Govea

Associate Professor Rodger M. Govea (PSC) was the Chapter President when the collective bargaining drive and vote took place in 1992-1993. He is also an elected member of the National AAUP Council, the Executive Committee of the National Collective Bargaining Congress, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ohio Conference of the AAUP. This article, in substantially this form, appeared in the November-December 1998 issue (Volume 84, Number 6, pages 34-38) of Academe, the Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors. It is reprinted here with permission.

In December of 1993, the faculty of Cleveland State University, by a 5-to-3 margin, voted to be represented by AAUP for the purposes of collective bargaining. The vote was the culmination of years of discontent. We have removed some of the sources of discontent, while others remain. Most importantly, we have given the faculty of Cleveland State a voice in the governing of the university.
Established in 1964 as part of a statewide program to expand public education in Ohio, Cleveland Sate was founded on the site of Fenn College of Engineering, which has remained one of the university's seven colleges. Enrollment is around 17,000, depending on how one wishes to count. It is primarily a commuter school, with fewer than 1000 residential students.

Cleveland State did not have a strong tradition of faculty governance. While there were plenty of competent, assertive faculty members, the structure of governance curtailed faculty input. Grievances were handled through a committee that heard cases and made advisory reports to the Chief Academic Officer. The Chief Academic Officer would then accept the report, reject it, or issue a separate report. In all cases, that decision was final.

The chief governing body was called Faculty Council, something of a misnomer. The agenda was set by the Chief Academic Officer, and the body itself was dotted with various upper and mid-level administrators. While several stalwart faculty members worked tirelessly to advance the interests of the faculty, it was always an uphill battle, and it ultimately depended on the administration's willingness to listen.

In 1989, with accreditation at stake, the administration abolished Council and replaced it with a Faculty Senate. Over the next few years, our hopes for a genuine, representative structure were consistently frustrated. Although faculty found themselves in control of the Senate, they found that the administration had continued to view itself at a level above the faculty, rather than as colleagues and equals. What developed was a far more frustrating relationship, in which faculty would work diligently on proposals, and then have these proposals amended or ignored by upper-level administrators.

The local AAUP chapter had been in existence longer than university itself, dating back to the early days of the university's predecessor, Fenn College. Its membership and activity fluctuated according to the level of tension on campus. When faculty and administration did not get along, the chapter grew and took positions. During quieter times, the chapter was dormant.

Although only a few professors were loyal dues-paying members, the rest of the faculty greatly respected the AAUP. The faculty handbook was crafted using "Redbook" principles. AAUP principles were often invoked in Senate discussions of various issues. It was thus generally understood that the AAUP defined the values of the academic community. Over time, a number of issues had arisen that the administration had not taken any steps to resolve. First, there was the issue of the overall salary pool. During the 1970s and early 1980s the administration had generously funded faculty salary lines. As a result, Cleveland State faculty found themselves among the highest paid professors at Ohio public universities. However, toward the end of the 1980s, those salaries had become stagnant, and faculty purchasing power was dropping even faster than state support for education. Each year, faculty raises were contingent on various sources, which either materialized or did not. Faculty soon got the message, when 0 per cent increases resulted. Within a decade, salaries at Cleveland State had slipped from among the top three in Ohio to below the state median.

A second problem was that, over time, the discretionary portion of wage increases had been far too large. As a result, the campus was rife with salary inequities. Some faculty were moonlighting in department stores, while full professors were earning less than forty thousand dollars (the campus-wide average is considerably higher). The administration refused to recognize these inequities, apparently under the assumption that their salary decisions were based entirely on "merit", and that their past decisions had been flawless. Essentially, if you were being paid a low salary, it was proof that you were no good.

A third problem was that of salary compression. In order to remain "competitive," salaries for incoming faculty had risen dramatically. Salaries for continuing faculty had flattened. Suddenly, salaries for associate professors with 10 years of service were lower than salaries for new faculty. The administration had in the past acknowledged a problem with compression, but had been unwilling to commit any resources toward a solution.

A fourth problem was the faculty's fears about the future of the university. It had become clear that legislators in Columbus had no interest in protecting Cleveland State University. Since state subsidy had fallen below 50 per cent of the University budget, Cleveland State no longer fit under some definitions of a state institution. Reorganization plans were everywhere what would happen to faculty positions if these plans were put into effect?

A fifth problem was the administration's treatment of specific faculty members. When a faculty member went afoul of a chair, there was very little recourse for the faculty member. As a result, many faculty were intimidated by the administrative hierarchy. This translated into suspicions (founded and unfounded) about favoritism, and a general feeling that some faculty were more equal than others.


A number of events in the late 1980s and early 1990s clearly demonstrated the need for collective bargaining at Cleveland State University. The first was the irregular process by which Cleveland State's third president was chosen. After a long, thorough search with plenty of faculty input, the Board of Trustees aborted the process before any candidates could be interviewed, and suddenly named the Chief Academic Officer as president. This event, dubbed "the Coup," served as a chilling reminder of the Trustees' lack of concern with faculty input.

A few years later, a newly-appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees issued a disturbing report proposing a set of dramatic changes at Cleveland State. One such change was the abolition of tenure, and its replacement with "term tenure," a system in which faculty would receive five-year renewable contracts. Another change would have been the dissolution of about two-thirds of all departments by merging two or three departments (with varying levels of relatedness), and eliminating other departments entirely. Although these changes never came to pass, faculty were nevertheless appalled by the proposals, and especially concerned that not one proposal was submitted to the faculty for discussion through any of the traditional deliberative committees or representative bodies.

The most dramatic demonstration of the dysfunctional relationship between faculty and the administration came during the "Hidden Money Trick" of the 1991-92 academic year. At the beginning of the school year, the administration reported to the Senate that there was no money available for faculty salary increases during the Fall Quarter, but that there would be a mid-year adjustment of 3%. The administration implored the faculty to be patient. In the meantime, the Senate passed a resolution calling for the administration to make faculty salaries "first priority" in the University's budget, which the administration endorsed.

In the middle of the Winter Quarter, the administration announced to the Senate that the 3% increase had disappeared. The Acting President claimed that he had ordered the sum of money sequestered, but the Vice-President for Finance asserted that no such money existed, and no record of any sequestration order ever surfaced. If there is one thing faculty hear too much of, it is lame excuses. But this one did not come from a naive or uninspired undergraduate, it came from the top of the administration.

It was then discovered that the administration had clandestinely spent a considerable sum of money increasing the salaries of 52 selected faculty and administrators. Eventually, a list of the "supplements" came out, revealing adjustments of up to $18,000.

The predictable response was for the Senate to pass a resolution of "no confidence" against the administration. The administration countered by claiming that it was only trying to uphold the concept of "merit," and that the Senate was trying to destroy that concept. The administration refused to back down; with a few exceptions, faculty received no raises for that year. But the local media got the story, and a bit of a tempest arose. The Cleveland Plain Dealer soon wrote an editorial critical of the Faculty Senate, but there was no way to remove the bad publicity. Shortly thereafter, the acting president was removed and replaced after a full search.

More importantly, faculty were given an object lesson in the limits of the "traditional" academic model. With a hostile, indifferent or downright mendacious administration, there is little recourse save an appeal to local political leaders. And those local leaders are either disinclined to intervene or know so little about academe that their intervention would probably not be benign.

The threat to the faculty became more tangible during the 1992-1993 academic year, when the acting president ordered all faculty to teach an additional course without compensation. This unilateral declaration included by a threat to fire any faculty who refused to comply. The lack of faculty input was no longer a theoretical problem. It had become a genuine crisis affecting every professor on campus.


We began our card-signing campaign in December of 1992. A modest reception brought perhaps 100 faculty, with about 80 signing authorization cards. The task was, at first, overwhelming. Just a handful of faculty committed at the outset to accomplish our goal. For doing tasks like mass mailings we could never muster more than six people at one time. The obstacles were numerous.

Our opposition consisted of several types of faculty. First, there were the monastic and hyper-individualist types. Their only wish was to be left alone, not bothered by the outside world. They objected to any collective activity in principle, including the existence of the Faculty Senate. Second, there were people who supported the AAUP, but not collective bargaining. They felt that collective bargaining was contrary to AAUP principles (statements on collective bargaining notwithstanding). Third were the class-conscious. They believed that collective bargaining is something done by blue-collar workers in shiny jackets.

We were able to convince a significant number of individual/monastics that their interests were at stake in the campaign, and that without collective bargaining, their freedom to do as they pleased could not be guaranteed. Many of them saw the calculus of the situation, and reluctantly committed to our campaign. The second group was in a difficult situation, for, as much as they did not like the idea of collective bargaining, they had seen the abuses of past administrations. As AAUP members, their instinct was to side with the faculty, but in many cases they were unable to overcome their objections to collective bargaining. As for the third group, well, a few of them might have supported us secretly, but none ever came forward to admit it.

Truth to tell, few of us were that enthusiastic about collective bargaining. Most of us had devoted our lives to our disciplines, and had never thought there would come a time when we would need to organize. Most of us had come to accept collective bargaining only after some horrible experiences.

From among our supporters, there were a variety of problems. Most faculty do not relish the thought of going door-to-door soliciting signatures, and when the time came to do it, there were few to take up the task. More often, professors were volunteering to write clever flyers that would convince other faculty to sign. Unfortunately, that doesn't work. Only face-to-face contact works, and we reluctantly began the process of getting authorization cards into the hands of the professors and convincing them to sign. By the spring of 1993, we had collected signatures from over half the eligible faculty. Although the AAUP likes to have a solid 60% before filing, our advisors in Washington decided to let us run with 55%.

The next phase involved the rather technical aspects of defining which individuals did and did not qualify as bargaining unit members. This is not an easy task, especially when the administration is mounting legal challenges to your declaration of the unit. Here we received valuable help from Washington, and in the end, we had our unit defined and an election set for December of 1993.

All things considered, it was a fairly clean and honest campaign. The administration raised the usual objections that collegiality would be impaired, that "outsiders" were going to begin to control the campus, and that more layers of bureaucracy would result. In addition, it had the argument that the university had a new president. This new president had been appointed in the spring of 1993 only a month or two before the filing of cards (in what some believed to be a last-minute attempt to stave off unionization). She personally implored the faculty to give the new administration a chance. The faculty, however, had endured enough.

There came a curious moment during the campaign in the Fall of 1993, when the administration announced salary increases for all university employees except the faculty. The administration claimed that they had no choice, that any faculty salary increases would violate state labor law. But the faculty believed that they were being strong-armed. The student publication, which had been sympathetic with the faculty position all along, ran stories with headlines like "Chairs Paid, Faculty Stiffed" (CSU Cauldron, vol. 64, issue 20, Nov. 18, 1993, p. 1). The new administration had lost a great deal of the goodwill they had cultivated between April and late Fall.

In the end, the faculty voted 243-146 for collective bargaining, or, in percentage terms, 62-38 per cent. We have a number of people to thank for our good fortune, not least of which were the administrations whose actions against the faculty guaranteed our success. But we are also indebted to the AAUP's national staff, specifically from the Department of Organizing and Services, for assistance in all aspects of organizing and campaigning. They showed us how to proceed, helped us fight legal and political battles with the administration, and even helped mediate conflict among chapter members. Most of all, they gave us the feeling that we were not alone.


It was not until May of 1995 that we got our first contract. Negotiating it entailed countless headaches, frustration, conflicts, and endless work. The local chapter began by recording and measuring faculty concerns, prioritizing these concerns, and producing a set of proposals that our superb negotiating team then fought for. When it was all over, we had our first contract, which helped us address a number of faculty concerns.

Most prominent was the establishment of minimum salaries at each faculty rank. This resulted in significant salary adjustments to about one-fifth of all faculty members. In many cases, the adjustment moved the faculty member from economic marginality to a living wage. The most seriously underpaid faculty received increases of over 20%. The moonlighters quit their night jobs, and concentrated on the life of the academy.

We eased many fears over reorganization by a strong statement on tenure, which establishes tenure as a status granted by the university. Essentially, this prevents the administration from dissolving a department and laying off all faculty in that department. The administration attempted to amend this clause during the second round of negotiations, but it remains in effect today.

We vastly improved the university's professional leave program. We reduced by one year the minimum number of years between leaves, and raised the compensation level for faculty taking extended leaves. It took two negotiations, but the program is now in place.

We eased some of the problems of compression during our second negotiation by raising minimum salaries for faculty according to the number of years of service in rank. Each faculty member now has an adjusted minimum salary, consisting of the minimum for the appropriate rank plus is an increment multiplied by the number of years in service (with a ten-year maximum). Every faculty member must receive at least this adjusted minimum salary.

Perhaps most importantly, we now have assurances that the ugliest moments of the university's past will not be repeated. Workload must be negotiated; the administration cannot legally increase workload without negotiating with the faculty. If the administration agrees to a particular raise, we will get that raise. They cannot withhold payment because their cat has eaten the university's money, not to mention the less plausible story we were told years ago.

There are problems we still have not solved. Trying to recoup salary losses for 400 faculty is no mean feat. According to our calculations, it would have meant a one-year adjustment of over 20% across-the-board for CSU's faculty to regain the position they held in the 1970s. No administration would ever claim they have such money available, much less consider devoting it to faculty salaries. We also have continuing problems with "market inequities" departments whose salaries are far behind national norms which also will be costly to solve. Add to that the rising cost of health care and we are constantly in a struggle to balance a number of economic proposals in an environment limited by the administration's cost concerns. Ultimately, our progress on salary equity came at the expense of overall salary increases, and we have made only limited gains for the faculty as a whole. But the decision is now in our hands as to how the money is to be distributed.

To some extent, the improved climate at Cleveland State is a product of the new administration installed in 1993. But administrations come and go, and we don't know what the next administration will be like. Whatever sort of administration we have, we will have the assurances of a minimum level of economic security and academic freedom. That peace of mind is, for some, the most important accomplishment of collective bargaining.


Many of the benefits we derived from our first contract came directly from AAUP members at Cleveland State, and might not be appropriate or even desirable to other faculty units. But no matter what appears in an academic contract, there are two benefits that are universal. The first is the presence of a legally-binding document. Many professors believe that their university's faculty handbook contains sufficient protection of academic freedom and faculty governance. As the AAUP has pointed out repeatedly, courts do not always recognize faculty handbooks as legally binding documents. In fact, courts refuse to recognize them as contracts about as often as they sustain them (see especially Donna Euben's article in Academe, Sept./Oct. 1998).

Once we had negotiated our first contract, we made some disquieting discoveries about the handbook. After the contract was ratified, several college and university bodies set about the task of bringing by-laws into compliance with the terms of the contract. Close examination of the language of the handbook and the various college by-laws revealed language far too imprecise to be valuable in a legal setting. Even when a section was clear, it was frequently contradicted by a passage elsewhere in the document. Finally, we discovered sections that had never been reviewed by faculty and approved by the Board of Trustees. We realized that, even if the courts had ruled that CSU's handbook was a legally-binding document, the vague language and contradictions would have minimized the protections we had always assumed it contained.

It is far better to have a legally-binding document that has been reviewed by all parties and their legal representatives than to place faith in a collection of ad hoc passages contained in the ordinary faculty handbook.

The second universal benefit is an improved grievance procedure. Most universities have a grievance procedure providing for college and university-wide committees to hear grievances. The committees issue advisory decisions for the administration to review. Professors usually control the committees, but the administration holds 100% final authority over all grievances.

All academic collective bargaining contracts make grievance procedures more equitable by providing appeals in cases when the administration will not sustain a professor's grievance. Sometimes, the contract calls for an outside arbitrator, or a joint administration-faculty group to which appeals may be made. Ideally, a contract provides for appeals to an arbitrator whose decisions are binding.

We have a provision in the Cleveland State contract for binding arbitration. It allows us to present our grievance to a disinterested observer for a ruling. We have only won some of our arbitration cases, but in all cases we believe that we received a fair hearing and an impartial decision. An important by-product of this process is an increase in cooperation between our local AAUP chapter and the administration. Arbitration is expensive, and we both want to avoid it. This desire to avoid arbitration has led to a number of amicable settlements in controversial cases.

Overall, the faculty's ability to have their grievances heard has been greatly enhanced. The faculty understand that the Cleveland State AAUP can help them, and they do not hesitate to call us when they have a problem (they are somewhat more hesitant to pay dues and become full members). One of our most satisfying accomplishments is the ability to obtain justice for any faculty who are unfairly treated. Arbitrary treatment is slowly abating across our campus, and a more systematic, even-handed form of administration is emerging.

In retrospect, it is amazing that we ever had faith in a system in which faculty complaints against the administration were ultimately adjudicated by administrators.


For many academics, including AAUP members, the connection between collective bargaining and the traditional principles of AAUP is not always clear. Indeed, some professors left the AAUP when the chapter decided to pursue collective bargaining because they felt that such a pursuit was incompatible with AAUP principle. However, we have found that collective bargaining has strengthened both the faculty's awareness of core AAUP values and their ability to protect them on campus.

One of the fundamental assumptions underlying the Redbook is that faculty are the core of the academy. As such, they must be involved in hiring, firing, promotion, tenure, and governance. Ideally, a collegial relationship between faculty and administration insures that the faculty will be critical actors in crucial university decisions. When the administration does not honor this principle, AAUP chapters have opposed the administration, using whatever means were available moral suasion, appeals to the media, even legal action. Collective bargaining is a clear extension of this traditional behavior, using the legal system to secure and preserve avenues for faculty input.

At Cleveland State, academic principles were under attack, and, had the faculty not acted assertively, would have been seriously compromised. In the early 1990s, our institution was on its way to joining the AAUP censured list. Collective action prevented any further erosion of academic values, and created guarantees for the faculty. The only difference between a collective bargaining campaign and a concerted AAUP chapter response to a crisis, or, for that matter, a faculty senate vote against the administration, is that there are legal ramifications to the collective bargaining route. Otherwise, the transactions are identical the success or failure of the campaign depends on the unity and assertiveness of the faculty. Despite the protestations of individualists in the AAUP, it is clear that the success of the organization depends on the ability to organize collectively, whether it is in a formal collective bargaining environment or not.

Finally, the AAUP recognizes the importance of collegiality in relations between faculty and administration. On the surface, a collective bargaining relationship would seem to undermine collegiality, since it is based on a "we-they" separation. However, our experience indicates that collective bargaining has, if anything, a positive impact on collegiality. After all, collegiality is largely a product of the inclination of faculty and administration to get along. Our current administration is head-and-shoulders above its predecessors in respecting faculty opinion. More importantly, the relationship between faculty and administration has been governed by an agreement by both parties that delineates what each group can and cannot do. In the same way that good fences make good neighbors, we have used the contract to guide the development of an improved relationship.

Collective bargaining at Cleveland State has brought stronger protection of academic freedom and tenure, a more equitable relationship between the faculty and the administration, relief to the most seriously underpaid professors, and a vastly improved grievance procedure. It is not difficult to recognize these accomplishments as the realization of core AAUP values.

When the AAUP began to employ collective bargaining as a tool a generation ago, many feared that it would move the organization away from its principles. We at Cleveland State understand that, quite to the contrary, it is one of the best ways to guarantee academic rights for the professorate. Recently, our colleagues at Wright State University made the same decision we made five years ago. We hope that others in Ohio will follow suit. We also hope that state and federal law can be changed to make collective bargaining an option for professors throughout the country. That may seem like a pipe dream, but in 1990, collective bargaining at Cleveland State was little more than that.