Faculty assembly talks faculty union criticisms, IPA policy


Zoom screenshot

The Pitt Faculty Assembly meeting on Wednesday.

By Khushi Rai, Staff Writer

This story will be updated. 


To Faculty Assembly Vice President Kristin Kanthak, the recent actions of the faculty union are “frustrating and embarrassing”. She said although she is a member of the bargaining unit, the only information she has received from the union is when they are trying to take credit for the Faculty Assembly’s work. 

“I was one of the first people to sign on to a union card. I have had numerous public and private conversations where I tried to convince people what a great idea it was to unionize. I thought it would be a force for transparency and I was dead wrong,” Kanthak said. “I understand the irony that I loudly spoke in favor of a union when it was excluding my med school colleagues and now that it’s excluding me too, all of a sudden, I’ve learned my lesson. To my med school colleagues here and everywhere else, I apologize. I was wrong.”

Kanthak spoke at the Pitt’s Faculty Assembly meeting on Wednesday afternoon, which was held both in person in room 2700 and over Zoom to discuss the lack of transparency from the faculty union. They also discussed the agreement between the administration and faculty union to remove an item from the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) policy agreement from the faculty assembly agenda.

Faculty union representative Tyler Bickford told The Pitt News that the union is “committed” to transparency for “every faculty member.” So far the union negotiated for salary increases, better facility access and better COVID-19 protocols after filing an unfair labor charge, according to Bickford. 

“When we are announcing agreements or accomplishments, I feel very good and confident that those are our agreements and hence, we’re really working our butts off to try and improve things,” Bickford, a professor of the English department, said. “For faculty, especially the faculty that often have the least amount of voice in the existing system. I just wanted to go on the record about, specifically, this idea that we’re taking credit for other people’s accomplishments. We’re really working hard on trying to fix problems.”

Faculty assembly President Robin Kear said she notices division and exclusion are being introduced into the faculty by creating the bargaining unit members and those classified as managers, which has impacted Senate committee work. 

“There have been recent union actions, such as the protests last week at a bargaining meeting, that did not involve the general membership of the bargaining unit membership,” Kear said. “I find this to be opaque and exclusive. The union meetings of the elected leadership, the council of representatives, are not open and nor did they have published minutes. I have found in my interactions with some administrators, and specifically, the vice provost of faculty affairs, are stifled and limited.”

In an interview, Bickford said the budgeting committee gives regular updates, but the administration’s slow response has made the process difficult. 

“We’re frustrated by the pace of the administration’s approach, right, that they’re not meeting more than once or twice a month, they have to take weeks or longer to respond to questions and…to bring their own proposals or better proposals,” Bickford said. “And so, we’ve been sharing that with our members who sign up for our email list. It’s also worth adding that the administration hasn’t agreed to sort of stop spam filtering or emails and so on. So people need to sign up with their personal emails.”

Pitt has yet to respond to a request for comment, as of Thursday night.

Bickford also told The Pitt News that  the goal of the protest last week was to include faculty from “across the University”. 

Kear said a union member said in a recent Pitt News article that there was potential for the union to walk away from their work if delays in bargaining continued. She also said although this is not a formal union position, she was extremely alarmed to hear that disruptive possibility mentioned so casually.

“I do not believe that the union should silence shared governance,” Kear said. “I fear that the union wants to replace it with something that is less transparent. I can see that the faculty union wants to move far outside mandatory subjects of bargaining and into broader areas that are in our shared governance purview. However, the faculty union does not speak for all the people that shared governance represents. It does not even speak for all of the Pitt faculty. We do and that is what we are elected to do.”

Linda Tashbook, adjunct professor of law, said the types of communications that have occurred with the faculty union show a situation that should be avoided. 

“If you think of the concept of transactional analysis, where you’re looking at the roles that participants in a communication have, you want to avoid a situation where there’s a parent role and a child role — one that’s in charge and another that’s asking or demanding things,” Tashbook said. “Well, that’s what the union type of communications have looked like to me. We’re demanding. We’re asking. We want you big guys to do what we say or we’re going to kick you in the knees as opposed to what we have with our shared governance, which is adult to adult.”

Kear also said because the Senate president sets the agenda, the administration and union do not have the ability to change it regarding the IPA agreement.  

“I’m certainly open to discussion of the agenda, but not dictation. The preservation of our robust system of shared governance is a priority for me. Removing the IPA agreement from the agenda because it’s an agreement between the administration and the union erodes that system,” Kear said. “Neither the administration nor the union has the authority to add or remove any item from their agenda. It undermines our system of shared governance and treats our existing apparatus as an ancillary structure as opposed to something central to the functioning of the University.” 

Melanie Scott, vice chair for research, said the Senate research committee approved the IPA policy in the last meeting and she continues to encourage people to vote for it. She said Pitt based its IPA policy on other types of IPAs held in other academic institutions but tweaked it so it’s more specific to Pitt.  

“The NIH recruits people from academic intuitions to come to the government institution for a period of two to four years, so they can share their knowledge with the NIH and they can also learn and take information and their new understanding back to the University,” Scott said. “The major part [of this policy] is that the University must hold that person’s job open so that they can return to that position or a higher position. What this policy does is basically ask a set of questions and sets up the idea that people should be considering in their planning so that things run more smoothly.”

Kear said it is more helpful if the union spoke to the Faculty Assembly because communication would “actually quite improve things.” 

“I think one of the reasons that our system of shared governance works is that we can point out places where they’re not being transparent and, put simply, embarrass them into doing the right thing or at least to live up to the values that they report to have,” Kear said.

Bickford told The Pitt News that the union “hasn’t received an invitation” to meet with the Faculty Assembly. 

“We reached out to the Senate leadership in the spring, and we met with the Senate president with our proposals to try to get input. And I believe that other members of the committee have been in touch with us more recently,” Bickford said. “So I’m a little surprised by the suggestion that we haven’t reached out again since the spring. We reached out to the [Senate council] president … because we want open, direct communication, so maybe there’s some miscommunication and I guess that’s too bad.”