The California Faculty Association, a union that represents instructors at SF State, is fighting an Academic Senate policy that went into effect this fall on the grounds that it changes working conditions and was approved without input from the union.
The policy, F17-242, pertains to the academic calendar and requires faculty members to convene classes during finals week irrespective of whether they have finals to proctor. It’s being viewed by the union as a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to a complex issue.
“Some [professors] don’t give finals at all, they have papers and things,”CFA’s SF State chapter President James Martel said. “We’re trying to avoid a one-size-fits-all model.”
Academic Senate President Nancy Gerber said this requirement isn’t new, though, and is simply an emphasis on requirements put in place in the 1970s.
“That’s ridiculous!” CFA representative professor Larry Hanley said. “That’s like saying we shouldn’t be able to drink beer despite the 21st Amendment. The way policy works is when you pass a new law you invalidate the previous law.”
And Hanley would know. He had Gerber’s job chairing the Academic Senate from 2012 to 2014.
“So 1976, that’s what 43 years ago?” he said. “There have been many revisions of that policy over those four decades.”
CFA Field Representative Maureen Loughran agrees, noting that the past three revisions to the policy in 2007, 2011 and 2014 did not include the finals week requirement.
“In past iterations of this policy the university has not required the classes meet during finals week if no final exam was scheduled, but [this
is] a policy revision which includes a requirement to hold a class meeting during finals week,” Loughran said. “And because it changes the language of the policy it affects the working conditions of the faculty and the union has a right to confer with management.”
The Academic Senate generally seeks feedback from faculty before making policy changes like F17-242, but in this case the CFA said it was circumvented. It was only alerted when confused faculty members began calling with questions about the policy nearly nine months after its Oct. 31, 2017, Academic Senate approval.
“I think the administration is just stonewalling,” Loughran said. “There’s an organization called Western Association of State Colleges—WASC—and—they accredit universities and they kind of said something like, ‘You need more hours in the classroom during a semester.’”
The CFA has yet to see proof that WASC requires faculty to meet during finals week. But the fact that they were not consulted is the crux of the conflict.
“It’s really kind of disheartening. We’re all colleagues,” Hanley said. “The goal of shared governance is to collaborate, but I think with this policy there’s been no collaboration, no consultation and there’s just been this avoidance [on behalf of the administration].”
The CFA responded to the policy change with a July 25 ‘meet-and-confer’ request addressed to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Labor Relations, Rene Castro. The right to meet and confer with CSU over systemwide changes impacting working conditions is something to which the union’s
collective bargaining agreement entitles them, but the CFA said CSU was silent for months.
“The CSU does not believe a meet and confer is necessary because San Francisco State has required faculty to meet during exam week since 1976,” CSU Director of Public Affairs, Toni Molle said. “The Office of Statewide Labor Relations has conveyed to CFA that they can sit down and talk whenever CFA desires.
But Martel disputes Molle’s claim, saying while there have been recent communications with the Chancellor’s Office, CSU has yet to schedule an official meet-and-confer.
“I still don’t understand why CSU is not meeting and conferring with us on this,” Martel said. “We asked them in July and they still haven’t done it, but until they do, the policy is not valid.”
Loughran said the delay may be in part due to the fact Castro, formerly a supervisor at CFA before “switching to the dark side,” left his job in the Chancellor’s Office some time after the meet-and-confer letter was sent, leaving the office in a state of disarray.
But Loughran believes CSU is simply trying to steamroll the union.
“[The Academic Senate] just added it to the policy and acted like they have to do this for accreditation so they shouldn’t have to bargain it with the union,” she said.
But the CFA argues the policy creates an environment in which faculty lose their right to teach how they want, and robs them of academic freedom by controlling how they schedule their classes. In shutting them out of the decision-making process and failing to meet and confer, union representatives say F17-242 is not valid.
The Academic Senate is scheduled to discuss the finals policy in their bi-weekly meeting Tuesday.
“This isn’t just the union being obstinate and insisting on our right to meet and confer,” Martel said. “The reason we have that in our contract is because a lot of these policies have very powerful impacts on faculty teaching and we just want to make sure the best possible policies are adopted for us.””