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Monday, January 30, 2023

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Do We Need Lawyers?

Okay, I admit it: I dont like lawyers.
Nothing personal, but their big incomes depend on making endless motions and responses and appeals, which make peoples problems worse, not better. Maybe lawyers have to inform us about all these options, but that doesnt mean we have to invoke them. Lawyers arent paid to advise on whats right or good or in the best interests of everyone involved. Its up to the people in a dispute to evaluate that.
The faculty at UVI and the university itself are now at the mercy of lawyers. The faculty wants to unionize; the administration and Board of Trustees opposes it. The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) was supposed to decide the issue it has the expertise and the authority and it did. The PERB decided in favor of the faculty on every issue. But now the administration is appealing and the ballots in our election have been impounded. Presumably on the advice of its many lawyers the administration has blocked the democratic process that allows us to say whether we want to unionize or not. So now the lawyers will take over and prolong the dispute with appeals to all possible courts until the President of UVI or the Board of Trustees decides that theyve wasted too much of your money and created too much ill will and they let the faculty exercise its right to choose collective bargaining.
The UVI chapter of the AAUP is composed and run entirely by local faculty, but it is allied with a highly respected professional organization, one with extensive expertise and experience in academic management issues with access to some of the best legal minds in the country. The national AAUP has advised the local faculty that we will eventually win in the courts. But you know what? I dont even want to talk about it let the lawyers do that.
What I DO want to talk about is why the faculty wants collective bargaining and why the UVI Board of Trustees and the administration have decided it isnt in the best interests of the University, the faculty, students and the community for the faculty to have collective bargaining. How did they arrive at that conclusion? The faculty quite honestly doesnt know. The community and students whose interests they say they are protecting dont know. We train our students to examine reasons and arguments but we cant do that ourselves until the administration or the Board will discuss it with us explain their reasoning or at least listen to ours.
Wed like to talk about trust and enforceable contracts, which are major factors in why we want collective bargaining. Wed like to hear why we should expect agreements reached as we discuss our specific concerns wont be ignored as they have been ignored in the past. Wed like to hear why we can trust anything but an enforceable contract reached through collective bargaining after the UVI Board of Trustees retroactively cancelled the compensation system that based salaries on annual evaluations. (The dispute isnt about money; its about establishing and enforcing a fair compensation system again. Its about giving faculty an appropriate role in decision making at the university. When people imply the faculty want to unionize just to demand more money I feel like kicking them in the I feel like kicking them.) Wed like to talk about why we cant rely on agreements we might reach with an administration that departs from Board approved policies with respect to evaluation, promotion and tenure. We want to discuss the really central issue: our need for negotiated and enforceable contracts that can be negotiated under collective bargaining.
Im personally willing to talk about this central issue and help the administration and the Board of Trustees to understand our position. Some of my colleagues dont want any more talk at all until UVI releases our ballots and stops the financial blood flowing to the lawyers. Some of my colleagues have even stronger emotions about it than I do and my own are pretty intense. Its a bit late for talk and promises. We just want to end this by recognition of our right to choose collective bargaining. We really hope the lawyers will stop making money on the pain and frustration this is all causing.

Editor's note: Lynn Rosenthal is a professor of computer science at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he has been a member of the faculty for 30 years.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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