LETTER: Open letter to trustees Chairwoman Sarah Opperman

In your remarks at this week’s Board of Trustees meeting you discussed the difficult state of the contract negotiations between the CMU Faculty Association (FA) and CMU’s administration. In a part of your statement you referred to comments I made at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon. You put it this way: “As a professor eloquently said at the Trustee-Faculty Liaison Committee yesterday, we cannot let this negotiation process undermine what everyone has and is working so diligently to create.” This captures some of what I said to the committee, but the overall sense is wrong. Here’s why:

I told the committee how proud I am of the work done by my faculty colleagues and our students in the Department of Physics. PHY faculty members are campus leaders in scholarship and they showed it clearly this past year, publishing more journal articles than ever, and attracting a record amount of grant money to support their research. It was also a great year for PHY students. One of our students was honored with the Provost’s Award for outstanding research by an undergraduate, and two of our M.S. graduates were recognized by the Outstanding Thesis Award of the College of Graduate Studies. We are indeed working very diligently to make CMU a better place. I know the same can be said for faculty and students all across campus.

I also told the committee that I am concerned about the toll the lack of an FA contract is taking on our work. All of CMU’s regular faculty members have profound interests at stake in the negotiations and the fact that we are working without a contract is a serious distraction. (I also recognized that the difficult negotiations take their toll on members of the administration as well.) You understood that, but I worry that you misunderstood the ultimate point I was making. I did not imply, as you suggest, that we can and should put thoughts of the negotiations aside and focus on our work. I do not believe that is possible, and that is exactly why I felt the need to speak to the Liaison Committee. I wanted to make Board members aware of some of the less visible, but critically important, things that are at stake in these protracted negotiations.

Why is it impossible for faculty members to simply put the negotiations out of our minds and focus only on teaching and scholarship? As Faculty Association members, we all have to work together to get a fair contract. Only a few of us can actually sit at the table and negotiate with the administration. The rest of us must attend meetings, engage in informational picketing, etc., in order to make it clear that we strongly support our bargaining. We are all in this together, and we have to continue to work together until the contract is settled.

I know that my faculty colleagues in PHY and across campus continue to devote themselves to their students and to their scholarly work as best they can, stalled negotiations or not. But we are raising our sights at CMU to aim for new standards of excellence. We want to compete at the highest levels in all that we do, and we want to help our students do so, too. To be successful, we need to focus all of our energy, and our hearts, as well as our minds, on our academic work. That cannot happen in the current climate. That was my message to the Board. I wanted Board Members to recognize and appreciate all that is at stake in the negotiations.

You have the ultimate power to end the impasse. Please help resolve the crisis by directing the administration to bargain seriously and in good faith to find mutually beneficial solutions to the remaining issues, and to offer and accept creative and reasonable compromises to do so. Please do this now and help create the brightest future for CMU.

Koblar Alan Jackson Professor and Chairman Department of Physics