Thus endeth Spring Break. It’s been a relatively quiet week (which is a good thing)–a little bit fun, some work, trying to get this messed up ankle back in shape.
Aside from teaching nuttiness coming up this week (starting to shift the focus of my comp courses from thinking about work experientially to thinking about the politics of labor and work-value), and aside from hosting two candidates for comp/rhet positions in my department, we’re also hosting two of three candidates for our statewide union presidency. I’ve talked with both of them and told them what I’m about to write here, so I hope nobody takes what I’m about to say as too revelatory for public consumption–
Pat’s coming in on Monday. When she ran for her first term four years ago, I couldn’t have been a bigger supporter. Her energy and charisma were refreshing and inspiring, and her political/strategic impulses were much closer to my own than the previous president (another example of what I call “an understatement”). And, for just about three and a half years, nothing changed my perception. I liked the way she ran things, her agenda, her style. And even some serious procedural glitches in our contract negotiations process didn’t change that–some nasty stuff went down, and I didn’t pin all that directly on her.
However (sigh)…., in August and September of last year, I saw a failure of presidential leadership that I just couldn’t imagine coming from her. Once we’d reached a Tentative Agreement on which there was widely-held disagreement concerning ratification (the consultant we’ve hired since then rightly points out that this should NEVER happen), those disagreements started to play out in really seedy ways–groups and subgroups and countergroups having meetings, secret and not, accusing each other of unethical behaviors and strategies and tactics–and Pat simply refused to address the obvious and public erosion of trust within the organization. It was clear that somebody on high needed to say something about it, and she just wouldn’t. There are lots of reasons, I believe, that this happened, but they’re all wild speculation so I’ll keep them to myself. In short, I believe that the August/September period was the most damaging to the health of our union, and I put much (not all) of the blame for letting that happen on her.
Burrell is coming on Wednesday. Most of the share of the blame for our internal strife that doesn’t go on Pat goes on Burrell, in my head. I recognize that as vice president his role as public leader is different from the president’s. However, knowing that Pat wasn’t going to do that part of her job (because, despite her claims to the contrary, she clearly took a side in the ratification debate and wasn’t willing to enable the opposition), Burrell should have said at least something. He didn’t because he didn’t believe he could (a very reductive version of his explanation to me), which doesn’t bode well for a presidential run.
So there we are–two of the three candidates represent a current structure that let us get ourselves all up in arms towards each other. I’ve told both of them that I vote in April for the candidate who can offer the best solution to that problem. On paper, I know Pat can tell a better story (at least to me) than Burrell about this–her style and politics are just more interesting to me than his–but that she’s operating from a deep hole because we got to this on her watch.
There is a third candidate, on whom many of us are pinning a great deal of hope with little basis for it except that he’s not Pat or Burrell. We won’t meet Steve until the following week. The little I’ve heard about him sounds good, but it’s enough to work with yet. I’m hoping that I’m happy with what he brings to the table, but there won’t be any way to know that for a while.
All this is complicated, of course, by the pending report from our consultant and the in-process bylaws revisions that have been floating around for a while now. That’s all too messy for me to think about on a rainy Sunday morning, though, so I’ll leave it there.