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FSU President Catherine Lynde Moves On

Interview with Catherine Lynde, outgoing president of the FSU, conducted by Jennifer Berkshire, Union News Editor


You’re about to retire after three decades at UMass Boston. How has UMB changed since you’ve been here?

It’s a lot bigger. The emergence of a permanent, long term and large presence of non-tenure track faculty is also a big change. Close to half of our classes are now taught by non-tenure track faculty. There are people who’ve been here longer than I have—and I’ve been here for 30 years—teaching here is their career. There are still a large number of faculty here who are committed to the idea that everyone has the right to a good liberal arts education in relatively small classes, and that part of what we do is develop an informed citizenry The union is part of that culture and is often the voice for the importance of that vision.

There have also been big changes in higher education since you started teaching. Talk a little bit about what’s happened.

Well frankly, higher education isn’t as much fun as when I started out. There are trends that I find unpleasant. In the United States we’re giving up on the idea of providing higher education as a civic duty by all for all because we all gain from it. And that’s too bad. I also think that universities are moving towards increasing enrollment without hiring more tenure-track faculty. They hire non-tenure track faculty to do the extra teaching, and they’re usually not treated as well. At the same time you have an administrative bloat at universities that’s been well documented. You see the extra tuition going to pay for administrators whose value-added is questionable. More and more of these administrators, by the way, come from non-academic backgrounds. They don’t think of this as being any different than other industries with customers and products—and that’s not the way I want to think about higher education.

The Faculty Staff Union represents both tenure track and non-tenure track faculty. Has it been a challenge keeping the two groups together?

I think in general it can be hard getting faculty to come together and fight for shared things. One of the things that makes the FSU unique, and I’d argue, effective, is that the union represents both kinds of faculty: tenure track and non-tenure track, and it’s been that way since the very beginning of our union.

In many other institutions they’re in separate unions and more likely to be at loggerheads. Over the years the FSU has gotten contract language which gives NTT a far superior status regarding workload and pay that’s as good as anything in the US. I think our members are very aware of that and appreciate it and want to protect it.

You’ve been president of the FSU since 2008. What are things you’re most proud of accomplishing during your tenure?

I consider helping to forestall parking increases for three years a victory. A lot of what we’ve done since I’ve been president has been administrative. For example, we’ve developed a whole series of workshops and trainings with the idea that alot of contract violations are based on ignorance, not ill will, and that if we could do some trainings about some knotty elements of the contract we could make everyone’s lives a little easier. We’ve moved towards electronic voting instead of paper ballots—something that has increased voting substantially and saves us several thousand dollars a year. We introduced a salary anomaly fund into the contract, which is a way to correct salary differentials because market salaries are rising faster than the salaries of those of us who are already here, mostly because of wider economic currents. We also negotiated the ability for members who need time for an ill parent, a partner or a child and have used up all of their sick time to go to the sick leave bank (making use of everyone else’s sick time to make sure that you’re paid). I’m also really proud of the work we did with other higher education unions in the state to help spearhead a change allowing faculty to move to the state’s defined benefit retirement system. For some people that’s going to make a substantial difference in their retirement, and it couldn’t have happened without the public higher education unions and the Mass. Teachers Association pushing.

Are there issues where you think the FSU still has work to do?

I’d like the faculty that are in the union to see it more as “their union,” as opposed to an outside entity that handles their business and solves their problems. It would be better to have more active involvement. We’ve talked about structures that would further that goal and made a little progress here and there. I hope that continues. And I hope that the FSU continues to work with other unions on campus and with the other public higher education unions.

You’ve been critical of some of the positions that the Mass. Teachers Association has taken in recent years. What would you like to see the MTA do differently?

I think that the MTA has been too interested in having a place at the table and is too willing to compromise in order to have that place. One important example is in regards to proposed changes in retiree health insurance. Not only do I disagree with the need for the change, I am opposed to the abrupt schedule for implementation, something I don’t agree with and that was badly implemented. The MTA stumbled badly with that and they’re paying a price with a lack of support from people. I also think their focus on politics is too much on talking to the legislators and not enough thinking about developing grass roots efforts. The MTA’s definition of a grass roots effort is to organize us to contact our legislators rather than organizing us to say, get rid of high-stakes tests or take on issues of giant distance learning courses, student debt—issues that aren’t just of concern in higher education but are of concern to the Commonwealth.

Anything you won’t miss about being a union president?

I could certainly do without organizing any more meetings. Also, as with most things, problems faced by a small number of people need most of the attention. We have to spend the time to make sure their rights are protected in order to ensure the protection of the rights of the rest of us. This can take a lot of time and energy. Despite the onerous parts of the work, I’ve still very much enjoyed working with the members of the Executive Committee, the Grievance Officers, the Bargaining Team, and our Membership Coordinator; I think they all do a terrific job for us all.