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The Point: UMB Should Take a Flyer on Free Speech


Subject: Posting Policies on Campus

Action Item: Download the Attached and Put it On Your Office Door

After drafting this email blast late last week, all about the difficulty the FSU had in getting flyers about expanded bargaining approved for posting, we learned that someone was tearing down our flyers and replacing them with a different flyer issued by the “Labor Relations Office.” It is hard to say whether this management flyer is more mendacious or more pathetic (we’ll call it a tie): it memorializes a stunt curated by the administration bargaining team wherein they “started” negotiations behind closed doors, putatively “waiting” for FSU’s core bargaining team and then treating it as a photo op.  But this is a straight up lie: the FSU refuses to bargain in secret and did not show up to this “meeting” because it was never agreed to in the first place. While the management team plays silly and insulting games, we remain committed to the transparent form of bargaining we engaged in last round.

Greetings, Colleagues:

Did you ever stop and wonder why we even have an elaborate set of policies managing the posting of flyers on campus?

I have been thinking about this for a few days—tell you why in a second—and I really cannot come up with a satisfactory reason why we do.  I suppose it is always thus with institutional rituals that have become widely naturalized—they come to take on the force of a natural fact when in reality they represent a very purposeful sort of gatekeeping (and in this case, a stifling of free speech).  In preparing this email blast I surveyed about two dozen sets of rules from colleges and universities around the United States and, you guessed it, they are virtually indistinguishable from each other and similarly devoid of a clear rationale for being. 

A little story to illustrate this point.

Last weekend a few members of the FSU’s Contract Action Team (CAT) worked to create a flyer (attached here) to post around campus that urged community members to write Mickey Gallagher, Executive Director of Labor Relations, and the management team’s lead bargaining negotiator, and urge her to bring her team back to the virtual table to bargain with our Core Bargaining Team (CBT) and our expanded team.  First thing on the morning of April 3rd one member of the CAT took the flyer to the Office of Student Affairs to get it approved.

Wait, you say: what does the Office of Student Affairs have to do with a flyer created by the Faculty Staff Union?

One of many unsolvable mysteries, I’m afraid.

I’m boiling down a whole lot of activity (and inactivity) here for the sake of brevity—and nothing I am reporting is meant to cast aspersion on the student workers or professional staff at this office: in fact, the CAT has special sympathy for the student workers put in the untenable position of ruling on flyers brought to them by UMB professors.  Suffice to say that between Monday morning and early Thursday afternoon the flyer had still not been approved (though we did show true Beacon spirit by printing up and posting a bunch with our own beautiful stamp of approval! Most of our samizdat flyers were quickly taken down, of course).  It was more or less impossible for us to figure out where the logjam was or who to speak with in order to get it unstuck. Ultimately it took a whole lot of emailing and the current FSU president and previous FSU president showing up together at the OSA office to get the necessary stamp.

On some level it would be reasonable to conclude that the bureaucracy was functioning exactly as it is supposed to—cloaking what should be a very simple process in a fog of maddening obfuscation and capricious delay. “Bureaucracy” too often is misunderstood as representing a formation that is clunkily slow but relatively straightforward in how it carries its work.  But a central function of bureaucracies is to mystify very basic processes—resulting often in individual plausible deniability with respect to decision-making and an overall bias in favor of stasis and hierarchy.

That said, it is hard to avoid concluding that the FSU was targeted with some particular bureaucratic (mis)treatment.  As Steve Striffler put it in an email to the rest of the CAT, the flyer followed all rules but then sort of disappeared into the bureaucratic mist: “I am left with the conclusion,” the former FSU president wrote, “that someone just didn’t like what the flyer said—which raises issues of free speech and labor law.  At the very least, if there is an issue, they have to tell us. There can’t be one laborious process for the FSU and easy process for everyone else.”

If you walk around our campus you will probably see that there are loads of flyers that go up—and stay up—with no OSA stamp.  The inability to get our flyer approved and the alacrity with which our alternatively-stamped flyers were taken down has a pretty loud tale to tell about suppression of protected union speech, it seems.

Please consider printing out the flyer and putting it on your office door—or anyplace you think it would have an impact.  It is important to continue to assert our collective voice!

This is your union.  Please let us know at if you have additional ideas about how to push back against forces on campus that suppress our free speech rights.


Jeff Melnick

Vice President