Press Release: Governor's higher ed conference excludes higher ed constituents

Monday, July 9,

Days after the University of Tennessee system’s Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents raised tuition and fees for their respective campuses, and following Governor Bill Haslam’s announcement of a conference on the future of higher education to be held this Tuesday, United Campus Workers-Communications Workers of America local 3865 has issued a call to Haslam to include staff, faculty, and students from the campuses in the dialogue. While invitees include politicians and even representatives of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, the Governor’s office left out invitations to those people who are at the heart of the state’s higher education system: its faculty, staff, and students.

“We’re confused and disheartened by the Governor’s choice to privilege business interests over the interests of the people who are most directly involved in the higher education system,” said Tom Anderson, President of UCW-CWA and staff at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. “We want to be at the table because we think we’re in the best position to see what’s working—and maybe more importantly what isn’t working. Any solution is going toinvolve all of us, so why aren’t all of us being asked to participate in this conversation?”

UCW-CWA represents some 1,300 staff, faculty, instructional staff, student and part-time workers statewide on nearly a dozen campuses.

“This doesn’t just need to be a closed-door conversation of the 1% and politicians about what they want the higher education system to be. All stakeholders need to be at the table, especially the people who work, teach, and study at the schools,” said Anderson.

Viewing higher education as a crucial part of Tennessee’s economy and its democracy, UCW-CWA has issued a letter to the Governor’s office urging Haslam to include workers’ and students’ voices in any discussion about the future of the state’s higher education systems.

“If you want to know what’s going on, you need to ask the people who are there everyday, living and breathing it. We need representation at these meetings. These are public institutions, paid for with public dollars and tuition money, and their future is part of our future as a state. We all need to be at the table, not just the Big Wigs,” said University of Memphis custodian and UCW member Thelma-Jean Rimmer.

“What we as faculty fear is a centralized governance that standardizes curriculum across the state, thus eliminating a faculty's most vital role: designing curriculum to meet the needs of the students in front of them,” said Keith Norris, Associate Professor and 25-year faculty member at Pellissippi State Community College. “This type of closed-door meeting sends the wrong message and raises fears of the potential further corporatization of higher education.”

UCW’s letter was sent on Friday, July 6, 2012, and offers to provide representatives of staff, faculty, and student interests at the meeting planned for Tuesday.

“We hope the Governor listens and makes a fair and democratic choice,” said Anderson.