When Bosses Say "Flexibility," It Means Job Destruction

07/25/2012 01:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2012

In the recent history of labor relations, corporations have relied on a rationale of "flexibility" to protect their profit margins. Even when some of these same corporations are making record profits, they look for ways to eliminate those full-time jobs that provide decent wages and a modicum of security.

While public universities are non-profit institutions, they are increasingly exhibiting corporate behavior. From highly paid presidents to superfluous administrators, universities are also adopting the language and practices of corporate labor relations, especially when it comes to replacing tenured faculty with poorly paid part-time teachers.

Among the arguments advanced by the Administration bargaining team at Wayne State University for eliminating tenure is the need for "flexibility." In effect, as maintained by Wayne State Law Professor Michael McIntyre, a former chief negotiator for the faculty union, "What (the Administration) apparently wants is the authority to fire people if it chooses to spend money to advance some agenda that it considers more important than retaining faculty and academic staff, even if these people are performing their jobs at least adequately and perhaps...even brilliantly."

I was a member of a former department at Wayne State that had served working adults in Metro Detroit for more than 40 years with great success and distinction. For reasons that had little to do with economic concerns and more to do with an agenda that no longer valued working class adults, this program was eliminated. Our contract provisions at the time guaranteed placement for our faculty in other departments throughout the university. Under the newly proposed Administration provisions for termination of tenured faculty and academic staff, this protection would no longer exist.

For many workers in the metropolitan area who have been declared "redundant" or replaced with temps, the demand by faculty and staff at Wayne State to retain tenure may seem rather arcane, if not arrogant. However, what is at stake at this urban public university is particularly evident to teachers and public workers everywhere. In the name of "flexibility" and budget constraints, executives are advancing their own corporate and elitist interests.

Certainly, the history of tenure is rooted in the need to retain academic freedom, a noble goal in a democratic society where healthy debate and difference is essential to the maintenance and expansion of that democracy. Whether this is, as terminating faculty and staff because of financial exigency, a "luxury of the past," as suggested by one of the members of the WSU Administration team, is yet to be determined. Nonetheless, what appears to be evident from the posturing and proposals of the Administration is a desire to destroy those full-time well-paid jobs that may actually serve the real needs of the diverse working class constituency of Metro Detroit.