Now that the SIUE Faculty Association has a new contract, there’s also a new union president.
Former union president Kim Archer stepped down a few weeks ago to hand the reins over to Mark Poepsel, an associate professor of mass communications.
The Faculty Association was formally organized as a union in December 2016, and nearly three years later, the first full contract was ratified in August 2019. Archer led the union through its negotiations, which occasionally became contentious with informational pickets last year.
“I think we’ve made tremendous strides toward shining a light on a previously unchallenged culture, where a corporatized administration openly does not prioritize faculty’s livelihood or morale,” Archer said.
Now, Archer said, the goal is to implement that first contract.
“Enacting the changes that both sides agreed to is actually changing a whole culture, and that’s a considerable challenge,” Archer said. “We’ve proven that when we work together, we can, in fact, pressure management to do the right thing and live up to its promises. I’m looking forward to seeing how good a place like SIUE can be made even better now that administration must consider faculty’s input and work with us as equal partners.”
Poepsel is currently on sabbatical from the mass communications department as he begins his seventh year at SIUE. This past summer, he led a group of students to spend a month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, learning investigative reporting and Latin American history through the lens of journalism.
But while conducting research on his sabbatical project this fall, Poepsel accepted leadership of the Faculty Association. He has previously served as secretary and then vice president during the union’s earlier years. He said that the lengthy negotiations did become contentious, but that they are contentious by nature.
“The union is not the most surgical tool; it’s a blunt instrument to wield,” Poepsel said. “They’re not a genie and they’re not going to make all your dreams come true.”
He said that the faculty thought it might not be as contentious at SIUE because they had worked with the administration to help the university get through the lengthy budget crisis when the state partially shut down for lack of a budget in a stalemate between then-Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislature.
“We were maybe naive to think they would give us extra consideration because we helped get all of us through this, but there’s a standard bureaucratic response when the faculty organize,” Poepsel said.
The eventual contract guaranteed a 2.75 percent raise each year for the next three years, which Poepsel said will help make up for years without raises.
“You get a cut in pay when inflation happens and you’re stuck at the same salary,” he said.
Future issues will include equity pay, comparing what professors at SIUE make in certain departments compared to national and state data.
“Our tactic is basically who is egregiously low for their field,” Poepsel said.
That will have to happen gradually, Poepsel said.
Other discussions will involve implementing the contract provisions as negotiated, working conditions, workload and salary.
“I’m not going to make everybody happy, but it’s not all my concern,” Poepsel said. “We’re going to talk in open forums and have an open dialogue. We don’t want the union to get in the way of necessary change. We’re not just here to say no … unless it has to do with working conditions and workload, we don’t need to have a say in something like curriculum.”
That’s the area for the SIUE Faculty Senate, among others. The Faculty Senate also has a new leader: Jocelyn DeGroot of the applied communications studies department. DeGroot said she looks forward to working with Poepsel as they figure out how the Senate and the union will work together to advocate for faculty members and education on campus.
That includes the Faculty Senate’s welfare council, which has historically handled the grievances and salary equity issues now handled by the union. However, it is staying in place, DeGroot said, because there are still non-represented faculty on campus who will require its services.
“We’re all adapting, because everything changes,” DeGroot said. “But we are problem solvers.”
For her part, Archer said she was happy to hand the job over to Poepsel, who she said has been a leader in the union since before it was certified.
“Whenever we’ve needed someone to step up, he’s been there,” she said. “Mark has my complete faith and trust, and I’m very glad he was willing to step up yet again. The FA has a lot of challenges ahead, ensuring that the administration adheres to the agreement they signed. Mark is exactly who we need to lead this next phase of the union’s evolution.”