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May 29, 1999
Sociology Professor Is Also A Tough Union Leader
Arthur J Pais in Fullerton
Professor G Nanjundappa remembers how his father used to keep his cool when he (The father) presided over disputes in a village near Chikmagalur in Karnataka. "He was a tough negotiator, too," the professor says. "I have surely got some of his gifts."
Professor Nanjundappa must have also his father's patience. For he is one of the union leaders in the battle over contracts for the California State University faculty that has been going on for over 18 months. The professor of sociology who has taught at Fullerton for 27 years, is one of the three negotiators. He is president of the Fullerton Chapter of the California Faculty Association. CFA speaks for 3,000 professors on 23 campuses.
"We are about to sign a contract, finally," he says with joy. He adds he knew things were turning around when Chancellor Charles Reed walked into a mediation meeting in April.
The chancellor's willingness to listen seriously to the union demands avoided a strike at the school, says Professor Nanjundappa. "Strikes are not easy to deal with, they should be avoided," he says, recalling his days as a student leader in Tumkur and then at Karnatak University in Dharwar where he pursued a master’s degree in sociology.
Union activities were the least things on his mind when he came to the United States for his graduate studies and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology from the University of Georgia. "But once I started teaching, I was itching for action," he says. "I got involved in the Democratic Party, I became volunteer in many campaigns, I took part in voter registration drives."
A fellow professor urged him to join the union and help it fight to get better deals for professors.
"It was natural progress for me," Professor Nanjundappa says. He is perhaps the only Indian unionist on a major university campus.
The contract is expected to give raises to faculty to an average of about $ 64,000 – though this would be about 7 per cent below the salaries at comparable universities, the Association seemed ready to accept them.
Among other issues expected to be settled: Professors who use the university's early retirement program will be allowed five years to continue teaching part-time before they must leave their jobs entirely. Administrators initially had wanted to reduce that to two years. Both sides have agreed to a merit-based system of doling out faculty raises.
"In contract negotiations, we cannot expect all our demands to be met," says Professor Nanjundappa. "You fight hard over some demands, and you let go some."
"It is important to keep in mind the difference between key and minor demands," he says.
Despite his long involvement in the unions, he says it is important for unions to have new leaders. One of the reasons the CFA was able to negotiate swiftly in the new round was the presence of newly elected leaders. And the university representatives included the chancellor and two campus presidents who had not been involved in negotiations before.
"We wanted to kind of take new blood to the table with new energy and everything else," he says with a chuckle. "And it worked."
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