Faculty and Students should come before Administrative Flexibility

Dear Colleagues, 

During recent remarks to the University Senate, President Mike Schill alerted the campus to yet another potential budget crisis. He identified four reasons for his concern about budget “fragility:” the ongoing difficulties with PERS funding, the decrease in international students, low reserves, and the loss of “flexibility” due to faculty unionization. 

We were surprised to have President Schill cite United Academics as a cause of budget fragility. In the summer of 2015, UO President Michael Schill and then-UA President Michael Dreiling negotiated a two-year salary extension to the faculty contract, with raises of 2.0% and 2.125%. We agreed to these raises–less than our comparators–because we understood the university had budget problems, and we wanted to do our part to help out and offset ever-increasing tuition. 

President Schill and his leadership team, including the Board of Trustees, have been in charge of the university and its finances for five years.  They have made a series of decisions about how to structure the budget, spend money, direct lobbying efforts, and shape the university according to their desires and priorities. They have made these decisions without consulting us or involving the faculty in any meaningful way. We believe for President Schill to now say that we are a cause of budget fragility is an insult to the efforts we made two years ago and nonsensical given our lack of input in the decisions that have led us to this point.

One of the main reasons the faculty unionized was because during several budget cycles, the administration decided not to give faculty raises. It’s true that in this sense, the unionization of faculty and collective bargaining contracts have reduced the administration’s “flexibility” not to give raises–in other words, to balance the budget on the backs of teaching faculty, SEIU employees, and GEs. It is also possible that our efforts to protect Career teaching positions during the last round of budget cuts impinged on administrative flexibility. 

We make no apologies for reducing administrative “flexibility” to give no raises or terminate good faculty who serve the mission of the university. We do, however, reject the implication that preventing zero percent salary increases and layoffs of quality faculty contribute substantially to alleged budget fragility. Through UA, faculty have demanded decent raises and job stability because this is necessary to recruit and retain excellent faculty. We know that student success comes when the faculty are fully engaged in the research and teaching mission of the university and not from a faculty who are constantly worried about their jobs or looking for positions at other universities. 

When we look at our campus, we see a vibrant community of scholars passionately devoted to cutting-edge research and world-class education. We see a growing and diversifying student body who are making tremendous strides into our shared future and are now graduating at higher rates than ever before [https://around.uoregon.edu/content/uos-four-and-six-year-graduation-rates-reach-new-high]. We also see an ever-bloating administration, construction all over campus, and multi-million dollar athletics facilities. 

After making his remarks, President Schill talked with me and clarified that he in no way intended to imply that UA was a cause of current budget difficulties. He did, however, reexpress concerns about the union causing future budget fragility. As we prepare to approach the bargaining table on January 9, we intend to discuss with the administration the faculty’s ideas on how to continue to improve our university. We will continue to argue that a strong faculty equals a strong university. We will continue to reject the notion that our union, not administrative decision-making, is a source of budgetary woes on campus.  

In solidarity,

Chris Sinclair, President United Academics