When United Academics was first formed eight years ago, both the administration and United Academics agreed that Career faculty were valuable members of the campus community. We agreed that our research mission would be nothing without them, and that their teaching forms the backbone of our educational mission. Both parties easily agreed that Career faculty should be able to earn long-term contracts that provided them certainty and stability. Both agreed that if these excellent faculty were willing to commit themselves to the university, the university should commit to them in return. While Career faculty have gone to extraordinary lengths to make a remote Spring term work, the corresponding commitment from the administration has ended.
Over the last few years, we have seen a radical transformation in how the administration treats the faculty, especially our Career colleagues. Their disdain for Career faculty has been most apparent in their use of Career contracts as leverage in an attempt to force us to accept the administration’s wage cut proposal without any of the modifications we wanted to discuss. The administration treated the Careers and their livelihoods and the well-being of our departments and students as chips in bargaining. They said, flat out, give us what we want or we reduce these faculty to 0.1 FTE contracts. These are not the actions of an administration that values faculty.
The Price of Excellence
Faculty who achieve promotion, whether they be tenure-track or Career, are supposed to earn job security and an increase in salary. By achieving promotion, these faculty have demonstrated their excellence and commitment to the university. Unfortunately, several of our Career colleagues who are mid-contract learned this last week that their reward for achieving promotion would be a new contract with a 0.55 FTE, instead of the 1.0 FTE they would have received if they had not gone up for promotion. We protested this administrative decision, pointing out that the administration could incorporate the final year of their previous contract into their new contract at absolutely no loss to the university, but they refused. Faculty who were days away from promotion learned that they could either withdraw their case and keep their 1.0 FTE contract next year, or they could go ahead and achieve promotion and have a 0.55 FTE contract next year. This is unconscionable.
Our collective bargaining agreement does not stop this administration from treating Career faculty like bargaining chips because the whole notion of their doing such a thing was so alien to our collective thinking. If our bargaining team would have suggested that the administration could take advantage of loopholes in the CBA–which is designed to reward excellence, not offer “nimbleness” and “flexibility”–to wipe out the careers of hundreds of faculty, we would have been accused of being cynical and arguing in bad faith. And, indeed, we would have negotiated differently, resulting in a different contract, designed to protect against bad-faith interpretations. It did not, however, occur to us that an administration would betray what we worked together to build like this current administration has.
In many cases, the affected Career faculty have been at the university for many years. In fact, the average tenure of Career faculty at the University of Oregon is twelve years. They have performed exceptionally. To this administration, however, they are nothing more than “flexibility,” a bargaining chip to be used to leverage a faculty wage cut. Some
have suggested that the administration is engaged in union-busting or an attempt to divide the union. This is possible, but more likely they just don’t think of Career faculty as colleagues who have earned their respect and deserve to be treated with dignity. They are, as President Schill has said, “not here permanently. They are here year to year… there’s a hardship in that, which is you don’t know if you have a job or not, but that is the point of non-tenured faculty, is that they are meeting teaching needs that are not constant.”
The administration, of course, would not agree with our assessment of their disregard for our Career colleagues. They have claimed that predictions of lower enrollment and state funding cuts require them to treat Career faculty this way. This is absolutely not true. The administration could commit to using reserves, unrestricted gifts, fundraising, and asset reallocation to deal with the coming academic year. The university currently has $52 million in E&G fund reserves. They would only need to use a small amount of this money to provide Career faculty with full FTE. We tried to raise these options with them when we were presented with their wage cut proposal, but they rejected our ideas. It was either wage cuts, which could last up to four years, or they would harm Career faculty.
It has been the goal of United Academics since the beginning to work with the administration to solve problems in order to achieve the University of Oregon’s mission as a research university. The COVID crisis represents a new set of problems and we hope that the administration will work with us to solve them. Tying promotion to FTE reductions for Career faculty and trading non-negotiable salary cuts for Career faculty FTE are not real efforts to solve problems. They are efforts to disempower the faculty and choose the administrative status quo over the mission of excellence. Faculty, staff, students, our state, and the university’s mission deserve better.
In the coming weeks, we will begin negotiations with the administration over the restoration of Career FTE, a new job security system that does not allow the administration to decimate Career faculty whenever they want, and a wage cut plan. We very much hope to find common ground with them and arrive at a reasonable solution to the crises we face.
What can you do to help?
We anticipate that these negotiations will be very difficult, and we will need everyone to help if we are going to protect our colleagues. The easiest way to do that is to complete this Google Form so we can add you to our summer bargaining communications list. Doing so indicates your support for your fellow colleagues and will keep you in the loop as we head back to the table.