Dear Colleagues and Members of United Academics:
I trust that many of you can attest to the mix of challenges and achievements across our campus and our union this last academic year.
In state politics, we began the academic year optimistically with the potential to stabilize Oregon’s treasury with a corporate tax. By November, large corporations spent tens of millions of dollars to defeat the corporate tax in Measure 97; the result was a stinging defeat capped by other electoral woes. With one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country, Oregon faces another state budget shortfall of $1.4 billion and, on the horizon, more cuts to faculty, hikes to tuition, cuts to social services, and benefit cutbacks.
Engaging Decisions that Impact Academia
Presently, our union and state affiliates continue to work in Salem for a modest commercial activities tax. I and other faculty members have lobbied, testified, and rallied numerous times toward this end. Read more about our successful legislative work this last year and our current work in Oregon’s Higher Education Coalition to pass a corporate tax through the legislature.
The local fallout from the November 2016 elections brought more than budget woes and cuts: increases in violent hate across our campus, community and country; the Trump administration’s cuts to important scientific research programs and an anti-science agenda; a right-wing “Professors Watchlist” targeting one of our own colleagues; and amid budgetary constraints at UO, the administration’s daft insistence on a fiscal firewall for athletics, defending multi-million dollar losses in baseball and ballooning coaches’ salaries while pitching devastating cuts to academic programs and unilateral changes to faculty courseloads.
In the same period, we’ve seen inspiring collective responses to each of these challenges and our union has been a part of all of these efforts: the global Women’s March; a sanctuary campaign at the UO, in Eugene and across many cities in the US; Marches for Science and the Climate (with Chemistry Prof. Jeff Cina delivering one of the keynotes for the local march); a multidisciplinary rejection of the Professors Watchlist; though not always successful, we saw pushback from faculty on cuts and courseload increases that rallied students and community; a hopeful Oregon Higher Education coalition pushing for a corporate gross receipts tax in Salem; and continued work in the Senate and in our union to stem the tide of corporatization at the UO.
Service to faculty, improving our university
Of course, most of the work our staff and leadership engage in is less dramatic and political. Our routine meetings with Academic Affairs and Human Resources are interspersed with problem-solving discussions with administrators at all levels, from heads and directors to President Schill. The regular labor-management meetings address real problems in real time as well as craft agreements for longer term conversations, anchored in a positive vision for the University. These regular meetings forge important relationships devoted to implementing the CBA and, more generally, to honest input about various decisions at the university.
Conversations with members and events for our campus community are at the top of our priority list. UA has hosted and cosponsored over a dozen events on campus, from sponsoring the screening of Agents of Change to co-sponsoring the Morse Center’s lecture by AFT President Randi Weingarten. Read more about these from our Organizing and Membership Committee Chair, David Woken.
Our Grievance and Contract Administration Committee, chaired by Heather Quarles, has been busy –more than ever – supporting faculty and resisting administrative over-reach. Please read the report from our GCAC Chair here.
The Faculty Success Program, operated in partnership with Academic Affairs, was again a great success. First and second-year faculty joined panels on a range of topics, enjoyed a cohort feel over lunches, and worked with a mentor to talk through research and other questions that new faculty face. Thank you to everyone who participated as a new faculty member, a mentor, or a panelist this year. Please read the report from Professor Naomi Zack who chaired this program for our union this year.
Salary stabilization and equity: A fair and equitable wage for all remains a fundamental principle of our union, and we acknowledge the long-term challenge of addressing inequities. The gender discrimination lawsuit filed by our colleague Jennifer Freyd reveals the stubbornness of an entrenched administrative ethos. The UO lawyers, in their attempt to deny a fair settlement, have made the outrageous claim that they could not address salary disparities because the CBA does not allow extra-contractual salary increases. This is patently false: we will happily attest that negotiated salary increases were always discussed at the bargaining table as floors, not ceilings.
Despite talk of cuts to employer contributions to health care, reductions in promotion raises, salary freezes and more, we continue to work for long-term salary stabilization, growth, and equity. We continue to press for a conversation about salary inequities at UO. In addition to conducting our own analyses, we have agreed with the UO to conduct an equity study which we expect to be used as guidance in correcting inequities by protected class. We are also in conversation about department and rank-specific external inequities, where UO mean salary differences by rank are significantly lower than the respective comparator departments. This situation continues to undermine UOs ability to recruit and retain faculty and match our academic aspirations.
Hats Off and Reflections Going Forward
Last month’s issue of the AAUP’s Academe featured an article by Sine Anahita on the perils of mandatory reporting. Those of you who followed that debate on our campus probably encountered Prof. Freyd’s resource page. It is worth celebrating Prof. Jennifer Freyd’s persistent effort to replace the UO’s mandatory reporting policy with one responsive to students’ and faculty rights for privacy and autonomy. Kudos to the new UO policy that was inspired by Prof. Freyd’s activism and advanced with the hard work of a group of University Senators, faculty and administrators which President Schill then signed.
United Academics welcomed the Knight gift for the Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. We signed on to support and lobby for additional bonding requests in support of the initiative. We remain hopeful that CASI will not siphon resources from the core campus, but instead invigorate. In search of reassurances, we have asked for more transparency with the specific terms for faculty at the CASI, seeking to understand how tenure-related faculty will be hired and promoted and how employment practices among private commercial vendors will intersect with UO NTTF positions. To date, we specific stipulations and restrictions in the gift letter from Phil and Penny Knight have not been shared publicly, with us, the University Senate, or our state legislators because the gift was donated to the UO Foundation and is not subject to public records disclosure. As our conversations mature with UO on this subject, we will share more.
Our faculty union is needed more than ever: the political situation in the USA alone warrants the additional legal protection and collective power that our union provides for all faculty. But higher education is in the throes of changes that once again test what is arguably the most important contribution universities make to a free society: serving as a crucible to develop independent and critical thinking across all fields of inquiry. We have signals that long-standing practices concerning the intellectual property of our class syllabi and lectures may be under new scrutiny; we’ve witnessed a management ethos driven by benchmarks that risk undercutting academic governance and judgement at the department level; and academic freedom is tugged in all directions amid heightened cultural conflicts and the politicization of inquiry, science, and knowledge. Amid these changes, we need faculty inspired by the service that universities provide a free society to step into action and leadership for our union. This is rewarding work and can count as service and possibly provide FTE reduction.
Wishing you a restful and productive summer,