After over a year of contested and exhausting contract negotiations, faculty and administration reached an agreement that passed a faculty vote last week. The negotiations began with jarring and unreasonable administration proposals that would eliminate faculty retirement payouts and reduce contributions to faculty retirement plans. Even after abandoning these efforts in response to collective faculty opposition, the administration still insisted on weakening faculty by proposing a two-tiered retirement benefit system, attempting to form a schism between current and new faculty members. While the eventual contract managed to save the disputed benefits and advances several other faculty interests, it does not negate the impression left by the process — one lasting over a year and leaving the faculty without a contract for over 280 days. The administration’s actions revealed an effort to exercise unchecked power over the university, and the implications of this extend beyond the fine print of a contract.
Rather than working to balance the interests of both parties, the bargaining arguably became a fight to retain the previous benefits that had been jeopardized by the administration’s early proposals. The administration’s attempt to assert its position above that of the faculty was evidenced by its unresponsiveness to faculty bargaining efforts throughout the fall semester. The cited financial concerns administration in attempt to legitimate its proposals, but recent surpluses and administrative salaries indicate little need for concern. However, it’s difficult to say anything for certain, as the lack of transparency at the university makes finances a subject of ambiguity.
And this attempt to subvert faculty authority does not limit itself to faculty-administration quarrels, as student power is directly related to that of the faculty. Faculty are students’ primary contacts at the university, being the resources and relationships that shape student experiences and help project the student body’s voice. If the administration neglects to hear out and address the faculty’s requests, it is neglecting to listen to students. If the administration cannot be receptive to the demands of its esteemed faculty members, there is no reason to expect for it to answer to its students.
The university’s initial failure to respond to the requests of the faculty also constitutes an affront to the system of dual governance. Dual governance, or the notion that the administration and faculty should have an even say on university affairs — a higher education tradition which has been diminished nationwide in recent years — was evidently left unrecognized by the administration. Dual governance is fundamental to a wholesome and representative campus community, and its observance ultimately enhances the experiences of students. If the university truly seeks to be a premiere institution and distinguish itself from other schools, it must regard faculty as integral to its administration. This ought to be the university’s priority — not profit maximization.
Although The Review staff acknowledges that the final contract agreement will inflict little lasting damage, the message conveyed throughout the university and beyond is troubling. Simply reaching an agreement does not erase the blemish left by the process. Instead, it mirrors the kind of frustration that accompanies any request for administrative action at this university. This exasperating tendency evidences the bureaucratic, corporatized and increasingly political climate of higher education. It is not the behavior of a university that values its members as equals, constituting an attempt to centralize power and corporatize an educational institution.
Editorials are developed by The Review staff, led this week by Senior Reporter Caleb Owens and Editorial Editor Alex Eichenstein.