In February of last year, the university’s faculty contract was approaching its expiration date. To tee off the usual round of contract negotiations, the administration offered its initial set of new proposals. One year removed from these proposals, and after more than 220 days without a faculty contract, there remain no signs of progress in the negotiations.
In a statement released in September by the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a union organization that represents college and university faculty members, the organization credited the stagnant and uncompromising negotiations to the administration’s proposals last February. The proposals, described in the union statement as “shocking,” sought to end retirement leaves and retirement payouts within six years for all university faculty members.
In response to intense objection to the proposals by university faculty, the administration presented a new set of potential contract stipulations. These stipulations, while keeping the retirement benefits of current university faculty intact, still sought to significantly decrease university contributions to the retirement benefits of faculty hired after July 2017. In effect, a disparate, two-tier system was proposed, stirring unrest among faculty.
“By creating deep divisions within the faculty, these proposals would undermine trust and collegiality,” the AAUP letter said. “Instead of building faculty morale, they would generate resentment and envy among faculty members.”
In regards to the current status of the negotiations, Gerald Turkel, a sociology professor and the AAUP Contract Maintenance Officer, did not respond for comment.
The bargaining tensions and increasingly weak faculty morale come at an already tenuous time. In an AAUP survey conducted in March, less than five percent of university faculty regarded the overall faculty morale as “high.” Sixty percent of faculty survey participants felt that overall faculty morale had declined over the previous three years.
According to state law and university AAUP policy, striking — a tool that could potentially work to catalyze collective bargaining and compromise — is not an option for the union. During a similarly contested contract negotiation in the early 1990s, university faculty resorted to organized picketing and protest in order to push their demands.
As the semester begins, there remain no signs suggesting that the collective bargaining strategy is nearing an agreement. In an email statement, university spokeswoman Andrea Boyle-Tippett said that, because contract negotiations are ongoing, the university remains unavailable for comment.