SOU Faculty and Administration Contract Negotiations Stalled

After negotiating a new contract since early June, the SOU administration broke off negotiations with the faculty today and called for the State of Oregon to provide mediation. Kemble Yates, chief negotiator for the SOU faculty union APSOU (Association of Professors, Southern Oregon University) expressed his disappointment.
“We have been bargaining in good faith and I really thought we had most of the sticky issues resolved with the administration. But apparently a salary difference of 1% total over three years – we’re asking for a total of 8.25% while they are digging in on 7.25% – is a gulf they cannot cross. The difference in these salary dollars amount to a total of less than $100,000 per year for an annual budget of over $50 million dollars.” The administration recently gave itself a 3% raise, and the classified staff union recently settled for raises comparable to what APSOU is asking for.

Yates, a Mathematics professor at SOU for 29 years, explained that faculty are still smarting from events of the last two years – a retrenchment that cost at least a dozen faculty their jobs, sharp budget and program cuts, faculty salary freezes and furloughs, and a no confidence of vote of the top administrators. He had hoped that in light of the continued strides SOU has made of late including record student enrollments and student retention, a much more favorable legislative appropriation, and the improved direction set by President Saigo and the new SOU Board of Trustees would signal a better time.

A mediation session will be scheduled for later in December or in January and will be facilitated by the state’s Employment Relations Board, which is charged with aiding in the resolution of labor disputes. If mediation cannot bring the parties to a settlement, either side could declare impasse, resulting in each side presenting a final offer. After a 30 day cooling off period, the administration could unilaterally implement its final offer and the faculty could vote to strike.

“I’m quite sure most faculty would prefer not to strike. But our members are telling us that we need a much better contract after what we’ve endured the last two years.” In addition to salary, faculty are very concerned about significant workload issues and the trend of SOU administration replacing regular faculty with temporary – and very exploited – faculty. “We’ve lost 20% of the continuing faculty over the last five years, but the number of students has increased in that time. Nearly 50% of our courses are now taught by temporary faculty. And the number of administrators has increased as well, including 46 administrative hires since January of 2014.”

Way to go, Jack!

Congratulations to one of the original UA activists, Jack Boss.

From the School of Music and Dance page:

The book Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Music: Symmetry and the Musical Idea, a new publication by Jack Boss, UO professor of music theory, has won the 2015 Wallace Berry Award, the top national book award for music theory and analysis.

The annual Wallace Berry Award is presented each year at the Society for Music Theory conference in recognition of a distinguished book by an author of any age or career stage. This year’s conference took place in St. Louis, Mo.

“I am deeply honored—not to mention a little amazed—to receive this year’s Wallace Berry Award,” said Boss. “This is a culmination of many years of hard work, and I thank my colleagues and the school’s dean, Brad Foley, for their support through the process.”

“My hope is that the award will bring attention to and raise the international profile of the UO School of Music and Dance and music theory studies at the UO,” Boss continued.

At the Society for Music Theory awards presentation, presenter Stephen Peles of the University of Alabama lauded Boss’s work as “a fresh perspective on the musical idea,” and concluded with:

“Schoenberg’s music and thinking have been the focus of scholarly discussion for several decades and Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Music does a masterful job of pulling many of these discursive threads together while tremendously enriching our understanding of this music.”

Cambridge University Press published Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Music in 2014. In the book, Boss adapts the controversial composer’s notion of a “musical idea”—broken down into problem, elaboration, solution—as a framework for the book as a whole, and focuses on the large-scale coherence of the Schoenberg’s individual pieces.

Boss received both his bachelor’s of music and master’s of music degrees in composition from Ohio State University (1979 and 1981, respectively), and a Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University (1991).

Before coming to the UO, Boss taught at Brigham Young University, Ball State University, and Yale. He has been on the University of Oregon faculty since 1995, and has served as area head of music theory.

Boss has held numerous editorial roles for a number of publications, including Music Theory Online (the Society for Music Theory’s electronic journal), the Journal of Music Theory, and the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy.

GTFF Bargaining – Nov 12, 1-5, Ballroom

On Thursday, November 12, our friends in the GTFF will present their initial package of proposals in this round of bargaining.

Thursday, November 12
1-5 pm
EMU Ballroom

They appreciate any and all who can attend for any length of time. Let’s show the UO that they need to deal with our colleagues seriously and quickly this time.

Million Student March

Million Student March

On Thursday, November 12, University of Oregon students will gather at Johnson Hall at noon for a rally and march.
From the Facebook page:

The educational system is this country can only be described as a crime against the millenial generation. Enough is enough. We can't just wait for the higher-ups to realize the error of their ways. We need to hit the streets.

University of Oregon, let's join the fight. We will reach out to the the other student organizations. We will shout. We will scream. We will join campuses all over the country to let the powers that be know that WE WILL NOT HAVE IT!

Steep: The High Cost of Living with Student Debt

By Virginia Myers

Tomi Stahlberg just graduated from the University of Helsinki, a prestigious institution in Finland. He has a master’s degree in history, a field he chose because he loves it, not because a career in history would be the moneymaker he’d need to pay off his student loans.

That’s because Stahlberg didn’t need student loans for tuition: For him, and for everyone around him, higher education is free.

For Sam Perry, a college graduate in the United States, the situation is entirely different. His parents covered undergraduate tuition for a history degree at the University of Massachusetts, but he was on his own for law school. He enrolled in a night program so he could work during the day, and saved on rent by living with his mother. Still, he graduated with more than $100,000 in student debt, and took the first job that fit, rather than holding out for the government job he would have preferred; he simply couldn’t delay starting to pay off his loans.

“In Finland you could be absolutely anyone from any kind of social background and study anything you want and be successful within that field,” says Stahlberg, who lived briefly in the United States. “That’s social equality at its best.” By contrast, he says the U.S. system is weighted toward wealthier families and calls it “somewhat unfair.”

Julia Maklin, another Finnish student, is blunter: “I think the American system is unfair and unequal,” she says. “The debt that American students have when they graduate is insane.”

With more than 40 million Americans carrying student debt, it’s easy to forget that it doesn’t have to be this way—and in many countries it is not. But the debt-for-degree paradigm in this country persists. Total student debt has hit $1.3 trillion in this country, its ascent so arresting that an online debt clock records its climb—by thousands of dollars—each minute ( College debt has outpaced every debt but mortgages, including credit cards and auto loans, according to the Federal Reserve.

This may be the moment, however, when it begins to change. From “debt strikes” by students who refuse to pay back their loans because their colleges failed to live up to promises of valid and marketable degrees, to presidential proclamations promoting two years of debt-free education, thousands of people are tuning in to what has become a national crisis. It’s a hopeful beginning, but the climb out of what has become the “new normal” will be steep.

Why we are tackling student debt

There are plenty of extreme cases of student debt, reason enough to change the paradigm. There’s Michael Adorno-Miranda, who is $37,000 in debt and has nothing to show for it but a degree from a college with such a bad reputation its name on his resume actually hindered his ability to find a job in his field. And Latechia Mitchell, a teacher who loves her work with second graders but wonders whether her career was a good choice for someone trying to pay off $60,000 in student loans.

On the website, a 2014 survey of college faculty shows that academics are far from exempt. Of the thousands who responded to the informal survey, most reported they’d taken out loans, many in the six-figure range. “I’ll be paying ’til I die,” noted one. “[Payments] keep me stuck in a job I hate,” wrote another. One Ph.D. grad with $67,000 in debt found that nontenure-track work fell so far short of enabling him to pay off his loans that he left academia altogether, moved in with a family member and got a job at Starbucks. Another wrote that he’d been suicidal over his debt.

But student debt isn’t just a string of unhappy personal anecdotes. It influences everything from enrollment to endowment, shrouding the entire higher education system and affecting what schools students can afford to attend, what fields they choose to study, whether students stay in school, where they live and what jobs they take upon graduation. These factors in turn influence enrollment figures and department funding. They alter campus culture and vibrancy.

Many fear that debt squelches diversity, preventing people who would be the first in their families to attend college from enrolling and persisting through graduation. “As teaching assistants, we see that first-time college students’ acceptance rates are declining, that the number of students of color is declining,” says Eleni Schirmer, a member of the Teaching Assistants’ Association at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in an article on “It changes the texture of the university.”

Debt affects the economy beyond campus as well: People who have to make student debt payments that can approach $1,000 a month are far less likely to start new businesses, buy new houses, purchase new cars, start families or contribute to the civic lives of their communities. According to Pew Research Center and Rutgers University, 25 to 40 percent of borrowers report postponing purchasing homes and cars. And a Gallup-Purdue University survey of college graduates shows that 26 percent of those who graduated debt-free have started at least one business, compared with just 16 percent of those who graduated with at least $40,000 in debt. 

In 22 states, if you default on your student loans you can be stripped of your professional license, not only barring you from your chosen profession but also, paradoxically, keeping you from making a decent wage—and paying off your loans. If you are still struggling to pay debt when you retire—as an increasing number of people over age 60 are—debt collectors can garnish your Social Security benefits.

And speaking of debt collectors, they are notorious for hounding debtors, even after they’ve already made that final payment. The collectors can make egregious mistakes, jack up interest rates and change monthly payment amounts without notice, so that debtors wind up owing even more in interest—not to mention what it does to a person’s credit report. These mistakes can cost thousands of dollars, and decades of emotional and financial burden.

Hitting home

Faculty and staff are bound to see the impact of student debt in our classrooms and offices—if we haven’t already felt it at home. We advise students struggling to understand financial aid, apply for scholarships and live up to the requirements of whatever grants they’ve been able to snag. When those students experience a time-consuming life event, like a death in the family or an extended illness, we hold their hands as they panic over whether they’ll lose their scholarships or have to extend their time—and expense—before graduation.

Patrick Romain, an academic counselor at the State University of New York at Albany and a member of United University Professions, remembers one student who was homeless and had been diagnosed with lung cancer in his senior year of high school. His mother had died when he was a toddler. “How can a young man like that, really on his own, navigate a system that has become more and more inaccessible to people who really need it?” asks Romain. The question is especially poignant, he says, as a college degree becomes increasingly essential to success, but more and more elusive because of cost. “I see a lot of students who drop out not because they’re not intelligent, not because they’re not smart, not because they can’t handle academic rigor, but because they get a bill and they cannot afford to pay it.”

In the classroom, we watch as students make decisions based on finances rather than heart. A young woman with a passion for chemistry sees that the job market is limited, especially for women, so she converts her business minor into a major. A young man who discovers his talent for law three years into a biology major, sticks with biology because the extra time a pre-law degree requires could set him back a semester. Plus, there would be more loans for law school.

Again, we can draw a comparison with Finland, though it’s certainly not the only place with more reasonable college costs. Finnish student Helleke Heikkinen changed her major from sociology to supply chain management and transferred to a different school as well. The freedom from financial burden “allows students to take their time to figure out what they want to do,” she says. “They can choose whatever they want to study, not thinking about costs.”

Imagine that.

Back in the American college classroom, instead of watching a student transfer to another major, faculty might discover they are missing from campus altogether, dropped out because the cost of debt has made higher education impossible to continue. This has implications not only for the individual student but for equity in higher education. The public policy organization Demos calls it the “debt divide,” and it is deepening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The short story is this: Student debt hits low-income families much harder, because they have to borrow so much more to even get in the door. It is cumulative and generational. A first generation student still paying off her own college debt is less able to take out more debt for her college-age daughter. And once either graduates—if that happens—that debt is likely to keep them from thriving. Meanwhile, those who graduate debt-free—whose families paid their tuition, who came into an inheritance, whose parents took out loans for them—are more immediately ready to enter the economy, start businesses, take inspiring jobs, travel, and purchase cars and homes. 

How did we get here?

Much has been said about colleges that “need” higher tuition from students to cover the costs of expensive athletic programs, luxury residence halls and attractive perks like lazy river swimming pools. These are satisfyingly over-the-top targets for righteous indignation over indulgent spending, but the bigger culprit really is the dry and plodding state budget. Student debt is a direct result of the rising cost of higher education. And that cost can be laid largely at the feet of our state budgets and the elected officials who draft them.

States have gouged their investment in public education so thoroughly that the balance between how much tuition the state pays and how much the individual pays has been reversed. State spending per college student has plummeted by 28 percent since 2008 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And because those funds have diminished so dramatically, tuition has soared. Over the last 10 years, the cost of attending a four-year state college or university—tuition, fees, room and board—has increased by 45 percent.

One of the most egregious examples is in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker slashed the higher education budget by $250 million, a staggering sum that represents the biggest cut in the state’s history and one of the largest in the nation. Colleges are anticipating faculty and staff layoffs, and offering less aid to needy students, according to at least one firsthand account. At the same time, Walker has weakened tenure and abolished shared governance, so that administrators will have a freer hand in budgetary matters. Faculty concerned with losing their academic freedom are being poached by other universities that may be offering higher salaries; the loss of top faculty could threaten the reputation of a university system that has been a leader in the nation. To add insult to injury, Walker suggested that his higher ed cuts be made up by correcting “inefficiencies”: “Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work,” he said.

Or maybe Walker and others could look to those luxury items—the pools, the perks—that may not top state cuts in affecting the bottom line but are certainly a significant factor, along with exorbitant salaries for top-heavy administrative offices. Each year the Chronicle of Higher Education’s report on executive salaries sends shock waves through a new generation of students and the parents who support them. Last year it found two presidents from public universities and 36 from privates who earned salaries that topped $1 million.

The Rutgers Council of AAUP (American Association of University Professors) Chapters/AFT has mounted a campaign, “Reclaim Rutgers,” to target the disparity in spending on their campuses. If money were directed away from expensive administrators, coaches and football programs, academic programs could afford to pay full-time, tenure-track faculty, or at least take better care of their adjuncts. But a recent master plan revealed a university wish list including a rooftop athletic field, new residence halls, renovated buildings and a boardwalk along the Raritan River campus.

“The expanding ranks of highly paid managers and the bottomless pit of athletics spending seem far greater cost drivers at Rutgers than faculty and staff who experienced years of wage freezes while tuition continued to rise,” Deepa Kumar told a reporter in July, when university administrators pointed to a 2 percent salary increase for faculty as one reason tuition will rise this year. Kumar is a professor of journalism and media studies and co-chair of the contract action team for Rutgers AAUP-AFT. The union has noted that 79 top administrators are paid at least $250,000 a year, according to a 2014 audit. It also notes that the $75 million athletic program was not self-supported in 2013, taking 44 percent of its funding from student fees and core academic funds.

At Rutgers and across the country, it all adds up to the student debt debacle: High costs equal high tuition, which equals high rates of borrowing.

Let’s fix this

More and more people—including influential policymakers and elected officials—are turning to student debt as a problem we can solve. There are several pieces of federal legislation under consideration, and countless state bills proposed to either relieve student debt or decrease the cost of higher education directly.

President Obama’s America’s College Promise would provide two years of free community college education to every qualified student. The federal government would cover 75 percent of the cost, and states would pick up the remaining 25 percent. If all states participate, as many as 9 million students could benefit.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made student debt a central pillar of her campaign with her New College Compact (see page 15). “Too many young people are struggling under the burden of student debt, and too many families are struggling to pay the rising cost of college,” she told the AFT’s executive board during the candidate interviews that preceded the AFT’s Clinton endorsement. “Too many students are starting but never completing college, which means they leave with debt but no degree.” Clinton has pledged to find ways to “make college more affordable, … make sure no one graduates with crushing debt, and … hold colleges accountable to help more students graduate.” She has also suggested doing more to link student loan repayments to income and help people refinance their loans.

Other Democratic candidates are also tuning in: Bernie Sanders wants to offer free tuition across the board; Martin O’Malley proposed debt-free college through various tuition limitations and federal grants.

Meanwhile, Congress has more than 70 co-sponsors and 400,000 supporting petition signatures on the Schatz-Schumer-Warren debt-free resolution in the Senate and the Grijalva-Ellison-Clark resolution in the House; the measures would increase financial aid, lower tuition and accelerate academic progress to help students avoid debt. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced a plan this June that includes specific steps for colleges, states and the federal government to change the student debt paradigm. Among her mandates: hold colleges responsible for keeping costs down; prevent states from disinvesting in public education; and fix the federal programs, such as Pell Grants and complicated financial aid applications, that should be supporting low-income students who want to get a college degree.

The Protections and Regulations for Our Students (PRO Students) Act would prevent the exploitation of students by some predatory, deceptive and fraudulent for-profit colleges, which lure sometimes ill-prepared students into their programs, take their federal financial aid awards, then fail to give them the education they promised. The result? Students with useless degrees—or no degrees at all—and mountains of debt. Activism around for-profit abuse helped close Corinthian Colleges, one of the worst culprits, and convince the Department of Education to forgive the debt of many Corinthian students who were swindled into an “education” that failed them.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are chattering about taking up the Higher Education Act for reauthorization this fall, and many see that as the best vehicle to comprehensively address student debt. Since it is on the minds of so many, and it’s an election year, it is reasonable to expect some progress.

Meanwhile, organizations like Jobs with Justice have mounted informational campaigns to ensure students know about student debt forgiveness and other management tools, like The website outlines the public service debt forgiveness program, for one: The program forgives all student debt for graduates who make on-time payments for 10 years and work full-time in public service jobs. Other debt management tools include income-based repayment, which limits monthly payments to an amount students can afford based on what kind of money they are making. Some AFT locals are reaching out to their members, publicizing these debt relief strategies with workshops and informational campaigns, and urging their institutions to do the same for students. AFT-Washington is among them. “Student debt on top of stagnant salaries for community and technical college faculty has been especially problematic,” says AFT-Washington President Karen Strickland. “Add to that the high numbers of adjunct faculty who make 50 to 70 percent of what full-time faculty make, and you end up with faculty who are working hard and barely getting by.”

The student debt problem is big enough that many solutions must be put into play at once. One is the Debt-Free Checklist, a tool designed to keep any debt-free college plans focused on the most important elements of debt relief. Any debt-free plan should be available at any college, to any student, and should cover not just tuition but also fees, textbooks and other costs, it states. “We have to mitigate the debt that’s already due,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten during the Checklist launch with the Progressive Change Committee and Demos. “Why would we incur additional debt? It is paradoxical, and I would argue hypocritical, to say that college is so important but make it increasingly out of reach for all but those who are the most wealthy.”

She emphasizes the importance of halting disinvestment in public higher education, and draws a bright line from disinvestment to student debt, but also to the soaring use of adjunct faculty. While many students are being prevented from attending college, the college experience of those who do attend has been diminished by an increased reliance on underpaid, overworked adjuncts who are not given the resources they need to provide a high-quality education. And, incidentally, many of them are still working to pay off their own student loans.

It’s a vicious circle that begins and ends with student debt. Wiping it out—or at least diminishing its role in shaping higher education in this country—will put us one step closer to reclaiming the promise of equity and high quality for faculty, staff and students in our colleges and universities.

- See more at:

Message from VP-Instrucational NTTF

Dear colleagues,

I'm writing to introduce myself as the recently elected VP for Non-Tenure-Track Instructional Faculty of United Academics - our faculty union.

Last Spring, I decided to run for an executive office in UA because I have watched it grow into a force for hope and positive change on our campus. Hardworking, passionate faculty from a diversity of backgrounds, disciplines, and academic ranks have come together to help make our university a better place to work, a better place to teach, and a better place to learn. The new-found community and camaraderie that our union has fostered as we work toward shared goals have made the endeavor abundantly worthwhile.

But the accomplishments of United Academics go far beyond a heightened sense of unity. As you know, in August we concluded the bargaining for our second collective  bargaining agreement (CBA),  which earlier this month was ratified by our general membership and signed by our bargaining team, President Schill, and other representatives from the university administration.

Our two contracts have ushered in substantial positive changes on campus over the last couple of years, and arguably the NTT faculty have gained the most from these efforts. Some of the most salient gains have been:

  • a recognized and equitable role for NTTF in determining policies at the department level;
  • automatic two-year appointments for Career NTTF who have worked four years and three-year contracts after promotion, plus the new possibility of multi-year contracts for non-promoted Career NTTF;
  • the end of up-or-out for promotion decisions (except for librarians);
  • enhanced job security for promoted Career NTTF;
  • five consecutive years of raises, including a mixture of across-the-board, merit, and equity raises;
  • the establishment of salary floors for NTTF in the first CBA and increases of those floors in the second CBA;
  • a commitment to a campus-wide study of salary equity issues, including gender equity;
  • the replacement of the classification "Adjunct" with "Pro tem," and the addition of the classification "Visiting" for NTTF.

And this list is just a start. I invite you to take some time to pull up and review the the information section for NTT instructional faculty on the United Academics website:

The first two links on this page contain a wealth of information that specifically impact the working conditions and careers of NTT instructional faculty at UO. The page also serves as a handy repository of policies and procedures that are good to know about: our shared governance rights; the timing and nature of appointments; the process for review and promotion; and (if need be) how grievances work.

As we begin the first year of our new three-year contract, there is much to do. We are working closely with the administration to ensure that the CBA's terms are interpreted and implemented as intended by the bargaining teams at the table. Additionally, we are currently engaged in an organizing campaign, trying to reach all of our newly arrived faculty as well as those who initially may have been skeptical of what a faculty union at the UO might look like. And we continue to support members with interpreting the provisions of the contract and pursuing grievances when violations of the CBA arise.

United Academics is our faculty union, and we need your help, input, and support. As we work to implement the CBA and continue conversations with the administration about salary equity issues, family leave, and other issues, we want to know what your priorities and concerns are. In terms of working conditions, what is already in place that enhances our productivity and helps us to serve our students' needs effectively? What can we work together to improve?

In particular, I want to know what you, the NTT instructional faculty, worry about. How best can I serve as an advocate for your needs? Please feel free to contact me at any time. My UA email is listed below. I would also be very happy to meet with you in person and discuss any of your concerns or suggestions at length; just let me know.

I invite you to be a part of United Academics. If you are not yet a full member, I invite you to join us. If you are already a full member, I invite you to actively participate at any level you are comfortable with and that  your commitments allow.

We need your voice. We need your perspective. We are a better, stronger, and wiser union together. Reaching out, sharing your thoughts, attending our meetings, participating in committees, and taking concrete steps to advocate for positive change will require time and effort. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your effort. Thank you for everything you already do for your students and for our institution. I look forward to working with you.

Mike Urbancic
Instructor, Department of Economics
Vice President for Non-Tenure Track Instructional Faculty Affairs