Statement on the University Administration’s Economic Proposal

First, we’d like to thank Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration, for her presentation at bargaining today. Jamie presented a wealth of information that will inform our bargaining in the coming months. A small group from the bargaining team had the opportunity to meet with Jamie last month to discuss what kind of information we thought would be helpful to have presented, and we appreciate that she focused on the areas we discussed in that meeting.

Even so, the university administration’s actual economic proposal was, in our view, insulting. Our proposal would provide raises to address the rising cost of living, reward meritorious teaching, research, and service, and address our ongoing equity problem. The university administration’s proposal accomplishes none of these things.

They are offering faculty no raise at all next year and less than 1% merit raise in 2016-2017. Bargaining unit faculty may not even see the full 1%, as the university administration proposed that deans would control 20% of the paltry 1% raise and could distribute it at their “sole discretion.” We have several concerns about their proposal.

First, their proposal does nothing to keep pace with the cost of living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics measured the increase in the consumer price index for our region at 2.4% last year. The annual cost of living increase has averaged 2.28% since 2010. At that average, faculty need 4.56% raises just to keep up with inflation.

Second, a 1% merit raise in the second year does not adequately reward merit or recognize excellence.

Third, their proposal addresses neither our internal nor our external equity issues. While some departments and units have caught up to their comparators across the country, several others lag far behind. Compression and inversion still bedevil many departments and units, and the administration’s proposal would only exacerbate these problems. The university administration’s proposal also ignores our ongoing gender equity problem.

So, we still have a lot of work to do. The university administration’s proposal is not close to adequate, nor did they propose anything to address our ongoing problems. They said they were willing to talk, but so far they have offered no solutions. There will need to be many conversations. These conversations will unfold over the course of the coming months. We will, as always, keep you informed—and we count on hearing from you as well.

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Library Archives Information Correction

A recent story in the Register Guard, based on a press release from the University of Oregon, stated that two university library archivists were “out of their jobs” because of the role that they played in a recent release of records from the presidential archive.

This is not true.

Kira Homo worked in Special Collections at the University of Oregon as the electronic records archivist. She is also the Secretary of United Academics. She officially ended her employment at the University on March 1, 2015, for personal reasons. Because the university’s information strongly implied that Kira was fired for reasons related to the records release, Kira has asked us to post the following information:

In the fall 2014 term, Kira began graduate study toward a doctoral degree while continuing to work full-time at the university library. As anyone who has worked through graduate school understands, there comes a point when the demands of study and work come to loggerheads. Kira has struggled with these demands for the last several months and decided, in the end, to pursue her studies full-time. The fracas surrounding the records release made this decision easier to make.

Any implication that she left the University because of her role in the records release, that she was fired, or that she was forced to resign is false.

United Academics does not represent James Fox, as he held an administrative office and therefore was not in the bargaining unit. We have no knowledge of his situation outside of what we read in the papers. Most of the information on his situation seems to originate with the university administration, and in light of its description of Kira Homo’s departure, we encourage everyone to approach its press releases with skepticism.

Bargaining Update – February 9, 2015

Collective bargaining continued last Thursday, February 5. This time it was the administration’s turn to present its proposals: modifications to seventeen existing articles in the CBA, plus one new article. Most of the administration’s proposals are housekeeping—changes in the CBA’s language to reflect new circumstances, clarifications of terms, and the like. It is likely that many, if not most of these proposals will prove to be uncontroversial. There were, however, a few proposals that would bring unwelcome changes to the campus.

The administration started their presentation by laying out the principles driving their proposals. They were (paraphrased), 1) respect and fair treatment for all faculty with respect given to institutional decision making, 2) live within our means, while advancing student learning at all levels, 3) preserving unit flexibility to hit necessary staffing levels with all employee types, and 4) flexibility for sponsored research projects. These principles contrast with our principles of equity, stability, transparency and voice.

In keeping with their chosen principles, the administration proposed changes to Article 16 (“Contracts”) that would allow the administration to reduce a Career NTT faculty member’s FTE if their classes do not enroll enough students. Currently, the administration cannot reduce the FTE of a Career NTTF.  The administration’s new Article 47 would introduce new terms to regulate salary increases for funding-contingent faculty. The proposal would also deny funding-contingent faculty access to professional development funds and opportunities for sabbatical.

Since Thursday our bargaining team has been studying the administration’s proposals and will return to the table on, February 12, to begin resolving differences between the two sides. As in the first and second weeks, the bargaining session will convene at 10:00 a.m. in the Knight Library Collaboration Center. All faculty are invited to attend this and all bargaining sessions. If you cannot make it for the full four hours, please feel free to drop in when you can.

Open Letter in Support of UO Fossil Fuel Divestment this Week

The University Senate on January 14, 2015, voted unanimously in support of a student-sponsored resolution, asking the UO Foundation to sell its holding in fossil fuel extraction companies.

United Academics invites all faculty to sign an open letter, demonstrating their support for divestment. The letter will be released on February 13, to coincide with Global Divestment Days, a set of coordinated actions around the world, including a Rally at Johnson Hall on the 13th.  To sign the letter, click here.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has become a global phenomenon over the past few years, with 25 institutions of higher education, 35 municipalities, and 70 religious institutions partially or fully committed to divestment .  The most recent full divestment is by The New School of New York City. Stanford also recently announced it would divest from coal.

A large majority of University of Oregon students, 73 percent, voted in 2014 for a non-binding resolution, asking UO to divest from fossil fuels within five years. The successful student campaign prominently used the slogan "Where's the snow, bro?" –a slogan even more apt this winter.

Many faculty have joined the students arguing institutions of higher education need to lead science-based political change in order to uphold the University's mission, which states in part, "We work at a human scale to generate big ideas. As a community of scholars, we help individuals question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically."

United Academics encourages faculty to sign on in support of this initiative. Please, also, encourage your colleagues, including staff and student leaders, to sign as well. Students are hoping to collect many signatures this week, by the evening of the February 12.

Please encourage students to sign: http://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/university-of-oregon.

Bargaining Update – February 2, 2015

Bargaining toward our second collective bargaining agreement kicked off last Thursday morning at 10 am in the Collaboration Center of the Library. That is also where most future sessions are scheduled to meet. You can  check for specific days, times, and locations at the Events Calendar at the bottom of the home page.

Our team opened Thursday’s session by inviting the administration’s representatives to consider the following questions while thinking over our proposals:

  • What if we accepted this proposal? What are the negatives? What are the positives? How can we heighten the positives and minimize the negatives?
  • What if we dedicated ourselves to ensuring all faculty could participate in shared governance?
  • What if our faculty knew that if they did a good job they would always have a job at the university?
  • What if our policies and procedures were transparent so that all faculty knew their rights and obligations?
  • What if we did everything we could to prioritize excellence in undergraduate and graduate learning, excellence in research, both basic and applied, recruiting and retaining the best faculty we can?

If you would like to read our proposals in full, you can find them at the United Academics website, under the “Bargaining” tab.

Here are some highlights:

Equity: We proposed language that would clarify the rights and obligations of all faculty to participate in internal governance and proposed a mechanism whereby faculty could suggest modifications to unit policies (Article 4).

We proposed that all faculty – including faculty at less than .50FTE – have access to fringe benefits like parking permits and bus passes (Article 28).

We proposed that the Union and University Administration work with the UO Foundation to develop a fund to subsidize child care for UO faculty; our plan is modeled on the program at Oregon State University (Article 28). We envision this as a multi-year project culminating in an effective subsidy for faculty.

We proposed a sick leave bank for all faculty and that adjuncts and postdocs can no longer be barred from access to parental leave (Article 32).

Stability: We made several proposals to amend the article on Contracts (Article 16), the biggest of which is our renewed effort to secure an expectation of continued employment for Career NTTF. Currently, the administration can decide not to renew a Career NTTF for any reason. We proposed limiting the Administration’s right to non-renew to four reasons – poor performance, lack of funding, programmatic or curricular needs, and the desire of a unit to replace the NTTF position with a TTF position.

We also proposed that all notices of appointment or reappointment, including FTE and salary information, must be made by May 15 of each year and that those appointments cannot be reduced or rescinded, except through the discipline procedure. We want binding contracts in faculty hands in plenty of time to prepare for the coming academic year.

We also proposed limits in the number of ongoing Adjunct positions a department can have at any one time. Our goal is to convert as many Adjunct positions to Career NTT positions as possible.

Elsewhere in our proposals, we sought to expand the circumstances under which faculty would be able retain coverage under PEBB. The details are complicated, but essentially we are seeking to provide coverage for faculty who have dips in FTE below .50 FTE or don’t have an appointment for a term. We are also seeking to extend summer coverage to all faculty who have coverage during the regular academic year (Article 27).

Lastly, we sought to provide more funds to support mentoring and retention programs for newly hired and under-represented tenure-track faculty (Article 35).

Transparency and Voice: In addition to the work we did in Article 4 to increase faculty participation in internal governance, we proposed extensive revisions to the tenure denial appeals process. All of our proposals were designed to restore and enhance faculty rights through this difficult process and to make the rules more transparent (Article 21).

We proposed that Human Resources design and implement a new webpage that will enable faculty to track their eligibility for leave and to help them get access the proposed faculty leave bank (Article 32).

Economics: We are not going to give the University Administration a salary proposal until later in February so that we have a chance to address some of these important non-economic proposals first.

Our proposals are meant to advance the improvements to the University of Oregon that we achieved in the first round of bargaining in 2013. Our first CBA left a few things undone; the process of implementation, moreover, revealed several areas where clarification was needed. Our proposals aim to fix what needs fixing, to add improvements, and to continue the mission of building a better university.

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What To Do About Grading: A Rough Guide

How should faculty conduct themselves if the administration cannot or will not reach an agreement with the Graduate Fellows Teaching Federation? The impasse between them, as we all know, has put faculty who depend on GTFs between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, they cannot function normally without GTFs, while on the other hand several of the alternatives to normality entail at best a disservice to our students, at worst educational malpractice. Confronted with the ethical and professional challenges posed by the administration’s latest “continuity plan,” many, perhaps most faculty embrace our recommendation to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” But it is not the place of United Academics to say what faculty should or should not do. Some colleagues may have no alternatives at all—if, for example, a dean decides to “modify final exams for some or all courses” in a particular unit, as the most recent continuity plan allows. For the rest of us, this is a decision each colleague will have to make for her/himself, within the parameters of law, contract, ethics, and professional integrity. As we see it, the range of responses can be clumped into three broad categories:

Truncate: Faculty may decide to “forgo the final and take the existing grade” and/or exclude term papers from the calculation of a student’s grade for the entire course.

Among all the alternatives recommend by the administration, is the least acceptable, ethically and pedagogically, as well as the option that exposes us to the charge of educational malpractice. It is fatalistic in its assumption that the strike will not be averted; once announced to students, it cannot be undone—even if an agreement is reached; faculty who choose this path without informing their students defraud them by requiring work that will not be included in the calculation of a grade. It is also grossly unfair to student who, for whatever reason, began the term poorly and hoped to improve their scores in end-of-term written assignments and final exams. The administration’s “solution” to this problem—to make final examinations available to those who want to take them—compounds malpractice with inequity. On the other hand, this option carries no negative consequences for individual faculty in their dealings with administration.

Modify: Faculty may decide to modify final exams into machine-readable formats, thereby obviating the need for human involvement in the grading process.

Here the ethics are more nuanced. There is nothing inherently wrong with ScanTron exams—in many disciplines, after all, machine-readable exams are preferable and for entirely legitimate, pedagogical reasons. In other disciplines, however, modification cannot occur without a degradation of standards or, worse, serious distortions in the evaluation of student performance. For those who regard machine-readable exams as an inappropriate evaluation method, this option offers no comfort. For those who have little or no expertise in crafting ScanTron examinations, there is the added risk that students will suffer the effects of tests designed poorly and hastily. In disciplines to which machine-readable exams are not well adapted, this option, like the first, threatens to dilute and degrade academic standards. Needless to say, this option does nothing to address the problem of grading end-of-term written assignments. But like the first option, it carries no negative consequences for individual faculty in their dealings with administration.

Keep Calm and Carry On: Faculty may decide simply to carry on as normal, leaving end-of-term writing deadlines and final examinations in place, in hopes that the administration will reach a settlement with the GTFF.

Paradoxically, the most coherent option ethically is also the one that carries with it the greatest potential risk for faculty. If the impasse cannot be overcome, this option would render many faculty unable to deliver any grades by the administration’s deadline, which in turn would automatically result in a grade of “X” (“missing grade”) for their students. The administration has announced that “X” grades are “not an option,” however, although it is not clear what exactly that means. Because it is not reasonable to expect faculty to take on all the grading work of their teaching fellows, this option may mean that grading might be performed by unqualified “assistants,” using all or only part of the student work. But in the likely event that “assistants” are unable to finish grading before the administration’s deadline, a grade of “X” will result—the very thing that hiring “assistants” is meant, ostensibly, to avoid. In order to mitigate the damage caused by entrusting the evaluation of final exams or end-of-term written work to unqualified “assistants,” moreover, deans and/or department heads may calculate grades on the basis of partial work, in which case the outcome of this option would be no different from the highly problematic option 1. But at least faculty would emerge from the transaction with their professional integrity intact. Does this option imperil the relations of individual faculty with the administration? It is difficult to say. The Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that in the event of a strike, faculty “will not unreasonably refuse to perform” work “which was previously performed by a striking employee.” In other words, our obligations hinge on what constitutes a “reasonable” volume of additional, compensated work at the end of term to meet the administration’s grading deadline.

Perhaps to assuage our concerns on this score, representatives of the administration have stated, repeatedly and in public, that there will no reprisals against faculty who cannot submit grades on time, resulting in a grade of “X” for the affected students. If the administration did retaliate, their actions would be subject to grievance under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Ethically and pedagogically, however, there is little doubt that this is the best option. It does not compromise academic standards; it treats students equally and fairly; it does not introduce new and potentially flawed measures of students’ work; it does not rule out the possibility of a settlement between administration and the GTFF.

The GTFF has communicated to its members that they can expect to return to work once terms of settlement are reached, at which point all unfinished grading can be completed—unless, of course, the administration has by then already intervened on our classrooms and teaching to assign grades on the basis of partial work or with the help of unqualified “assistants.” We hope that they do not do that, but reach agreement instead.


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