United Academics Press Release – July 10, 2015

The State of Oregon’s decision to boost higher education in Oregon is a deeply welcome turnaround from years of cuts to state funding. Faculty from United Academics worked with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-OR) and American Association of University Professors (AAUP-OR), to shore up support for our state’s universities. We worked with legislators, the Higher Education Coordinating Committee (HECC), and the governor, explaining how academic excellence and access to quality higher education for the next generation of Oregonians requires improving public support. On this, we lobbied in sync with the University of Oregon administration.

However, while UO’s top administrators praised Salem’s decision to give Higher Ed more money, and welcomed the changes to the HECC formula that increased UO’s share of this money, the administration then went to the faculty in today’s bargaining session and reiterated what amounts to a proposal to cut the faculty’s real wages. Despite the good news from the state, the administration is offering a 1% raise in 2016 (delayed until mid-way through the academic year) and a 2% pool for merit raises in 2017. This is just 0.5% more than they were offering back in May, and with local inflation running at about 2.5% a year, it’s a cut to real faculty wages.

The administration’s own analyses show the productivity of the UO faculty. For example, in terms of Bachelor degrees awarded per tenure-related faculty employed in 2011, the UO stood at 5813 degrees awarded per 1000 faculty compared to an average of 4116 for all AAU public universities, and UO’s graduation rates are the highest of all of Oregon’s universities.

“Those graduation rates impressed the heck out of the HECC, because the faculty here work the long hours teaching, grading, advising, and mentoring, all while balancing important research projects. The faculty’s work with students needs to be recognized and rewarded in salaries,” says Michael Dreiling, President of United Academics.

“We trust and understand that most of this money will fill in a variety of fiscal needs and we hope a lot goes to support student scholarships. But if they are not going to spend some of this money on the faculty as well, where will it go? For more overpaid coaches, strategic communicators and administrators?” asks Karen McPherson, Vice President with United Academics.

About 350 faculty recently signed a petition calling on the Board of Trustees to focus UO’s priorities on instructional excellence for our students and on research excellence at this flagship university. The petition is here. We look forward to working with President Schill to move the instructional and research mission at the UO to the front and center as we elevate the long-term academic reputation of this great university.

Bargaining Update — June 8, 2015

Last week’s bargaining session, the last of this academic year, turned out to be lively. The administration’s bargaining team made two important proposals, and we presented our latest salary proposal.

Faculty Files and Records:

First, the administration team brought to the table a new proposal on faculty files and records. Their proposal was that we simply follow University policy, with one exception: that bargaining unit faculty would be entitled to a free copy of their three evaluative files. We feel strongly that the current CBA language already grants faculty free copies of their records as well as of their files. Faculty records include disciplinary records, any Affirmative Action files, applications for leaves or sabbaticals, etc. There are any number of “records” related to UO faculty and no one really knows where they are or who controls them.

Notices of Appointment:

Next, the administration team presented their proposal on Notices of Appointment. For two years, we have been trying to clarify, regularize, and stabilize the process of renewal for Career NTT faculty. We believe that Career NTT faculty should expect to be renewed , and if (a) they have successful reviews; (b) there is continued funding for their position; (c) their work continues to fit within the programmatic need of their department or unit.

Regrettably, the administration team proposed that the University should be allowed to non-renew Career NTT faculty if it believes it might be able to find someone better—even if the faculty member has been successful in all of his or her reviews. The administration’s concern is that a faculty member could succeed in all of his or her reviews, but still be “meh.” The administration would like to be able to declare a faculty member “meh” —despite their having met all standards of excellence—and replace that person with someone whom the University thinks might not be “meh.”

We pointed out that (a) Article 19 requires all units to establish personnel review policies and criteria that ensure faculty “meet the standards of excellence at a major research university”; (b) that the deans and Academic Affairs had approved the review criteria for NTT faculty, so that it should be impossible for a faculty member to have a successful review and still be “meh”; and (c) that unit heads, deans, and Academic Affairs have to conduct and approve all faculty reviews. Given all this, it strains credulity that faculty member could simultaneously be both successful and “meh.”

We also pointed out that telling faculty members that they are being fired for performance “concerns,” despite having successfully completed their performance reviews, is morally wrong and violates every known principle of personnel management.

The administration team also proposed that they be able to non-renew a successful Career NTT faculty if they had financial “concerns.” When asked to clarify what kind of concerns would justify terminating the academic career of a faculty member, they that just about any “concerns” would be justification.

The administration team also rejected our proposal for some job security for funding-contingent faculty. We had proposed that funding-contingent faculty be given at least one-year contracts that could still be cancelled if there was a loss of funding. We also proposed that funding-contingent faculty in the service centers be given longer-term contracts when they earn them, again with the caveat that contracts could still be ended if there was a loss of funding. The administration team rejected these proposals without much explanation. They felt uneasy contracting someone for a long-term job if it was possible the job could end early. In light of our previous conversation about non-renewals, the inconsistency of this position was not lost on our bargaining team.

Salary:

In addition to minor changes to several articles, the United Academics team then presented our latest offer on salary. In light of the administration’s movement in their last salary proposal, we also responded in kind, while maintaining funds in all four important raise categories: COLA, equity, merit, and salary floors.

We agreed to lower the COLA portion of the salary package to 2.0% in each of the two years, down from 2.5%. Again, we agreed to lower the amount in this category to reflect the administration’s movement and work toward a deal.

We also made some movement in our equity portion of the package. For equity, we proposed a committee to study the equity problems on campus in academic year 2015–2016, and for the raises to go into effect in fiscal year 2017. We proposed that both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty should have pools of money equivalent to 1.25% of salary to address internal and/or external equity issues. We recognize that some units have severe external equity problems and others have internal equity issues. By allowing for flexibility, we hope we can address some serious issues on our campus.

The amount of money we proposed for the two merit pools stayed the same in FY16 (1.5%), but increased slightly in FY17 (1.75%). While we recognize that it is better for faculty merit to be rewarded as soon as possible, we increased merit money in the second year because we are trying to be mindful of the administration’s concern about a possible deficit this year. That said, we continue to believe that these differences reflect priorities. According to Howard Bunsis, the UO should realize a $6-7 million surplus this year.

We maintained the amount of money we propose for salary floors, although we split the 10% increase to the floors over the two years. We still think they should come up 10% over the two years, as our minimums are well below those of our comparators. We again rejected their proposal that they be allowed to pay visiting (“adjunct”) only 80% of the rate of Career faculty. We maintain that “adjuncts” have the same workloads, teach the same classes, and perform the same tasks in labs, so there is no reason to pay them less.

Our total package of raises came down 1% from our last proposal, which would mean an average raise in the first year of 3.5%. We told the administration team that we are very hesitant to go below this level, especially given the intransigence we continue to see on major non-salary concerns (see above). We reminded the administration team that Jamie Moffit had presented us information that showed the AAU peers gave their faculty an average raise of 3.4% last year. Anything less than a 3.5% increase for our faculty puts us in danger of once again falling further behind our comparators, something we just cannot let happen.

Both parties agreed to take a break for the rest of June and to resume bargaining in July. Our team hopes that the short break will provide enough time for a reexamination of positions and we can wrap up bargaining well before the start of classes in the fall.

Sign the Petition: Budgeting for UO’s Academic Reputation

Budgets reflect and set priorities. Unfortunately, UO’s investments in our core academic mission remain uninspiring. Our institution needs a reminder from those of us who do the teaching and research that the university’s budget needs recalibration, not talk of austerity for academics while athletic department was top in the nation on revenues last year. This makes no sense.

In an effort to communicate our concern about budget priorities, United Academics has written up a petition, addressed to Susan Gary, the faculty representative on the UO Board of Trustees.

We want every UO faculty member who sees this note to read and sign our petition, then share it widely. Together, we can reinforce a positive change to uphold and renew the UO’s long-term academic standing.

Link to petition: http://goo.gl/forms/LYt8i8CINQ

Final petition with signatures can be found here.

Video of the “Is the UO Really Broke?” Presentation

The administration continues to claim that financial constraints do not allow them to offer more. According to forensic economist Howard Bunsis, however, the University of Oregon enjoys growing reserves, increased support from the state, stable tuition income, and very favorable first-time ratings by both national bond agencies. Last Thursday evening, Bunsis presented his evidence in a presentation titled “Is the UO Really Broke?” For Bunsis’s slides, click here.

Bargaining Update — June 1, 2015

After weeks of anticipation, the administration’s bargaining team finally delivered their second economic offer last Thursday. This proposal slightly increased the amount of money they were offering overall. Previously, the administration had offered the faculty a 1% merit-based raise in academic year 2016-2017 years with a one-time $600 payment and no across-the-board increase. In their new proposal, they offered a cumulative 2.5% raise over two years, as well as a roughly 2% increase to salary floors for non-tenure-track faculty and a 2% raise for full professors who have a successful major review.

We characterized the administration’s first proposal as “insulting” and “unacceptable.” This new offer is an improvement, but still woefully inadequate. While this proposal contains a 1% across-the-board raise in fiscal year 2016 and a 1.5% merit increase in fiscal year 2017, 1% across-the-board does not even keep pace with inflation, let alone the rate of increases among our peer institutions, and 1.5% for merit is a figure too small to recognize and reward excellent faculty. Moreover, the administration proposed no effort to address internal and external equity. This was no oversight: The administration’s team made it clear that they do not believe the UO has any equity problem, either internal or external.

Another disappointing feature of the administration’s proposal was their continued insistence on allowing the deans to control 20% of the small pool of merit money, to be distributed “at their sole discretion.” This time, the administration team explained their proposal as an attempt to ensure that small units with uniformly excellent faculty can distribute raises above and beyond the “average” raise that the pool would otherwise allow. Our team agreed this situation could be a problem, but wondered why the administration did not just address the problem directly in their proposal, rather than allowing deans to control a significant portion of the small merit pool “at their sole discretion.”

The administration continues to claim that financial constraints do not allow them to offer more. According to forensic economist Howard Bunsis, however, the University of Oregon enjoys growing reserves, increased support from the state, stable tuition income, and very favorable first-time ratings by both national bond agencies. Last Thursday evening, Bunsis presented his evidence in a presentation titled “Is the UO Really Broke?” If you would like to see a video of his talk, click here.  For Bunsis’s slides, click here.

Bunsis also noted the recent report by USA Today that UO led the nation last year in net income from its athletic activities. We remain skeptical of the administration’s claims that there is simply no money available for faculty raises to address the need for cost-of-living increases, merit raises to recognize excellence, and equity raises to remedy long-standing internal and external inequities. This week’s notice of further cuts to the UO library’s acquisition budget, coming just as we hear about the nation-leading financial success of UO athletics, offers a stark and disillusioning commentary on the administration’s financial priorities.

In its non-economic proposals, the administration continues to reject our proposal to give all temporary faculty the title “visiting.” Their rationale this time was that “visiting” is not the title that other universities give their “adjunct” faculty. In fact, many do exactly that. Be that as it may, this change of names would harm no one and benefit many. Its cost to the university would be nil. The administration has an opportunity to demonstrate good will. We hope they will seize it.

Given the current pace of negotiations, it seems certain we will end the term without concluding bargaining. We are still too far apart on the salary numbers to see an easy conclusion to bargaining. We will continue bargaining to the summer and hopefully we will find a way to get a fair deal for faculty.

Is the UO Really Broke? (Spoiler Alert: No)

UO Balance Sheet

Last night, Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University and Chair of the American Association of University Professors Collective Bargaining Congress, gave a presentation tackling the question, "Is the UO really broke?"

His simple answer was "no."

Bunsis presented his answer to a full house of faculty, classified staff, graduate students, undergraduates, and community members in Lawrence 115. Using data he culled from the UO's financial reports, OUS reports, IPEDS data, and bond reports, he painted a picture of a university with a health revenue stream, growing reserves, and solid financial outlook for the foreseeable future.

UO Reserves

Months of reserves

Throughout his presentation, Bunsis was careful to emphasize that his report was a synthesis of the data reported out by the UO. He admitted that he bleeds union, but that he was just reporting the facts as he reads them.

Bond Ratings

S&P report

He did, however, make one prediction, namely that the UO will see surplus revenue in the $6-10 million range this year. His prediction stands in stark contrast to Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffit's prediction for next year. When she presented the UO's financial data during our April bargaining session, she said the administration was just hoping we'd be "run-rate even" this year, despite the university's revised budget projecting a $4.5 million deficit. As Bunsis revealed, the university's unrestricted reserves have increased to over $100 million and are projected to grow even larger in the coming years.

Bunsis's information bolstered what we have been saying for the last few months - the UO has money, the administration just closes to spend it on things that are not faculty salaries. We have been saying "budgets reflect priorities" and calling on the administration to prioritize faculty. Unfortunately, to this pint, the administration has not heeded that call.

You can see all the slides from Bunsis's presentation here.