UA Researcher Happy Hour

Get out of your lab/office and join other researchers for happy hour next Thursday, July 14th from 4-6PM at the new Falling Sky in the EMU. Bring your co-workers and enjoy a beer and appetizers on United Academics.

Several members of the UA Exec Council, including our VP for NTTF Researcher Affairs, Mike Strain, will be there if you have ideas for how United Academics can help improve your academic or employment experience at the UO.

Come join us, and forward this to other researchers who might be interested in hanging out with the larger research community at the UO.

Event flyer

The vital work of non-tenure track faculty

The vital work of non-tenure track faculty in higher education is widely undervalued and underappreciated. Too often, administrations fail to acknowledge the indispensable expertise and labor of NTTF and fail to appreciate their contributions to the research, instructional and service missions of universities. This is one of the central reasons we unionized and why faculty at many other universities are following suit.  Our collective bargaining agreement has moved this campus in the right direction with respect to NTTF – better pay, longer-term contracts, transparent channels for promotion, increased sabbatical eligibility, and new benefits. These gains are the first of many needed steps for the UO to achieve a secure and stable workforce and provide credible respect for the critical academic work of all NTTF.

The long-term success and the continuity of operations of the university require the specific advanced skills, expertise, and stability of a team of career professionals working to advance the university’s instructional and research missions.  These roles are generally complementary and interwoven with those of tenure-track faculty and not a cheap substitute. The University of Oregon cannot realize its  mission without the work of hundreds of NTTF in research labs, classrooms, and service roles across this campus.

Front-line research in the laboratory sciences critically depends on NTTF in the roles of bench scientists, scientific programmers, and career professional scientists with advanced degrees who staff and manage the core research infrastructure.  The career professionals in the shared core research services provide a high degree of specific technical expertise and commitment to the successful  long-term continuity of operation of shared instrumentation centers. Appropriate staffing is a requirement by funding agencies (e.g. NSF, NIH, DOE) and receives intense scrutiny in the consideration of major research instrumentation grant proposals.

Our NTTF colleagues also play an essential day-to-day role in the one-on-one training, mentoring, and supervision of undergraduate and graduate students. Many units rely completely on NTTF to advise undergraduates and encourage department majors.

A commitment to growing the tenure ranks can and should occur alongside a commitment to fully embrace the professional roles of NTTF in our university. The recent administrative decision to emphasize hiring TTF while simultaneously cutting NTTF positions in select programs has impacted NTTF morale and raised concerns about the redistribution of workload among faculty.

Financially starved departments vital to the university’s mission should not be further reduced and imperiled. The heads of several language and composition departments outlined the risks to their programs with these cuts.  Further, many faculty in the NTT ranks are worried that they might be the next target of cuts, sentiments exacerbated by the relative silence about how these cuts will materially impact the respective academic programs, class sizes, and ultimately our liberal arts promise. Because these cuts involve reductions in teaching faculty, the ability of these programs to sustain and grow student credit hours is curtailed.

President Schill has set ambitious goals to grow the university and solidify our place among the nation’s best research universities. United Academics supports these broad goals, but we believe we cannot achieve them without a robust and respected non-tenure-track faculty.

Realignment Conversation. Update.

Last Thursday afternoon a delegation from United Academics met with CAS and Academic Affairs. We talked at length about the questions faculty raised in response to our last emails on the process of reducing NTT faculty in CAS. Our conversation was productive, if not complete.  It will continue as the process unfolds, but we wanted to update you on what we know so far.

The CAS deans have said that CAS is running a $4 million annual deficit and, in response, cuts to non-tenure-track faculty must be made. One of the main sources of confusion and frustration has stemmed from the perception that the decisions being made (which departments are experiencing the biggest cuts and who is being cut) do not necessarily align with the biggest budget savings. We gained some clarity on this issue during our conversation.

While CAS still maintains there is a $4 million annual deficit, they made it clear that their goal is to reduce the ranks of the NTTF to “realign” the number of faculty to the student credit hours (SCH) in each unit. CAS expressed ongoing concern about the ratio of TTF to NTTF and its impact on our AAU ranking.  They indicated that, even in the absence of a budget deficit, it is likely the reduction of NTTF would still be happening to some degree.
This explanation from CAS did not allay concerns about the scale and speed of the realignment.  However, it did help clarify why certain cuts that save little money are nevertheless being made.  For instance, a report from a natural science department had informed us that all their pro tem faculty were not being renewed, even though most of them were hired to replace professors who had used grant funds to buyout courses. The savings to the college will be minimal, but eliminating these positions will reduce the numbers of NTTF and improve the TTF to NTTF ratio.

The CAS deans are confident that units will be able to rearrange course schedules and assignments so that the loss of NTTF positions will result in very minimal loss in classes or student credit hours. They report that almost all conversations with department heads have gone smoothly and the areas where legitimate concerns have been raised have largely been accommodated. To United Academics, however, many members and their department heads have been expressing the opposite.

The Heads of Language and Literature units at the UO offer a powerful explanation of how the proposed cuts “weaken the ability of language departments to field programs, serve students, and advance the mission.” Please refer to their memo here.

We were also able to gain clarity on the scope of the cuts. While the process is ongoing and no final decisions have been made, it looks as if ~100 positions will be cut, resulting in a reduction of ~45 FTE. The majority of these cuts will be in the pro tem and instructional postdoc ranks, although ~20 Career NTTF positions are also slated to be cut.

As we stated in our last email, we believe that more time is necessary to plan for reductions in overall faculty in order to do so in the humane way President Schill proposed in his original email. We offered several reasons why taking a step back and giving departments and faculty more time made sense. We pointed out that these cuts are coming at the worst time for faculty to continue their academic careers at other universities. The job cycle begins in early fall and winds down in spring. Receiving a non-renewal notice now condemns a faculty member to a year out of the academic labor market. We also pointed out that the selection of which career NTTF would be considered for non-renewal seems unfairly arbitrary. Faculty on multi-year contracts who happen to be up for renewal this year may be on the chopping block, while faculty who are mid-cycle are safe. This randomness does not allow units to ensure that the best person for the work is retained. We also suggested that a delay in some of these cuts would allow units to make better, more informed decisions about the future curriculum.

The administrators we spoke with seemed receptive to these ideas, if non-committal. We hope to be able to continue conversations as soon as possible.  We have also heard messages from members in colleges other than CAS, and we encourage you to continue to send updates about the situations across campus.

Ultimately, the battle to preserve positions will need to be fought, if necessary, at the department level. If department heads and unit faculty are generally amenable to proposed cuts, it will be extremely difficult for United Academics to argue to preserve the positions. We can direct and amplify arguments made at the unit level for one or all positions, but if a department head or faculty committee signs off on the cuts, there will be little we can do.
Again, your questions and information have driven the objections and solutions we have offered to the administration and we encourage you to keep sending them.

Austerity Message Pt. 2

Dear Members,

Last week we sent the bargaining unit a message regarding the proposed cuts in the College of Arts and Sciences, describing the process as we understood it and asking for your on-the-ground perceptions of how the process is progressing. We have received a tremendous amount of feedback and our understanding grows and evolves each day. Please, keep sending us information, and your questions, about how the process is unfolding in your unit.

The main thing we are hearing is that what is happening in CAS does not match the process we described. We have received reports from many units that decisions have already been made with regards to who will not be renewed and faculty are beginning to be informed that they will not be returning. We have also heard that many unit heads believe that decisions are being handed down from CAS and the process is not as collaborative as we were led to believe it would be.

We received Dean Marcus’s memo seeking to dispel the “rumors” we were hearing. It states that cuts have not been finalized, unit heads are being given opportunity for input, and their input is being taken into consideration. Dean Marcus assures us that “In most cases, these conversations have changed some of the outcomes we initially proposed.” However,  some career NTTF have already been informed of non-renewal and several questions still remain. We have asked the CAS deans for a meeting to gain a fuller understanding of how the process came to be described to us so differently from how it is actually playing out and to have some of the faculty’s questions addressed. We are meeting with them on this afternoon and hope to have more information for you very soon.

The two main questions we hope to have addressed are how cutting non-tenure-track positions will save money in the long term, and why there is such a rush to address a problem that has been building for years; it is our understanding that in some cases department heads are being given just a few days to propose where to make massive cuts to their faculty.

Many faculty have expressed a fear that cuts to their unit will become self-perpetuating, leading to a permanent weakening or de facto elimination of their program.  The College of Arts and Sciences, facing a $4 million deficit, is using the metric of NTTF student credit hours (SCH) to TTF SCH in each unit to  single out areas where cuts can be made. The idea is apparently that some units are carrying more NTTF than truly needed, since TTF can teach those courses. CAS is proposing to cut NTTF positions to restore a balance between NTTF employment and NTTF need. Many NTTF, however, teach the largest classes in their units (and NTTF teach more courses than TTF), so that reducing NTTF FTE will almost certainly lead to reduced student credit hours in the unit in subsequent years. We have asked CAS to address this apparent contradiction and to discuss with us the plan to prevent the units which are seeing cuts from having to make cuts again as their SCH decrease in future years.

We also want to discuss with CAS the apparent rush to get these cuts done. Many good questions are being asked regarding the proposed cuts and good questions deserve well-thought-out answers. We are deeply concerned that decisions made hurriedly today will lead to damaging outcomes tomorrow. We understand that President Schill has made improving the tenure-track faculty to student ratio a priority. We share his enthusiasm for this goal. We do, however, wonder why the ratio needs to be improved all at once this year, indeed, over the course of less than a month.

At this point in the process faculty have more questions than answers. We do understand that this is a difficult process for everyone and in no way question the commitment and hard work of our deans and department heads. As Dean Marcus wrote, no one is happy about reducing budgets or cutting faculty. We hope that our conversation this afternoon will be full, detailed, and productive, and we will report back to you what we learn.

Please reply to this email to send in your information and questions so we can represent the faculty fully and well.

Austerity Measures

Dear Members,

President Schill sent a message to the campus community that has generated considerable conversation (and some anxiety) for everyone concerned about the education and research mission at the University of Oregon. Leaders of United Academics are involved in discussions with university administration about the changes President Schill envisions. We want to share with you what we are hearing. We also need to hear from you about what you are learning regarding changes in your unit. By speaking with an informed collective voice, we can help President Schill live up to his promise to make proposed changes as smooth and humane as possible.

Over the past few weeks, we have started to see the contours of what President Schill is envisioning for our campus: consolidation and reduction in the communications personnel on campus; cancellation of the remainder of the branding contract with 160over90; and reductions in administrative personnel. We have also been told that there will be 40 new graduate student scholarships next year that can be used to recruit top-flight graduate students.

President Schill’s letter indicated cuts will be coming to the instructional staff, in order to, as he put it, “align our resources to achieve academic excellence.” Our understanding is that most of these cuts will be focused on the College of Arts and Sciences, at least in the near term. Based on the information shared by Dean Andrew Marcus at a recent meeting of department heads and program directors, we understand the plan as follows:

For each department, the CAS deans measured the growth in student credit hours and faculty employment since the 2007-8 academic year for each department. You can see their breakdown for each division in CAS here. They will be using these numbers to set preliminary reduction goals for each department. The deans will meet with department heads to discuss the scenario in each unit, get feedback about their proposals, incorporate the information they learn, then go forward with any cuts.

The CAS deans have been careful to emphasize that there are no plans to cut any tenured or tenure-track positions or to terminate any Career NTTF contracts. They have said their focus within CAS is on the pro tem and instructional postdoc positions, although there may be some non-renewals of Career NTTF positions. The deans have said the bulk of the cuts will be to the Humanities division of CAS, as this is the division that includes most of the NTTF positions. The idea seems to be that Career NTTF and TTF will have to take over the work done by the pro tem faculty, maintaining workloads by giving up some of the small seminar classes.

There are some real concerns about this plan. We have reservations about the feasibility of replacing large numbers of faculty by shifting work around; we do not see how this can be done without sacrificing quality in both education and research. We also have concerns about asking faculty to teach courses they have no experience teaching. Just because a class has a 100-, 200-, or 300-level designation does not necessarily make it any easier to teach than one with a 400- or 500-level designation. We also know that faculty feel stretched already. Our course loads, TTF and NTTF alike, are high and already stress our research and service obligations.

Fortunately, the Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the administration’s ability to terminate tenured and tenure-track faculty except for disciplinary reasons or in the case of extreme financial emergency, and–in this latter case–only as part of an articulated plan to deal with such a crisis. The university administration has been careful to state that they are not declaring a financial crisis. This is partly why President Shill uses phrases like “realignment” and “transition.”

The Collective Bargaining Agreement also limits the ability of the administration to terminate Career NTT faculty mid-contract. Career NTTF can be non-renewed when their contract is up for renewal, but their contracts cannot be terminated or cancelled mid-contract. This is why we fought so hard to establish two- and three-year contracts for Career NTTF who earn them. These contracts do not guarantee ongoing employment at the university, but they provide some level of protection and limit times at which NTTF can be non-renewed.

Unfortunately, pro tem and instructional postdoctoral positions do not enjoy these protections; by their very nature they are designed to be temporary positions. Again, this is why we have fought so hard to limit the number of pro tem positions on campus and convert as many positions as possible to Career NTT so those faculty could earn some level of stability.

We have learned that the department heads in Romance Languages and English have met with the CAS deans and so far the changes proposed are very much as Dean Marcus described them at the department heads meeting. The information we have, however, is not complete and is filtered in a variety of ways.

In order to represent the interests of all faculty, we need to hear from you about the changes that are affecting your unit. We are working to set up meetings between departments and union leadership to discuss the coming changes. If you would like us to meet with your department or program, please respond to this email and we can help set up a meeting. Replying to this email will also put you in touch with our staff who can answer individual questions or discuss your concerns. We need to hear from you and we are eager to help in any way we can.

In solidarity,

Michael Dreiling