Frequently Asked Questions
for Spring 2020, the COVID crisis, and the UO's wage cut proposal
Q: I have heard that there is a plan to cut faculty wages. Have I heard correctly?
A: United Academics leadership has had discussions with the administration about a wage cut plan. We sent an email to all union members describing the plan, leadership's thoughts on it, and the possible consequences of not accepting their plan. The Provost followed up with his own message.
Q: Can the administration impose wage cuts on the faculty?
A: No. Any wage cut plan has to be agreed to by the membership of United Academics. If the leadership of UA believes that the administration has made a reasonable proposal, we will refer it to a vote of the membership for ratification. There will be a period of time for discussion before any vote is held.
Q: I am not a member of the union. Will I be able to vote on any wage cut proposal?
A: No. Only members of United Academics will be able to vote on any proposal. Members have volunteered the dues that keep UA healthy and able to engage in these discussions. All bargaining unit faculty are invited to join UA and have an active voice in their union.
Q: Is there dialogue happening between administration and UA about short term versus long term planning and budget choices?
A: Yes, we have raised this point with administration. Unfortunately, it seems that admin wants to look at it that way but from the negative. They seem to be thinking that we might be alright for spring and summer, but there could be a global depression that lasts for a decade. They don't want to make long-term commitments to faculty given that possibility. So, what they want from us is a mechanism that lets them cancel contracts or lower wages if there is a budget deficit. Unfortunately (again), they do not want to give us any input into the budget, instead arguing that all the decisions they have made so far are the right ones and they don't need our input.
Q: Administration is proposing that cuts would be triggered by something like a cutback in state funding. Shouldn't we insist that the trigger has to be related to overall funding? Often, state funding has decreased while endowment earnings, overhead on grants and contracts, and even tuition are stable or rising. And state aid is a relatively small share of the budget.
A: They have proposed that wage cuts would be triggered by a decrease in state revenue or a decrease in tuition income. They have indicated that they would be willing to say that there would need to be a decline in either of those renew sources that impact the General Fund before the cuts would be triggered. If tuition were up and state funding were down and there was no overall decrease, however, then no, it would not make sense to have a trigger that results in wage cuts.
They proposed that people on grants and contracts will not be asked to take cuts.
State aid is a small percentage of the budget, but a cut of some millions would still result in a reduction of millions to the budget.
Q: Can we propose that other options will be exhausted before reverting to faculty cutbacks? E.g. drawing down reserve funds, temporarily increasing the endowment spending rate, taking on more debt, accounting for all CARES act support?
A: The central theme to our response to their outline of a proposal has been that they will both need open up the books and increase faculty involvement in budgeting decisions going forward. They have not been receptive to these talking points. At this point, we don't see coming to an agreement that cuts faculty salaries without these provisions, though. The plan they proposed to us started with a loss of $5 millions in funding. All of the items you mention have been or will be discussed, but we believe that their thinking is that all of the options you list will be quickly exhausted if enrollment dips by 10% and/or state funding is slashed.
Q: I have done a lot of work this term, both to prepare my classes, but also to supervise my GEs. Will I be able to use this experience on my promotion case or next review?
A: Yes. You should emphasize the work you have done this term in your teaching dossier and/or on your service report. We will also work to make sure the work people are doing, including librarians and researchers figuring out how to work remotely, is also taken into account in merit considerations.
Q: Do we know what our Board of Trustees is doing to help during this crisis? Has there been an increase in donations to the teaching and research mission?
A: We have not heard about anything in particular the BoT or donors are doing to help out. We have asked the administration several times to tell us what they are doing to offset an anticipated budget crisis, other than wage cuts, and they have not mentioned increased donations. At one point, we indicated, that one thing we'd like to see if a concerted effort to have all donors - including athletics donors - asked to make a one-time contribution to the General Fund, but administration did not seem receptive to that idea.
Q: If there are triggered cutbacks, there should also be automatic snap-backs - i.e. a commitment that once university revenue rebounds to point X, all positions will be reinstated, and retroactive raises provided.
A: Yes, the outline of their proposal incorporates that idea by limiting the cuts to two years. We did mention automatic raises when we come through this. We are still in bargaining with the administration, so potential cuts, and raises after cuts will need to be bargained in the coming months.
Q: It’s good that the union will have an opportunity to vote on any proposal for salary reductions. But there’s more information needed, along with the formula for salary reductions themselves. What are alternatives? What will the university do if the union members vote “No?” Layoffs according to seniority? Automatic reductions of FTE? Other means of reducing the expenditures? Obviously, it’s hard to vote “yes” for something without knowing what “no” would entail or trigger.
A: At this point, we have had only 2.5 hours of conversation with administration about any of this. All of these questions are good ones, but we don't have the answers. One of the difficulties we have is that the administration is mostly worried about a cut in state funding, not an enrollment decrease. If enrollment does not decrease, they will have a difficult time laying off faculty, although they may need to find tens of millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, they told us that if we do not accept their plan, they will renew all Career faculty whose contracts are expiring at 0.1 FTE, if they renew them at all. We do not think it is feasible to have these faculty stay at 0.1 FTE, as many units will need the Careers to teach classes that do fill. We believe that the administration is attempting to us the Career renewals as leverage to get us to agree to a plan.
One of the big drawbacks of having a Board of Trustees made up mostly of successful business people, is that "cut wages and/or employees" has been then the first and main solution to every business crisis since the 1980s. While President Schill is not a businessman, "cut wages" has also been his first thought, or so it seems. We asked administration to tell us what other reductions that they might be making, but they are maintaining the posture that there is nothing else that can be cut because everything (except faculty?) is vital to running the campus.
As discussions will be ongoing, these will be questions we will be definitely be asking of them.
Q: I understand that you are discussing salary cuts, not raises, right now, but I want to make sure that the exceptional workload that many of us have shouldered isn’t forgotten. I would like to see some kind of direct financial benefit for each course taught this quarter. My preference would be a lump sum per spring 2020 course for each member of the teaching faculty (TTF and NTTF), since that better reflects the one-time, exceptional character of the burden than a permanent alteration of base salary via the merit process.
A: We have only had the two brief conversations with the administration about their thinking, and one of the points we did not discuss is how all of the planning for "cuts" would fit into our larger bargaining proposals on wages. Everything is very much in flux. Right now, our ask in exchange for all the hard work faculty have been doing is to extend the contracts for our career faculty who are up for renewal. So far, the administration has rejected that proposal, instead tying renewals/extension to our willingness to take cuts. We believe some sort of one-time bonus might be an acceptable alternative, but I know right now that the admin is thinking cuts, not bonuses.
Q. Can research faculty be required to come into work, even if they believe their work is not essential or there are hazardous conditions in their lab?
A. If a faculty member is working in an unsafe or hazardous situation, they have an obligation to report that situation, but cannot be compelled to work in a hazardous situation until the concerns are investigated and hazardous conditions are resolved. Theoretically, if you are being asked to come to campus to perform work, the administration has deemed your work to be essential.
Of course, there can be a difference of opinion on whether a situation is essential or hazardous. We strongly urge anyone who believes they are being asked to come into work to what they believe is a non-essential or hazardous situation to contact the union office for an individual assessment and advice.
Q: One of the questions I have in addition to learning about a proposed wage cut plan for faculty: Will this also effect contributions to retirement accounts? Will this be different for those of us that are not part of PERS?
A: Almost certainly, a temporary reduction in salary would impact retirement contributions to any of the plans.
Q: I noticed that so far, the president and senior administrators are taking a wage cut. Does this apply to Dean’s, coaches, etc.?
A: It is our understanding that deans voluntary took a wage cut, coaches have not taken a cut. We have been told that there will be a wage cut plan and it will be imposed on OAs, which includes senior administrators and athletics department personnel, but we have no details.
Q: I’ve heard unofficially that UO is treating the extra 80 hours of paid sick leave we’re all receiving as part of the federal government’s mandate as a use-it-or-lose-it situation, in which hours must be used during the time the university is closed, and that we won’t be able to keep any unused hours after UO reopens. Is this right?
A: The 80 hours of sick leave given as part of the federal stimulus package are due to expire on December 31, 2020. They are “use them or lose them” as of now.
Q: I would like to know if the pay cuts are going to be across the board for NTTF and TTF faculty?
A: Yes, the administration's proposal would apply to all faculty, save those whose salary is derived from outside grants. Since any cut to state revenue or loss of tuition dollars would not impact funding-contingent salaries, these faculty would not take a wage cut.
Q: How might this effect PERS? Our pensions going forward currently depend on our three highest earning years. For most people these will be the next couple of years. The effect of even a temporary pay cut could potentially be a permanent reduction in pensions.
A: Obviously, any pay cut program will be painful, but the folks on TRP or who have retired would be particularly hard hit because their PERS pay may be affected or they are on a fixed income. Administration told us that they had considered this when devising their plan, but felt that the impact would not be enough to justify exempting faculty near retirement.
Q: In light of pending layoffs for Pro Tem and Career faculty, I am wondering how and when these decisions will be delivered to those affected. What can we expect from the administration in the coming months?
A: Instructional Pro Tem faculty contracts will most likely be expiring at the end of the term, and it is unlikely that they will be renewed before the administration knows people will be need in the fall. Pro Tem faculty who are doing grant-related work will be employed until their work becomes unfeasible to do remotely.
Instructional Career faculty and Career Librarians who are up for non-renewal should receive notice of renewal or non-renewal by May 1. The administration has indicated that they will either non-renew or renew all contracts at 0.1 FTE, unless we accept the wage-cut proposal.
Funding-contingent Career faculty always face non-renewal when grant funding runs out. Obviously, we are in a unique situation where grant funding still exists but doing grant-related work may not be feasible. We are talking with administration on how to deal with this unique situation. As always, our main priority is to protect the long-term employment of excellent faculty and to protect the benefits they have earned.
Q. Is there talk of salary cuts among TT in order to save NTT jobs?
A. Yes, many faculty have suggested they would be willing to take a temporary pay reduction in order to help save Career faculty jobs. Some faculty are interested in a straight pay cut, while others believe we should have a furlough program where tenured faculty can give up pay and FTE so as to double the feasibility of keeping Career faculty employed. All faculty we have talked to agree that any wage cut plan should be voluntary and the funds should transparently be used to retain employees at UO.
Q. Is there talk of UO offering financial incentives for faculty to retire early?
A. Not yet. In the last bargaining session before the Governor’s stay-at-home order, the administration proposed a buyout plan that would allow them to control if and when a faculty member left employment at the university. Obviously, times have changed, so those conversations may be different in light of COVID, and a one-time plan may be more appropriate. Unfortunately, the administration maintains that they do not have robust reserves, so there is the question of where the millions of dollars needed for an effective buy-out program would come from.
Q. Is there or should there be a sick leave bank? Or another thing faculty (esp TT) can do to support their (esp NTT) colleagues?
A. The idea of a sick bank has been discussed many times with the administration. To date, they have been unwilling to make any serious modifications to the current system. Currently, faculty can use accrued sick time or borrow up to 520 hours of time from the administration, which is paid back as it is accrued. The administration has been willing to have a sick leave bank that lets faculty borrow up to 520 hours from the bank, which would be paid back as it is accrued. Which, as you can see, is basically the same thing we have now.
We raised the idea of allowing faculty to donate accrued sick time to fellow faculty members facing a lay-off, but administration did not seem interested in pursuing the issue, as it would carry a financial burden for them.
Q. Do we have reassurances that UO won’t try to claim this content zoom/online/streaming course as their own? Is there anything faculty can/should do to maintain ownership of their materials?
A. In his email on March 20, Provost Philips stated, “Please know that the university will not seek to capture any of the streaming lecture materials developed by faculty during this time.” The ownership issue is more complicated. In current UO policy [link: https://policies.uoregon.edu/finance-and-business-affairs] – following state law – the administration claims ownership over “educational materials,” but the policy is very vague. We believe the materials used to teach regular classes, including those used to teach remote classes belong to the faculty member under Section 6.215(3) of the policy:
(3) Lecture notes and other materials prepared by academic staff in connection with a teaching assignment and with only incidental use of institutional facilities, funds, staff, and other resources normally shall be viewed as flowing from individual effort and initiative and shall not be construed as having been produced in the course of discharging the obligations of employment.
This issue needs to be clarified through bargaining over the summer, but for now, we are relying on Provost Philip’s statement that the administration will not capture streaming materials this term.
Q. Why didn’t the UO extend week 1 so faculty could prep for remote delivery? Will we demand compensation for extra work time?
A. Many colleges and universities gave their faculty an extra week to prepare for the Spring term. Obviously, the UO admin did not. We did not speak with them on this subject directly, but we understood that they prioritized engaging with the students as soon as possible so as to retain as many students as possible. While the financial health of the university ran far behind the health and safety of the campus community and the need to keep students on track to graduate on time as priorities, it was a concern.
Q. What’s with the confusing information re: teaching synchronously vs. asynchronously? Is it ok to do either?
A. There has definitely been mixed guidance on this question. All faculty are allowed to deliver content in a way they believe is to the advantage of their students and pedagogically appropriate. That can be synchronous delivery or asynchronously delivery. You have the absolute right to choose either.
A best practice, though, would be to check in with your students and see what works for them. Many students want to be able to interact with their professor and their fellow students on the course content. If you are delivering content asynchronously, you might set up a discussion board in Canvas.
Q. What happens when accumulated paid time off runs out? Will these workers, especially RAs and postdocs, have to take unpaid time off, have FTE reduced, or be “laid off?” Do we know what the admin’s plans are for these faculty?
A. At this point, we believe that employees who cannot do their work remotely will be eventually laid off. We do not, however, have a lay-off program for faculty in the collective bargaining agreement, as neither party envisioned a scenario where work at the university would be suspended for an unknown period of time.
We are trying to avoid a situation where any faculty member will lose their job on a temporary or permanent basis. Guidance from the administration has been that every effort should be made to keep the non-instructional faculty fully employed. As far as we have heard, this effort has been successful. Looking forward, however, we do anticipate that it might not be possible to keep everyone employed remotely. We have suggested to the administration that faculty be allowed to donate sick time to a pool that can be used by RAs and postdocs to fend off a lay-off situation. We have also encouraged the administration to be creative in finding work to keep good research faculty engaged until we all return to work.
Should faculty need to be laid-off, there will need to be an agreement between the administration and the union about how this will work. Our first priority will be fight for recall rights and the extension of current benefits for as long as possible.
Q. Are there any protections in place in the collective bargaining agreement for funding-contingent faculty?
A. There are no particular protections for funding-contingent faculty beyond promoted faculty being entitled to 30-day’s notice before their contract is terminated due to lack of funding.
Funding-contingent faculty can lose their positions at UO when funding for the project they are working on either runs out or is revoked. There is a possibility that some grants could be revoked or terminated during the COVID crisis. All indications are, however, that the efforts from governmental agencies are designed to keep people working.
We do not believe that the administration can use the COVID crisis to end funding-contingent contracts unless there is a withdrawal of grant funding. We may need to develop some emergency lay-of procedures, but we do not believe that a temporary suspension in grant-driven work constitutes a “lack of funding” that would justify a non-renewal notice.
Q. Will there be any special considerations for faculty with children at home (e.g. for research productivity)? Will this be a reason to pause the tenure clock?
A. All faculty in the tenure-track who have not yet secured tenure are allowed to request a pause in the tenure clock of one year. You do have to ask for it, as it is not automatic. You can initiate a pause in your tenure clock by notifying your dean of your wish in pause your clock.
We have raised the issue of pausing the post-tenure review clock with the administration, as well. They were receptive to the idea, but they have not finalized this option at this time.
The pausing of the clock will not be based on having children at home or other factors. Almost everyone is facing a unique challenge at this time. Obviously, some faculty are facing the challenge of educating and caring for children in a time of confinement. Other faculty have parents or partners who are ill. Almost all of the faculty are facing reduced research resources or loss of time in the field. Fortunately, the administration has agreed that all faculty need a break and have extended the tenure clock and are working on an extension of the post-tenure review clock.
Because going up for promotion is optional, there is no need to extend the promotion clocks.