Gatepost Editorial: To create a more perfect union

The Department of Labor Relations ruled that the state universities must be in compliance with the portion of the faculty contract which states departments of six faculty members or more must be made up of less than 15 percent of part-time faculty.

When this ruling was appealed by the Board of Higher Education in February, the appeal was denied, and Commonwealth Employment Relations Board ruled that the universities must immediately become compliant.

This language has been in the contract since 1987, and union members have been working on receiving a ruling that enforces this language since 2002.

This may initially appear to be a victory for the union and for most faculty members, as it seems as though this decision might force the administrators at the state universities to create more full-time faculty positions for part-time faculty or for new potential employees.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.

Weeks after the final fall schedules were released, state universities, including FSU, are now scrambling to become as close to compliancy as possible for the fall semester – by any means necessary, it seems, other than hiring more full-time faculty.

Hiring more full-time faculty: The obvious solution

According to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, FSU has been implementing a hiring plan that has increased full-time faculty at a growth rate which exceeds that of the student population. The hiring plan has only been slightly amended, even though FSU has more departments over the 15 percent for part-time faculty than any year before.

Some faculty who support the union in pushing for this part of the contract to be enforced have said FSU needs to be putting the money where it’s most needed – and ultimately, the number one function of a school is providing a valuable education to its student body.

You’d be hard pressed to find a student who believes there are too many faculty members on this campus. In fact, students are often drawn to FSU because of its impressively low student-to-faculty ratio.

So if we want to keep the culture of FSU the way it is now, with small classes and enough faculty to grow departments and expand curriculum, then we can’t be significantly cutting back on the number of faculty.

But rather than simply adding more full-time faculty positions, more positions could be converted from part-time to full-time. A part-time position would no longer exist, so that could be subtracted from the percentage of part-time faculty, while a new full-time position would be created, adding to the percentage of full-time faculty – making the equation doubly effective.

Additionally, this would allow for professors who have already shown themselves to be essential members of this campus to have a role as full-time professors who can perform academic advising and committee work.

This tactic to reach compliance, though the most obvious and most direct, seems to be the least likely to happen based on responses from administrators.

In defense of part-time faculty: What wasn’t broken

No one is questioning the quality of instruction imparted by part-time faculty.

While The Gatepost’s eBoard recognizes that part-time faculty get paid substantially less than their full-time colleagues, without benefits and without the opportunity to invest more time on campus, we also recognize the instrumental function part-time faculty offer the student body.

Some part-timers want to have full-time positions, but many are happy to work part-time at an institution because they may be retired or they might have other jobs in their field of study. Or they may be starting out in academia and are desperate for experience that will help them pay their bills and assist them in getting a full-time job.

It seems as though a labor union should be more focused on protecting the workers and fighting for their rights rather than creating a landscape in which their employment is even less secure.

Moreover, part-time faculty members have the potential to contribute the most range, practicality and flexibility to the education of the student body.

Faculty members who have time to devote to their own work in the field can be incredibly valuable to students who are looking for practical and contemporary advice and instruction. If professors can offer more relevant professional experiences, even if they are not teaching full-time, they may be some of the most valuable faculty members with whom students can be in contact. Having immediate professional contacts in their particular fields will also offer students potential internships or job prospects.

Additionally, having the flexibility to hire visiting lecturers allows for that department to experiment with curriculum and courses offered.

When a department doesn’t have to hire to a full-time professor to try out new classes, it can offer a wider selection of courses to students, a more well-rounded education in which they are being taught by a range of professors and the opportunity to test out the direction it wants to grow before it committing to it.

Ultimately, striking a balance between part-time and full-time faculty is essential to offering students a well-rounded education, but 15 percent for each department seems arbitrary, and not necessarily a good indicator of the quality of an education.

FSU’s plan to be compliant: What can we expect?

FSU’s plan to become compliant will actually decrease the number of courses offered to students and make classes more crowded. This will make scheduling more of a challenge and potentially prevent students from being able to graduate on time.Who’s at fault?

Even if we wanted to point fingers, we’d end up looking like the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz,” pointing confusedly every which way.

What it ultimately comes down to is the result of these decisions, which is that students are going to have a more difficult time getting into the classes they need and will have less personalized instruction from their professors, who will have a heavier work load.

The ruling is final and the state universities must become compliant with the contract. But in three years, the union will be meeting again to renegotiate the contract. And everyone in the FSU community needs to start thinking about what steps might be taken in that negotiation to create an academic environment which meets the university’s particular needs more closely than this 15 percent rule does.

First, efforts to improve compensation for part-time faculty are essential. The union should be focusing on improving the working conditions for these faculty members rather than making the job market more limited and difficult for them.

Second, the Gatepost eBoard recognizes the reasons for keeping the percentage of part-time faculty low, but the 15 percent rule would be more beneficial if it were not calculated by department, but rather by the overall percentage of faculty at the institution.

This would allow for more flexibility among departments so that the individual needs of each department can be met more effectively while requiring the university to commit to more full-time faculty.

Third, our administration, and that of other schools, needs to be taking the contracts it enters into seriously. Over the past 10 years, FSU has gotten further away from compliance. If FSU administration had been more focused on the contracts we have, the institution wouldn’t be put a position in which it’s making such drastic measures now.

Finally, and worst of all, the changes in enrollment caps and cutting of courses will ultimately hurt students.

We did not lobby for rulings.

We did not sign any contracts.

We signed up for a quality education, and we expect that agreement to be honored.

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