Following the loss of an appeal filed by the Board of Higher Education (BHE) against the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA), all state universities must be in compliance with the so-called “15-percent rule.”
The rule requires that no more than 15 percent of the faculty in state university academic departments may be part-time, with some exceptions. It was initially negotiated in 1986, but the BHE has been fighting the rule ever since. Last spring, the court ruled that all state universities must comply immediately.
The 15-percent rule does not apply to laboratory courses or departments with six or fewer faculty members. It does not apply to part time faculty who are replacing full time faculty members on sabbatical.
Psychology professor Robert Donahue, president of the local chapter of the MSCA and vice president of the state-wide organization, said he has worked as an alternate on the MSCA bargaining committee for over seven years.
“For decades, the University has been expending a tremendous amount of time and money to argue that a language they agreed to in the contract – they don’t actually have to follow,” said Donahue. “And, in ruling after ruling, the State Labor Relations Board has instructed the universities that they do have to abide by the language.”
After the court ruling, the union agreed to allow FSU two years for comply to the rule, according to Linda Vaden-Goad, vice president for Academic Affairs.
“It never occurred to them that they were going to lose the appeal, so no plans were in place,” said Donahue.
“This is one of the parts of the contract we were trying to get to, anyway,” said Vaden-Goad. When the courts ruled in favor of the union, the process had to be rushed. “It’s not been a choice of ours,” she said.
Vaden-Goad said the process is going well. Eight more courses need to be taught by full-time faculty members to comply with the rule. The departments of sociology and world languages each need one more course and food and nutrition need six more courses taught by a full-time professor.
Margaret Carroll, dean of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said the challenge with bringing food and nutrition into compliance involves the high number of graduate students enrolled in the program. Because some graduate students are still in the process of obtaining the major they need, there is a high enrollment in daytime courses, which means extra course sections have to be taught.
“I had hoped we would be in compliance right now,” said Vaden-Goad. “I’m hopeful we’ll be there in the fall.”
She added, “I really also want to pay attention to the small departments,” but the 15-percent rule has taken priority.
Donahue said some laboratory professors wished the 15-percent rule applied to their departments.
Carroll said the 15-percent rule is “excellent,” but added laboratories currently depend on visiting lecturers (VLs). She said the chairs of those department would like to have more full-time faculty.
“The problem with using part-time folks to teach the labs is that we don’t pay them very much, so they’re not around for very long,” said Carroll. Because part-time faculty often leave after a short period of time, the departments are left searching for new professors.
Dean of Arts and Humanities Marc Cote said departments with six or fewer faculty members might be “suffering” because of the 15-percent rule. The smaller departments might have programmatic needs, but the focus has been on bringing larger departments into compliance.
Hailey Smith, a freshman, said, “It’s definitely going to be harder for everybody.”
According to Donahue, Framingham State “was nowhere near as bad as some universities” and, since he was hired, has respected union contracts.
Vaden-Goad said no courses have been dropped altogether. “It hasn’t been like that,” she said. “We’ve worked together collaboratively on everything. … I value that.”
Although no courses have been cut completely, Cote said, “We’ve cancelled more classes than we have in the past.”
Justin Ng, a sophomore, said, “I don’t think cutting sections is the greatest idea. As a science major, we already don’t have enough sections to graduate on time. That’s not fair to us.”
Christie Corliss, a junior, said, “It’s pretty sad. I feel bad for the professors who have been doing a great job in their classes getting … cut because of a rule.”
Before the ruling, the Arts and Humanities Department had a gradual plan to increase full-time, tenure-track faculty. The ruling made it a priority.
“We didn’t have the budget,” said Cote.
The Arts and Humanities Department has become stricter in terms of enforcing class size limits. As a result, one section of Literary Study had to be cut, and the professor teaching that section was moved to another course.
“We had to think about other solutions to reduce the percentage of part-time faculty,” he said. “It became a little less about addressing programmatic need and a little more about addressing that 15 percent.”
He added, “I think it’s good from time to time to look at your programs and see if there is any glut. We’re trying to avoid student frustration as much as possible, but at the same time, we’re trying to be fiscally responsible.”
Donahue said, “One wonders how many full-time faculty Framingham State could have hired and paid for with zero impact to student fees if they hadn’t expended all this time and money on a futile legal effort.”