Faculty union concerned about proposed contract changes

(Design by Emily Robinson)

Proposed changes to the collective bargaining agreement between the BHE and the MSCA could impact Framingham State faculty, librarians and students, said Robert Donohue, MSCA vice president and president of the Framingham State MSCA chapter.

These proposed changes include hiring deans with faculty tenure, alterations to faculty evaluation procedures, the elimination of the 15-percent cap on part-time faculty and the end of formulary salary increases.

The MSCA is a union comprised of faculty and librarians from the nine state colleges and universities who are employed by the Board of Higher Education. Every three years, representatives and attorneys from both the MSCA and the BHE meet for a series of negotiations that ultimately result in a collective bargaining agreement, said Virginia Rutter, member of the MSCA bargaining team and interim chair of the sociology department.

The BHE bargaining team is joined by representatives from the State University Council of Presidents, which is comprised of presidents from the nine state colleges and universities.

The collective bargaining agreement is a set of conditions under which the members of the MSCA will agree to work. The CBA is an over-200-page document that encompasses topics such as faculty and librarian pay, benefits and workload.

MSCA President C.J. O’Donnell has characterized these proposed changes as “take-backs.”

In a news update on the MSCA website, he said, “The MSCA bargaining team will be fighting these proposals as they diminish the profession and impede the education of state university students.”

Representatives of the BHE and COP bargaining team would not comment on the specifics of the bargaining or proposed changes from either side.

Vincent Pedone, executive officer for the State University Council of Presidents, said, “Management has always taken the position that one of the tenets of the bargaining process is to keep the negotiations private.”

The BHE and COP bargaining team has proposed the administrations be allowed to hire deans with faculty tenure, according to a news update on the MSCA website.

Donohue said in the long run, this could negatively affect students’ classroom experience.

“Whenever you hire somebody, no matter how rigorous you try to be with the search and interview process, you’re taking a chance,” he said. If an administrator does not end up fitting the position, they will become members of the faculty and will teach courses at the University.   

This is a concern because during their hiring process, administrators are not evaluated on their ability to teach students, said Donohue.

It would not be good to “throw these people in front of our students when they’ve gone through no meaningful evaluation of their ability to be professors. … [Students would] be the ones bearing the brunt of this,” he added.

Adam Offenstine, a senior,  doesn’t think giving administrators tenure is a good idea. “You have to earn tenure,” he said.

Rachel Burgess, a junior, said, “An interview might get you hired, but you never know how someone will do in a specific position.”

Another proposed change would allow students to submit anonymous comments with professor evaluations, according to the MSCA website.

The MSCA team is concerned these comments could be more damaging than helpful, as students could not be held accountable for their words. Additionally, because of the anonymity faculty would not be able to evaluate these comments in context, said Donohue. These comments could become part of a professor’s personnel file.

Jamie Weaver, a senior, said, “I like the idea, but people wouldn’t take it seriously. They could be more harsh than necessary.”

Lawrence Lamisere, a senior, said, “If they do it mid-semester, you won’t know if you’re failing. You can have an opinion without having a grudge.”

As a stipulation of a previous CBA, tenured faculty undergo a process called post-tenure review every six years. During this process, faculty are evaluated on four categories: teaching, advising, service and scholarship. An evaluation of “exemplary” or “meritorious” comes with a percentage raise based on the faculty member’s position.

Donohue said the BHE and COP bargaining team has proposed keeping the same lengthy review process, but “with less money associated with it.”

Another area of concern for the MSCA is the proposal to eliminate the 15-percent cap on part-time faculty.

Currently, no more than 15 percent of instructors in an academic department at a state college or university can be part time, according to a clause in the previous CBA.

The cap does not apply to part-time faculty members substituting for full-time faculty members on sabbatical, to departments with six or fewer members or to laboratory courses.

The BHE has proposed eliminating this cap, meaning state colleges and universities could offer unlimited sections taught by part-time faculty, according to the MSCA website.

Bridgette Sheridan, history professor, said this change could be detrimental to students and faculty. The potential concern is not the quality of part-time professors, but the quality of their working conditions.

Part-time professors do not receive benefits and are often underpaid in relation to the work they perform, Sheridan said.

Donohue said as a result, part-time faculty are less expensive for the University to hire. But while the University saves money, part-time workers and students could suffer.

“Part-time faculty are teaching classes but are on food stamps or living out of their cars or teaching an extraordinary number of courses each semester just to be financially viable,” he said.

Additionally, part-time faculty have a more limited role than full-time faculty, according to Donohue. Part-time faculty are hired and paid to teach a class. Full-time faculty teach classes in addition to academic advising and service work that is necessary for the University to function.

Benjamin Alberti, professor of anthropology, said, “By increasing the number of part-time faculty, you get fewer professors who are in their offices, who can do directed studies, who are invested quite specifically in what FSU’s students achieve.”

The BHE bargaining team has also proposed ending formulary increases to faculty and librarian salaries, according the MSCA website.

Rutter said formulary increases are a method state colleges and universities have used to bring faculty and librarian salaries up to par with those at similar institutions.

Donohue said year to year, faculty and librarians at the state colleges and universities are paid less than those at similar institutions. In response, each year, the BHE performs a salary study that compares salaries at Massachusetts state institutions to those of peer institutions.

Based on these numbers, the MSCA and the BHE determine what faculty and librarians in various positions should be getting paid so their salaries are comparable to those at other institutions. Funds are then used to increase salaries by a percentage in order to move faculty and librarians’ actual pay closer to the amount it was determined they should be paid, said Donohue.

“We never get close … because there isn’t enough money. What we get is some fraction of that difference,” he said.

Rutter said while this policy was instituted to address state college and university faculty underpayment, it appears it can help offset initial salary differences that may have been connected to gender or race inequality.

Donohue said, “Everyone is getting compared to the same figure, so it tends to flatten any differences. … This does a huge social good.”

Additionally, these increases make universities more competitive when recruiting new professors, said Donohue. The Framingham and Boston areas in particular have a high cost of living that can make it difficult for faculty and librarians to live in the region based on their given salaries.

“I know in our department, we’ve lost some great people who were here, liked it, and they really wanted to stay, but they just couldn’t justify staying here when they could be getting paid comparably or more and live in a much less expensive location,” Donohue said.

The proposed end of the 15-percent cap and formulary increases could be rooted in financial concerns, said Donohue.

Massachusetts public higher education funding per student has dropped approximately 31 percent since 2001, according to the Massachusetts Budgeting and Policy Center.

“Years ago, the first year the Red Sox and the Patriots won their championships in the same year, we had T-shirts printed up that said, ‘Massachusetts: number one in football, number one is baseball, forty-seventh in funding public higher education,’” said Donohue.

Money available for state colleges and universities is “legitimately tight,” he said.

“But it’s tight because the commonwealth has not maintained a level of support that they used to provide. That’s the crunch right there.”

Donohue said the money that is available has been “disproportionately” spent on hiring additional administrators.

From the perspective of the MSCA, two things are true: the universities have limited budgets and “the university presidents are choosing to spend the money on something other than providing reasonable contracts to their union employees,” he said.

BHE and COP bargaining team representative Pedone said, “The difficulty for the management side is that we have to balance the cost of the campuses with access to a quality education for our students.”

COP representatives maintain they are doing their best to reach a reasonable CBA.

Pedone said, “Our proposal recognizes the hard work and high quality of our faculty and our staff … but it also allows our state universities to continue to offer students the best pathway to a high quality and affordable four-year education.”

There are three more bargaining sessions scheduled, the latest occurring on Oct. 16, according to the MSCA website.

Pedone said, “The bargaining process seems to illustrate lines of division, but that is a natural process of collective bargaining. When it’s all said and done, the entire state university family works together to ensure that we offer the best and highest quality product for our students.”

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