An Attack on Tenure From a Democratic Administration

Connecticut State U professors say proposals for their new union contract, including the transfer of tenured faculty members to another university and expanding the grounds for dismissing tenured professors, read like an attack on their rights.

October 9, 2015

Collective bargaining negotiations are often drawn out and contentious, but the process now unfolding within the Connecticut State University system promises to be particularly unpleasant, based on an administrative wish list that includes unprecedented proposals -- such as that tenured faculty members may be assigned involuntarily to another campus, without the guarantee of continued tenure there.

Leaders of the American Association of University Professors-affiliated union representing faculty members at the state's four regional universities are keeping their public comments to a minimum, but they’ve warned union members that the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Board of Regents for Higher Education's starting point for negotiations is worrisome at best.

“It is to be expected in such negotiations that the two sides will have very different starting points, but the [board] proposals contain truly drastic alterations to our work conditions,” the state university-wide union’s collective bargaining team wrote in an email update this month, after the first negotiation meeting regarding the 2016-19 contract. “Understand that these are starting points intended to be negotiated; nevertheless, you may find the [board] proposals alarming.”

The bargaining team included in the email a list of proposed changes to the existing collective bargaining agreement. Among them are that tenured faculty members may be moved to another regional university without their consent, without the guarantee of tenure there. Tenured faculty members could be terminated, not just in cases of financial exigency, as is now the case, but if the administration “believes economic or programmatic conditions exist” for retrenchment. And tenured faculty members also could be fired without the chance to appeal for breaking any local, state or national law, ethical standard or policy statement -- a notion perhaps inspired by a Central Connecticut State University professor who was promoted last year while in jail and who's since been arrested on unrelated charges. University personnel files, now private except as indicated by a court, would be subject to open records requests.

The union would no longer receive funds to offer faculty grants for curriculum or professional development or research. Office hours would be bumped up to seven per week, from five, and faculty members would have to be “professional” and “collegial.”

Faculty advocates generally say that they oppose collegiality requirements not because they are against being collegial but because such rules can be used to punish those who hold unpopular views or criticize administrators.

Class sizes would possibly be increased and the allowed percentage of part-time faculty members would jump from 20 percent to 25 percent (although some campuses may already be near 25 percent due to a previous provision allowing for universities to increase the 20 percent cap by 1 percent per year over several years).

Also under the proposed contract, course load credits would not be afforded for specialized assignments, assessment or accreditation work, and there would be no salary increases for promotions, longevity or market adjustments.

Newly hired librarians and counselors would no longer be eligible for tenure.

Vijay Nair, a librarian at Western Connecticut State University and president of state university systems’ four-campus AAUP chapter, didn’t immediately return a request for comment but told The Connecticut Mirror the proposals read like an “attack on the faculty.”

“I am shocked and bewildered by these proposals,” he said. “We have never seen anything so harsh.”

While involuntary moves between campuses without the guarantee of continued tenure are rare, if not unprecedented, other faculty members say they’re also worried about other changes.

Stan Kurkovsky, a professor of computer science at Central Connecticut State University, said in an interview that the elimination of small AAUP grants of up to a few thousand dollars for research and professional and curricular development would have an outsize impact on professors’ work and student learning.

Kurkovsky said that it was initially AAUP funds that enabled him both to be trained in and study the effect of a modeling pedagogy for software engineering. The grants eventually led to a published study suggesting that students who learn computer modeling using Lego building blocks (called Lego serious play) outperform students who don’t have that opportunity.

Over all, Kurkovsky said, the fact that the university system is even considering doing away with such funds suggests that “to them it’s all about minimizing costs and churning out graduates -- they don’t really care what those graduates can or cannot do.”

This isn’t the first time state university faculty members have sparred with the university system. Most recently, in the spring, faculty leaders at a majority of the state colleges and universities voted no confidence in Gregory Gray, then the Board of Regents president, citing one of a series of expensive consulting contracts they said failed to deliver any returns. Professors also said that he had failed to engage in “meaningful discussions of academic and pedagogical policy.”

Gray soon resigned and was replaced by Mark E. Ojakian, interim president and former chief of staff for Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. The system has seen several leadership changes since the state’s regional university and community college systems merged in 2011, amid faculty criticism.

A system spokesperson said the university had no comment on the ongoing negotiations.

Hank Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the national AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, said via email that he was also limited in what he could say about a negotiation in progress. But in a post on AAUP’s "Academe" blog, Reichman called Malloy, the governor, a “Democratic imitator” of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, who has championed major budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin System. Using those cuts as a rationale, the Wisconsin Legislature voted this year to weaken the meaning of tenure in the state.

“Under the administration of Governor [Dannel] Malloy the [board] has released bargaining proposals that amount to nothing less than a wholesale assault on the faculty in the true spirit of Scott Walker,” Reichman wrote. It's worth noting, however, that Malloy is more popular at the state's research institution, the University of Connecticut, for which he's pushed for more funding -- especially in the sciences.

Connecticut faces a significant budget deficit and state leaders have said it’s experiencing a “permanent fiscal crisis” stemming from the 2008 recession.


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