Negotiations Go Astray in Connecticut

Faculty members in Connecticut state universities condemn their governing board's proposal to do away with faculty IP rights to online content, academic freedom protections, travel and research funds, and more.

December 15, 2020
 
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Contract negotiations between faculty members and administrations are supposed to happen quietly, out of the public eye. But the faculty union for four state universities in Connecticut says its talks have started out so poorly that it must speak out against the university system’s “draconian” proposals.

A draft contract put forth by the university eliminates procedural protections regarding academic freedom, terminations and retrenchment; faculty ownership of original online course materials and the right to teach them; conference, travel and research funds; universitywide tenure committees; and privacy and grievance policies for personnel files.

The university system also wants to increase teaching loads from 12 credit hours per semester to 15 and pilot changing the academic calendar from two to three terms, with faculty members required to teach for two such terms annually.

In a stunning proposal that was apparently just a typo, the university system also sought to halve the value of teaching or contract time, from 1 credit hour per hour taught to 0.5 credit hours per hour taught.

The Board of Regents for Connecticut State College and University System did not confirm the credit-hour change was a typo, but the faculty union believes it was.

Other proposals remain very real, though.

‘Gutted’

The Connecticut State University Association for University Professors represents about 3,000 faculty members, librarians, counselors, coaches and trainers at Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities. The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, broke its silence on the proposal Monday, saying in a statement that public higher education in Connecticut “will be compromised and state university accreditation will be at risk because the BOR proposals undermine the education we can provide.”

Essential student support systems and relationships are being “gutted,” the union said, while “lessons learned during the pandemic about student well-being are disregarded by proposals that would eviscerate time and resources for meeting students’ needs.”

Funds are being “siphoned away from the core mission of the universities as the [Board of Regents] continues to take student and public monies to build a top-heavy system that is unnecessary and beyond public control,” the union also said. “Attacks on academic freedom and on the ability of faculty to create and transmit new knowledge will do nothing to prepare students for a new post-pandemic world.”

Leigh Appleby, spokesperson for the system office, said, “We don’t negotiate in the press. We negotiate at the bargaining table.” While people in Connecticut and across the country “continue to lose their jobs and lines at our food pantries grow, it is unfortunate that a small few -- who not only have job security, but have received significant raises in each of the past two years -- would whine publicly rather than negotiating in good faith.”

Appleby said it’s “sad that this group seems more interested in writing press releases than engaging in productive conversation. Our students, our institutions, and, frankly, the faculty members represented by this bargaining unit deserve better.”

Patty O’Neill, president of the union and an associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University, countered that the board’s “misrepresentation of our concerns shows how little they understand higher education.”

Faculty members across the Connecticut State Universities are “committed to providing the quality education our students deserve and protecting the future of higher education in Connecticut,” she said.

Union members disagree with the university’s characterization of their recent raises, which they say came only after three years of stagnant pay due to an in-state labor agreement that eventually built up Connecticut’s rainy day fund. Higher health-care and pension contributions also offset any increase in pay, they say. Instead of money in their own pockets, many union members say their fight is about protecting the quality of education across a university system that is largely first-generation, underserved or students of color.

Very Long Wish List

First-draft contract proposals are always something of a wish list for the respective parties in negotiations. But the changes that the Connecticut regents are proposing are unusual, in number and in content.

Under the proposal, each full-time faculty member would have to hold 10 office hours per week, up from the current five, with at least two days on “ground” at the campus. Part-time faculty members, who aren’t necessarily compensated for this work, would also be required to advise students as needed, as opposed to having to make a “reasonable” effort to do so, as they do now.

Regarding part-time faculty members, the current contract caps the share of the faculty that is contingent at 20 percent. The current proposal has no such cap.

Classes would now be scheduled as late in the day as 6 p.m. or on weekends, without the affected faculty member’s consent.

A clause on support services, including departmental secretaries, is struck out, meaning they’re potentially at risk.

In lieu of a universitywide faculty committee’s tenure recommendations, these promotions would be determined by the provost, following department-level input.

Intellectual Property and Retrenchment

Partial course-load incentives for creating online courses would be eliminated. Crucially, all distance learning materials would be the intellectual property of the university -- not the faculty, as they are widely understood to be. The contract also eliminates a provision saying that professors who create online courses may teach those courses themselves unless they’ve agreed otherwise. And the decision to offer a distance learning course shall be made by the administration at the universities, instead of the department offering the course.

In terms of compensation, the universities want to eliminate something called a “longevity base,” or twice-a-year payments that are 2.7 percent of the maximum rank salary.

The system also wants to eliminate funds for travel, faculty development, research grants and retraining within the contract -- about $2.5 million annually. The contract proposal includes no provisions for faculty members to take paid time to attend professional conferences.

Regarding termination, the contract proposal eliminates the standing Termination Hearing Committee. This goes against widely followed principles from the national AAUP, which maintains that any faculty members pegged for an adverse personnel action should be able to defend him or herself before a panel of peers. The proposal also shifts the burden of proof for any challenge to disciplinary action from the university to the union.

It is “presumed that the adequate cause standard was met in the imposition of any discipline,” reads that amended article.

Under the contract, the university would no longer offer any established protections for faculty members under retrenchment or separation due to bona fide financial exigency. The entire section -- including shared governance processes involving the curriculum committee -- is struck out entirely. Separation payments would decrease from up to one year to three months.

Taking Aim at Unions

The system also is seeking to eliminate from the contract a clause confirming that the university “does not currently engage in any routine monitoring of the electronic mail of bargaining unit members and has no present intent to make use of any known software products for that purpose.”

Union officers would no longer get any release time for union duties or travel to union conferences, according to the contract. The proposal also cuts a long-standing acknowledgment that all members of the bargaining unit, whether or not they are official union members, will pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment. That equaled 1/26th of the members’ salary.

"Collective bargaining in Connecticut is being attacked," the union said in its statement. "The [board] is undermining the right to union representation by denying the union time and resources to serve its members."

Earlier this year, the faculty union at Youngstown State University raised the alarm on contract negotiations there, in which the university sought to grab IP rights to all nonpatentable faculty work, including books, syllabi and lectures. Saint Leo University in Florida also cited COVID-19 in unrecognizing its long-standing faculty union altogether.

At the same time, faculty unions are growing -- and may continue to do so in light of the ongoing challenges to faculty rights.

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