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Oregon Tech Professors Go on Indefinite Strike

April 27, 2021
 
 

Oregon Institute of Technology’s faculty union went on strike Monday, saying it seeks to preserve the university’s traditions of shared governance, small class sizes and hands-on instruction. The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, traces its concerns about the future of the institution to the arrival of Oregon Tech president Nagi Naganathan in 2018.

Mark Clark, professor of history, said during a virtual picket line event Monday that unionization was not a popular idea prior to 2018, as the university's Faculty Senate historically advocated for professors. Yet “within a year of our new president arriving, people's opinions changed,” Clark said. “They saw how the administration was treating faculty, no longer, as they say, in a collaborative way, but more in a more dictatorial way. And so we unionized -- and the reason we unionized was really to protect what makes Oregon Tech great, and that is the faculty who interact with our students. We need to be able to attract and keep talented people who can give our students that education.”

The union gained recognition in 2019 and is still without a contract. Faculty members say they’re seeking pay that is closer to that of their peers at other Oregon institutions, along with clear workload expectations for duties beyond teaching, protections for part-time professors and improved health insurance. Thus far, Clark said, the administration’s proposals regarding workload, compensation and promotion policies “struck us as being a real step backward from what we already had.”

Oregon Tech said in a statement that it will continue to hold classes during the strike and that it believes its salary offer is “excellent.” Faculty members would stand to gain a 9.5 percent salary increase over the life of the contract, and possibly more, based on performance and promotion, it said. Moreover, the university said, Oregon Tech’s workload proposal is the workload status quo as determined by the state Employment Relations Board in October.

“At this time when one in nine positions in higher education has been eliminated, and when universities and colleges are facing economic uncertainty, it is prudent for Oregon Tech faculty to value an institution that has made such an offer, and work diligently to conclude negotiations,” the university said. “While Oregon Tech sincerely seeks to avoid a faculty strike, should the faculty choose to walk out of their classes, Oregon Tech will shoulder the burden, will continue serving our students, and will carry forward with our mission.”

Naganathan added, “We are committed to ensuring that instruction proceeds with minimal interruption to student classes. We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached and remain committed to the collective bargaining process.”

Ninety-two percent of voting union members approved a strike motion earlier this month. The university sought to prevent the strike by filing an injunction with the Oregon Employment Relations Board. This is the first public university strike in Oregon history.

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