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Oregon Tech students deserve the best. We, the faculty, are passionate about preparing our students to be leaders in their fields and supporting them as they pursue their dreams. Our quest for a fair contract is, at its core, a quest to save Oregon Tech and serve our students. OIT cannot attract and retain good teachers under the current conditions. Ultimately, it will be the students who suffer.

A few years ago, the administration began making changes to the way we work, without consulting the faculty, as had been done for decades. Long-standing policies about salaries and health benefits were thrown out the window. The complex rules around what work we are expected to perform and how many classes we teach each term were radically changed. Annual cost-of-living increases were canceled. We were told that we would have to pay three times as much to keep our health benefits. We were told that advising graduate students, advising students on externships, or running degree programs would not count toward “work” the way they used to, thus requiring many of us to teach many more classes.

These changes came at a time when we were already working far more hours and teaching more classes for less money than faculty at peer institutions like Southern Oregon University. Most faculty work far more than just 40 hours a week. In a survey of faculty conducted just before the pandemic, 83% of respondents reported that they consistently feel pressure to work on weekends and evenings and 78% of respondents reported feeling that they have to make concessions in the quality in their work to get everything done.

We grew concerned that these policy changes were going to harm Oregon Tech. Morale was very low; faculty were burning out. We began losing faculty to other universities who created better working environments. And we realized that this problem was bigger than our own individual struggles to pay the rent and balance work and life. We realized that the institution was suffering. Without quality instruction, our students will not receive the education they deserve.

The salary adjustments we are asking for total $1.8 million to bring 156 faculty members to the bare minimum levels to make us competitive enough to recruit and keep talented teachers. This number is actually based on a report that the university administration itself commissioned from outside experts.

Over the course of five years, this increase amounts to $9 million, but that is how salaries and wages work, they go up and they stay up to keep up with inflation. The president has already given a handful of senior administrators millions of dollars in raises, and those will also be around forever and will also cost millions more in the next five years.

More importantly, Oregon Tech can afford it. A quick look at the university’s publicly available annual financial reports reveals that between the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, revenue increased by $3.55 million. In 2020, $1.3 million more was spent on institutional support than in 2019, which is largely made up of senior administration salaries and benefits. Expenses on instruction, however, decreased by $1.24 million.

Investing in outstanding faculty must be a priority. The faculty are the face of the university for our students. We are the ones who interact with and educate them every day. When graduates look back fondly on their experiences in college it will be the faculty they remember, not the administrators.

We aren’t asking for the moon. We are asking to return to the policies that were in effect just a few years ago. And then we are asking that these policies be set down in a contract, so faculty can plan ahead and have some kind of stability.

We are teachers. We want to return to teaching, to focusing on our students, to helping them design a brighter future, keep the world healthy, invent and innovate and make Oregon Tech proud. We’d love nothing better than to come to an agreement now and be able to focus completely on teaching, but we are willing to strike for a fair contract to keep Oregon Tech strong. Our students deserve nothing less.

— Sean St.Clair is president of Oregon Tech – American Association of University Professors (OT-AAUP) labor union.