Editor's note: This story was produced by student journalists for Oregon Tech's student newspaper, The Edge, but it was not published there.
After more than a year of contract negotiations, Oregon Tech’s administration and Oregon Tech’s faculty union have yet to agree on health benefits, workload and salary, or policies for evaluation, promotion and tenure.
If either party officially declares impasse, it could result in a faculty strike.
Oregon Tech faculty unionized in 2018, forming the Oregon Tech branch of the American Association of University Professors (OT-AAUP) which is now the exclusive bargaining representative of faculty, instructors and librarians at Oregon Tech. OT-AAUP and Oregon Tech’s administration have been bargaining since December 2019 over what will be faculty’s first contract since unionizing.
Evaluation, promotion and tenure
Tenured and tenure-track faculty receive annual performance evaluations that determine their eligibility for raises, promotions and tenure. Faculty are evaluated in the areas of instruction, professional development and institutional and public service.
Dr. Abdy Afjeh, OIT bargaining team member and Vice Provost for Research and Academic affairs, said “80% of faculty work should be instructional and 20% should be professional development and institutional and public service.”
Dr. Dan Peterson, Dean of the College of Health, Arts and Sciences said, “at the beginning of every year, a faculty member works with their department chair as part of the faculty objectives plan process to develop goals and determine how to use their time for the year, including the 20% non-instructional time.”
While faculty are assigned a specific number of instructional workload units, they often work in excess of assigned loads. An April 2020 Faculty Welfare Survey revealed that 77% of faculty “always, often or sometimes” feel pressured to teach extra courses.
Dr. Kari Lundgren, OT-AAUP secretary, said that because faculty don’t know exactly how much of each type of non-instructional work to do to earn raises, promotions and tenure, they feel pressured to do as much as possible, which leads to anxiety and low morale.
The April survey said 84% of faculty “always, often or sometimes” experience burnout at work.
“It’s important to note that this survey was administered pre-COVID,” Lundgren said. “Faculty morale was seriously suffering before we were all hit with the morale-killing experience of a pandemic.”
OT-AAUP also wants to secure multi-year contracts for non-tenure-track faculty, whose contracts currently last one year.
“There are non-tenure track faculty who have taught here for 15 or 20 years and are still on yearly contracts, which is absurd,” Lundgren said. “The problem with one-year contracts is that every fall, when the academic job cycle starts, some faculty are searching for new jobs while teaching courses.”
“If I start as a new faculty member at OIT, I should be told, these are the three things you need to do to be promoted, or even to keep your job for the next year,” said Dr. Cristina Negoita, OT-AAUP Vice President and Chief Negotiator. “And I should know that those evaluation criteria won’t change without faculty input.”
Vice Provost Afjeh said, “OIT has not refused to bargain over multi-year contracts for non-tenure track faculty.”
Christine Meadows, OIT bargaining team member and Assistant Director of Labor Relations added that “there will always likely be a need for some one-year contracts.”
OT-AAUP has also proposed salaries comparable to those earned by faculty of the same rank and discipline at other 4-year public universities in the US.
“When I look at a math professor at Southern Oregon [University] and they make $15,000 more than I make with the same expertise and credentials, I question how much [OIT] values my work,” Negoita said.
According to OIT’s published faculty compensation policy, instructor salaries are determined on a case-by-case basis at the time of hire. Salaries are based on floors established in 2015, which stipulate that a full professor, the highest rank attainable, makes a minimum of $57,301 a year.
“Because of cost-of-living adjustments, I’m sure that salaries are higher than what they were whenever that policy was approved,” Afjeh said.
“The university is subject to a number of statutes and regulations regarding pay,” Meadows added. “These will apply even without a collective bargaining agreement. Faculty pay is determined based on academic attainment, discipline, faculty rank, and cost of living considerations. You can always find someone compensated at a higher rate, but you want to make sure you are comparing apples to apples.”
Oregon Tech Faculty are currently insured through the Oregon Public Employee Benefits Board. OT-AAUP are concerned that OIT may withdraw from PEBB after 2021 and select a private insurance provider without input from faculty.
“There's no university proposal on the table to withdraw,” Meadows said.
An OIT counterproposal dated August 17, 2020, says that OIT has authorized PEBB as the insurance provider through the end of 2021 and that “Oregon Tech shall notify [OT-AAUP] of its employer offered insurance program(s) by no later than August 1 of each year.”
Under the current PEBB plan, OIT pays 95% of insurance costs and faculty pay 5%. The August OIT counterproposal outlines higher costs for faculty: 14% for an employee with a spouse, 20% for an employee with children, and 24% for an employee with family.
“This change would represent a significant cost to faculty and, unless it came with an equally significant increase in pay, would mean that faculty are paid even less for their work than they are now,” Lundgren said.
Preparing for a strike
Oregon Tech and OT-AAUP have agreed to continue mediated negotiations through February 4 — should the parties not reach an agreement, either group can declare an impasse. After that, both parties send their final offers to Oregon’s Employment Relations Board and a 30-day “cooling-off” period begins.
Once the 30-day period has ended, Oregon Tech can implement their final offer, and, if OT-AAUP has given 10 days’ notice, they can strike.
Some faculty fear retaliation from OIT should they participate in a strike.
“They’re afraid of losing their jobs,” Negoita said.
Oregon Tech is currently recruiting a pool of part-time adjunct teachers. According to the job postings, “this pool will be accessed only when an opening or need arises as early as January 2021.”
“Think about how intimidating that is to faculty,” Negoita said. “It just it feels a bit like bullying.”
“The hiring of adjuncts is a common practice to build an adjunct pool,” Meadows explained. “If there is a strike, the university is taking steps to ensure it is prepared to... continue academic operations, because the campus is going to remain open, and classes will continue.”
“I would consider it augmentation, not replacement, per se,” said Ken Fincher, Vice President for Advancement. “And it would be very responsible for us to have a deep bench under any circumstances.”
When asked if OT-AAUP would declare an impasse, Negoita said, “As chief negotiator, my most important job is to reach an agreement without having to call a strike. Faculty at every university in Oregon have unions and none have gone on strike. What would it say about OIT if we were the first and only [Oregon] university that was unable to negotiate an agreement? Nobody wins in a strike. But sometimes, if people push you there, you have to stand up for yourself.”