The Oregon Institute of Technology Board of Trustees expressed their support for university President Nagi Naganathan Tuesday morning, less than a week before the college faces an impending faculty strike.
Declining to remove the president after a majority of faculty voted they had “no confidence” in Naganathan’s leadership, the board instead asked Naganathan to hire an outside agency to conduct a climate survey at the university.
“Being a leader is not a popularity contest, it is an exercise in humility; it calls for service to others and demands calm in the storm,” said a statement from the board of trustees. “Dr. Naganathan is such a leader and Oregon Tech and our students are better off with him at the helm.”
While the trustees were meeting, representatives for administrators and the faculty union continued to trade offers with just a week left before the faculty’s strike date of April 26.
According to administration, their latest offer presented to the union on Monday included 9.5% raises for faculty spread over the next four years, the possibility of merit-bases raises beginning in 2023, maintaining current health care premium costs and adding new workload guidelines.
“This is a very generous offer. Particularly given the uncertain times, it represents a significant investment in Oregon Tech faculty over the next four years,” said Ken Fincher, vice president of institutional advancement, in a press release Monday.
While the Oregon Tech chapter of the American Association of University Professors said it felt there was some good movement in the university’s offer, they still have concerns.
Union secretary Kari Lundgren said prior to Tuesday’ bargaining session that they are still not satisfied with the way the university’s proposal transitions faculty raises to a merit-based system after the initial round of raises. The union has been opposed to merit-based raises throughout negotiations because Lundgren said that creates a system of faculty competing against each other for a small pool of money.
The union has also been pushing for more defined workload guidelines that include non-instructional duties like student advising, research and professional development. Lundgen said administration’s Monday proposal did add some non-instructional time into workloads, but that it still leaves those duties too undefined for the union to sign off.
The trustees on Tuesday acknowledged the ongoing contract negotiations while also pointing to a need to repair relationships on campus.
“It’s time for the board to consider retaining an external party to perform a university-wide climate survey. We need to give our president the right tools to better understand and improve the organizational culture at Oregon Tech,” said board chair Jessica Gomez in a statement.
Faculty senate president Don McDonnell, who presented the no confidence vote to the trustees earlier this month and asked them to remove Naganathan, said he was “sorely disappointed” in the board.
“What keeps coming to mind is 92%,” McDonnell said. “With 92% disapproval, that means he has an 8% approval rating, and I don’t know of anybody who can keep their job with an 8% approval.”
McDonnell said a climate survey is “loot little, too late.” He noted that something similar was done no campus a few years ago and that nothing was done with the results.
Trustee Rose McClure, who is an associate professor at the college, noted in the meeting the work needed to try to move forward.
“There is a culture problem,” she said. “There is a morale problem. And I’m really appreciative that we are addressing it and trying to be very constructive and getting feedback from all stakeholders, because I think we have to delve to that level to move forward in a positive way. And I’m sure it’s going to be painful, in some instances, but that’s how we’re going to do it: together.”
Several trustees clarified their role as the oversight board at the college, saying they have delegated the daily operations to the president and that the board’s role is not to be a mediator between faculty and the president.
In a university statement after the trustee’s meeting, Naganathan said he is “committed in my efforts to work with our colleagues and our community partners to help Oregon Tech be recognized as a world-class polytechnic university. My focus remains on resolving the inaugural faculty contract, growing our academic and institutional excellence, and providing a rich learning environment that is most beneficial to our students.”