The Devil's bargain (or contract negotiation for dummies)

Those of you trying to learn how to successfully negotiate a contract from the management side, take note: a key to ensuring a strong bargaining hand in negotiation is to redirect mistrust and frustration.

I've mentioned a bit about contract negotiations here, and in my previous post gave some example of how the proposed contract effectively pits faculty against each other on the way to a more equitable pay rather than against the university. Today, the conversation has shifted to something more interesting, and (again) the argument is coming between faculty.

As with many colleges the size of the one I teach at, the faculty workload is an issue. Here, faculty teach four courses per term. This is then cluttered up in terms of preps. For example, I might teach a term with two preps, but four total courses. There are a few competitive opportunities to get the number of courses reduced, and there are reductions built in for things like chairing a department and teaching certain numbers of graduate courses. Now it's worth noting that the majority of graduate courses at this school happen in the Business and Education programs (coincidentally (?), these are the same programs that have the highest pay). Making matters worse, the college's core curriculum - the courses that all students have to take at the undergraduate level, regardless of focus - are taught in programs that are on the low-pay, high-prep end of the scale. And the more courses you teach, the harder it is to do research which is one of the keys to getting that most holy (though it isn't what the average person on the street thinks) of academic goals: tenure.

Imagine having to prep lectures for four courses a week, grade the papers for all those courses, advise students, serve on a committee or three, and then try to figure out time to write papers for conferences and publication. Effectively, under a 4/4 load, the only research that gets done happens on your (unpaid) vacations, so you can imagine that workload is an issue.

The proposed contract has received some concessions on this score. Over the course of four years, the workload will be reduced to 3/3, with the number of course reductions decreased correspondingly. Seems like something everyone could get on board with, right?

Wrong.

Remember those reductions I mentioned that some people get for teaching graduate courses, etc? Well, those reductions become harder to claim if workload declines. The problem is this: while the number of courses that a faculty member has to teach go down, the number of courses that have to be taught doesn't. So you either have to hire new faculty (or adjuncts) or you give up reductions. This is where the faculty today's faculty-on-faculty aggression has hit. You see, in the short run, those people who have been able to get reductions based on graduate teaching - often to a 3/3 load under the current system - will lose those chances and will have to teach what the rest of the faculty have to teach.

Effectively, these faculty who are already paid more and teach less find themselves in the position where they're being asked to work more than they're accustomed for less of a raise than they might get otherwise. And faculty in the areas that pay worse are confronted with the fact that they teach more and earn less. There have been inferences made that graduate faculty work less, that helping one group is hurting the other.

And the University? Well, it's an interesting note that in none of the communications that I've been privy to has the University itself even been referenced.

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ash said...

oh man, that last sentence really says it all, doesn't it?: the contract dispute is somehow between faculty factions, not between the faculty and administration. i'm all for amicable negotiations (i've never been one of those unionists who thinks you can't have bargaining without rallies and heated rhetoric about "evil" management), but this seems to have crossed a line. i am more convinced than ever that NULTA is, indeed, a company union.

August 16, 2007 at 10:27 AM
ash said...

also, i think i am missing something. why are the business and education people upset about everyone else getting the same teaching load that they presently enjoy?

why is their perception of the "fairness" of their workload based on what other faculty are teaching? (i.e. they seem to be saying "my workload--a 3/3--is fair and reasonable because other people teach a 4/4" as opposed to "my 3/3 workload is reasonable based on my specific job circumstances--administrative responsibilities, grad classes, etc.")

are they saying it's only "fair" if they teach less than everyone else? if everyone else taught a 2/2, would they be demanding a 1/1 by this logic?

August 16, 2007 at 10:32 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

The point of contention isn't about the destination, it's about what happens along the way.

Effectively what they're upset about is that they're operating at a 3/3 right now, but as the contract is set up in order to get everyone else there, they have to take a step back, albeit a temporary one.

There also seems to be a question of accreditation, though it's been so poorly articulated that I'm not sure what the issue is.

August 16, 2007 at 11:36 AM