How I spent my summer vacation, 2007...

Apologies for being away so long. It was summer, and I stopped reading some things in favor of reading other stuff, and that didn't translate into good blogging material. Plus my summer courses didn't take, so I've not really been around the university (or around anywhere, really, as I've had big things to save up for - see the end of the next paragraph). But it's almost time to get back to it, and so, back to the blog.

Ignoring for a moment that academics don't really get summer vacations - we just get to stop teaching and drawing paychecks in favor of trying to do the research we've not had time for during the regular terms - summer vacation has been pretty good. I've managed to get two papers ready to be pitched, a couple of proposals coming up, one of my students got a job in her field and another is applying for graduate school, and I spent two weeks in Paris.

That ending clause is so nice, I'll say it twice: "and I spent two weeks in Paris."

But the really interesting bit (after spending two weeks in Paris, calling anything interesting this town is a stretch, but we'll run with it) is that the small school I'm at is in a contract negotiation year. The faculty here are unionized, though the union was described to me in orientation as a "company union." I've since been assured - though not by anyone actually representing or actively involved with the union - that such a description was an unfortunate choice of words and simply not true.

Last week the proposed new faculty contract was presented to a meeting of about 40 faculty members, and a few interesting things happened. I'm only going to tackle two major things here, though there were more. Best to leave something for future blog entries, right?

First, there was considerable distress - particularly from "new" faculty (who make up a majority of the faculty here) that they weren't included in the process. A quick check for e-mails (and I should note that I'm at a school where e-mail is THE way of communicating - on an average day, it isn't unheard of for someone to send an e-mail announcing they have extra staples they don't need and, 10 minutes later, an e-mail saying the staples have been claimed) shows that there has been no mention of the union since Fall term when a social was announced, at which more information was promised. It never came. So imagine the surprise when given the response was that faculty simply didn't care enough to get involve; if they'd really cared, they would have found the working groups they had no idea were being formed and continued.

But the second interesting thing was the proposed raise schedule. At this school, faculty raises are set for whatever period the contract stipulates - usually three years. And faculty raises help to determine the raises for staff at the university. I'm told that typically what the faculty get, so do the staff. The proposed raise this year is 3.5% (incidentally, that's less than the rise in cost of living according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). But the way it breaks down is a little strange and is the second bone of contention about the proposed contract.

Before breaking it down, some things to keep in mind:
  • different areas in academia tend to be paid at different levels (for example, faculty of business tend to make considerably more than faculty teaching liberal arts courses). The typical reasoning for this that business faculty would make high salaries in the business world and so need to be paid more to teach (there are all sorts of flaws with this logic, but that's not today's point)
  • schools of different sizes and research levels tend to pay differently. For example, Research I universities tend to pay more than liberal arts colleges. In part, this is because they tend to be more successful at drawing external grants. See the AAUP Faculty Salary Survey, available from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • faculty hired recently tend to make comparatively less than faculty hired 10, 20, or 30 years before. If you adjust incomes for inflation, the more recently a faculty member has been hired, the more likely it is that they're being paid relatively less.
With that in mind, here's how the new contract proposes that raise would work. All faculty members will get a 2% increase on their base. The university will then total all faculty salaries, give that total a 1.5% raise, then take the new total and divide it equally among all faculty.

So imagine Faculty member X, who has been at the university for two years, makes $45,000 and Faculty member Y, who has been at the university for 25, makes $100,000. If the raise were a straight 3.5%, X would make $46,575 and Y would make 103,500 (before taxes, of course). With this proposed raise (assuming these two were the only faculty members), it would work out like this: X gets $46,600 and Y gets $102,700. I'm betting you can see what the bone of contention is here.

Here's a moment for you game theorists out there. What do you think will happen? Faculty who feel largely unincluded in the negotiation process are given the choice of whether to approve a contract that effectively closes the gap between faculty members by pitting faculty member raises against each other. Think it'll pass? And before you place your bets, you should know that whether the contract is approved or not is determined by a simple majority of voters with no requirement of how many voters need to turn out. And the faculty have a little under a week to approve the contract.

Place your bets...

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2 Responses to “How I spent my summer vacation, 2007...”
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ash said...

re: the contract and salaries--that is some effed-up s. what kind of a union would agree to proposed contract language that pits its members against one another??? that's pretty diabolical on the part of the administration, but i am much more disgusted with the union "leadership" for letting this happen in the first place.

and no quorum requirement??? what kind of mickey mouse operation is this? that little tidbit + NULTA's um, unique bargaining process make me want to contact the national AAUP office to see if any of this is even legal under their bylaws.

is AB still talking about inciting (or at least threatening) a "no" vote on the contract?

August 14, 2007 at 10:29 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

I should probably note that my understanding of how the rules work here are all based off the union rep's explanation. There's probably a pretty serious disconnect between their version of the rules and reality, but I may well be making the inaccuracy worse in that regard.

With that caveat, there was some pretty serious discussion at the meeting about the possibility of a no vote, though it seemed to come primarily from the older faculty. The new faculty were pretty incensed at being left out of the process. But in the end, I can't imagine it won't pass, though it's curious that no one seems to know or want to discuss what would happen if it doesn't.

And I still haven't found out how to actually get a union card.

August 14, 2007 at 11:59 PM