Kent State professors picket to raise awareness of contract concerns

Political science professor Patrick Coy protests outside the KIVA during the State of the University Address on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Coy said, “In order for Kent State to continue to become a great university, we must invest in our teachers. Every administrator knows that in their heart.” 

Matthew Merchant

Members of Kent State’s tenured faculty picketed outside the KIVA on Thursday to voice their concerns about the university and President Beverly Warren.

As Warren delivered her State of the University address inside, members of the academic union, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), stood outside with picket signs and informational flyers. The picketing was the result of a “groundswell of support” due to contract negotiations between the university and the unions, said Jennifer Larson, president and chair of the AAUP-KSU Joint Coordinating Board.

“(We wanted to) draw public attention to our concerns and to send a message to our administration that we are concerned about the way things are going,” Larson said. “We don’t want to be disrespectful toward the president. We want to express our views without disrupting a university function.”

While the AAUP as a union cannot comment about the contract negotiations due to legal restraints, several members held signs and posters declaring their desire for a fair deal for professors.

“We are here because the contract negotiations have slowed down … and it appears that the university is not going to move toward what the faculty want or need,” said chemistry professor Bob Twieg. “The university has demonstrated that it does not want to talk with the faculty at the bargaining table. There was a debate as to whether to listen and how to handle this.”

In September, the university and AAUP reached an impasse during negotiations over select aspects of union contracts. Members of AAUP in attendance voiced concerns that the university was not willing to discuss the concerns of professors.

University Spokesman Eric Mansfield said the university cannot comment on the progress of negotiations.

One AAUP member, who did not want to be named because of the ongoing negotiations, said the discussion centers primarily on two areas: financial raises and medical benefits.

The union, he said, is calling for a minimum 5 percent raise along with no coordination of benefits. Those medical benefits would require spouses of faculty members to obtain medical insurance from a source outside the university if offered at the spouse’s workplace.

Several members said tenured and non-tenure track professors are increasingly facing more advising duties as well as increased workloads with no increase in pay. The university is also hiring more administrators and fewer tenured professors, they claim, with non-tenure track professors increasing overall in number.

Gary Ciuba, an English professor at Kent State Trumbull, came to main campus for the gathering to show his support of solidarity with the other professors. While President Warren’s address most likely talked about her ideal of one campus, with one campus meaning one community of professors, it isn’t necessarily that way.

“The purpose of today is really to raise awareness to the lack of good faith that has been going on in the negotiations and to demonstrate our solidarity,” Ciuba said. “We are used to being forgotten, not only here on main campus, but particularly the administration can forget about us.”

AAUP is currently taking an online strike authorization vote, ending Sunday, in order to determine whether or not a majority of members are willing to strike if an agreement cannot be reached over both benefits and raises.

According to an email announcement sent to AAUP-KSU members this week, and available on the AAUP-KSU website, if an agreement is not reached — and the members vote to do so — the executive committee will have the authority to authorize a strike.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story noted Gary Ciuba as Bob Ciuba. The story has been edited to correct that error.

Matthew Merchant is a senior reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].