Faculty airs concerns about ongoing negotiations

Carrie Blazina

Some of Kent State’s professors say they’re concerned with how long negotiations are taking between the university and the professors’ union, and they recently aired their concerns in an open letter to President Lester Lefton.

In a full-page ad in April 9’s Daily Kent Stater, the group addressed Lefton directly to show their disapproval of the length of the negotiation process.

Three professors who have no direct connection to the negotiations aside from being AAUP-KSU members agreed to speak with the Daily Kent Stater to share their frustrations. Emily Vincent, director of university media relations, declined an interview about the subject, and it is the policy of the AAUP and the university not to speak to the media about ongoing negotiations.

George Garrison, a Pan-African Studies professor, said the letter came about when a group of professors, himself included, thought the university was threatening the power the faculty has with the way the university is run.

“It seemed to many of us that there was an attempt to push the progress that we made as faculty on this campus backwards, especially with regard to the issues having to do with shared governance,” he said.

The letter was passed around and eventually signed by about 100 professors, Garrison estimated.

One of the shared governance issues, he said, dealt with who sets the handbooks for curriculum in each department. According to the AAUP-KSU website, the university made an offer Feb. 15 that would make a university-wide handbook with sections for each department’s criteria.

“We think that’s a great overstep, and it gets close to an abuse of power to do something like that,” Garrison said. “You can’t micromanage from the top administrative levels down through the ranks to every unit on this campus and expect this university to operate efficiently, and for it to accomplish its goals effectively.”

Wendy Kasten, a teaching, learning and curriculum studies professor who signed the open letter, said she and her colleagues thought the negotiations would be over by now, especially because the controversy over Senate Bill 5, the anti-collective bargaining bill, is over.

“I think most of us believed [the administration was] reluctant to settle until the SB 5 thing was settled, and of course that was settled in November,” she said. “So I guess most of us thought after that was done, things would pick up, and it would get all settled. And it certainly hasn’t.”

“Somehow the campus didn’t get the message of the recall of SB 5,” Garrison said. “Because what is being reflected in these negotiations is sort of a union-busting mentality. It suggests to many of us out here that the union doesn’t count.”

In addition, Garrison said the university gives the impression that faculty contributions don’t count.

“The level of compensation offered by administration suggested that the administration held the faculty in low regard,” Garrison said. “That the administration did not appreciate the contributions that we make.

“ … I don’t think any one of [Lefton’s] cabinet would be satisfied with the compensation package that they’re offering us,” he said. “So why offer us something that would be unsatisfactory to them?”

The AAUP’s most recent email negotiation to members said if there were not an agreement by March 30, there would be no retroactive raises. Kasten said this means there will be no raises for professors who are scheduled to receive annual raises or to professors who have been promoted or tenured in the last year.

“I know [recently tenured professors] have expressed that they’re really upset with the fact that they haven’t gotten the raise,” Kasten said. “I mean, they’ve worked really hard. It’s not easy to get tenure in this institution … They have gotten no monetary recognition of their promotion and no promise that it’ll be retroactive.”

Fashion professor Nancy Stanforth, who did not sign the letter but represents her school on the AAUP council, said her school has also been affected by the lack of retroactive pay raises.

“Our people who are moving from one rank to another have lost a whole year of their pay raise,” Stanforth said. “ … It’s really hard on young faculty who have worked so hard to get to where they are and then still don’t see the results of their work.”

Garrison said though the AAUP has recently said it would consider a strike vote, it would not be likely to strike during this semester or at a time that would affect finals. The AAUP and the university have been negotiating since July, and the contract expired in August.

The way to avoid a strike, Garrison said, is to make a reasonable offer. He said he thinks a compensation package with a 5 percent raise rather than the 2 percent raise offered most recently by the university and no changes to shared governance or health care benefits is fair.

“The only thing that we are asking for is a reasonable and fair contract … a contract that anyone in [Lefton’s] cabinet themselves would embrace, a fair compensation package and a reasonable view of shared governance. That would end it for us right away.”

Stanforth and Kasten said they hope for a quick resolution to negotiations.

“We hope that they’ll resolve it soon because I think it wastes everyone’s time, including administration’s, to endlessly meet and not resolve things,” Stanforth said.

“Sometimes there are things that cause delays from the administrative end, but I just hope it wouldn’t be much longer,” Kasten said. “And I hope there would be good faith on both sides about settling this fairly.”

Garrison said the professors will not back down until a fair contract is signed.

“If administration thinks that this is going to go away, they are not taking us very seriously,” Garrison said. “This isn’t something that’s going to go away. This is a matter of principle as much as a matter of survival.”

Contact Carrie Blazina at [email protected].