Let’s start fall semester united

DKS Editors

It happens every few years: Faculty and administrators engage in a pseudo tug-of-war behind closed doors to hash out the details of a new faculty contract.

The faculty invariably seeks better wages and better benefits, while the administration balks at spending more money. After weeks of relatively hushed negotiating sessions, the two parties emerge with the faculty possessing an updated multi-year contract – the product of wins and losses for both sides.

That’s the best-case scenario, at least. And it’s the outcome we hope to see on July 31, which is the goal date set by the university and the American Association of University Professors to bring the tenure track faculty contract negotiations to an end.

But why should students care about a new piece of paper outlining faculty compensation packages?

Those seemingly bureaucratic pieces of paper set the tone for the atmosphere at Kent State. An amiable faculty contract bodes well for any institution – attracting and keeping the best faculty at Kent State.

For students, that’s crucial to a positive – and productive – experience at Kent State.

Think about it: Where would you be without the professor who inspired you to think beyond your preconceived notions? Or the professor who rearranged his or her office hours to help you think through a complex equation? Or even the professor who joined you and your peers for dinner in downtown Kent?

We cannot afford to lose great professors, who occasionally become lifelong mentors, because of a contract dispute. It’s that simple.

This year, the bargaining teams for the university and AAUP decided not to issue a joint statement at the beginning of negotiations. Still, the AAUP said it is committed to extending domestic partner benefits to tenure track faculty.

Ensuring that the tenure track faculty receives domestic partner benefits now boils down to an issue of fairness. In May, the non-tenure track faculty approved a one-year contract extension, granting them domestic partner benefits.

The university cannot selectively award domestic partner benefits, especially in light of its efforts to create a more inclusive and diverse environment.

During the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies minor program’s six-year history, several faculty members, including the program’s founder, have left Kent State because of its lack of domestic partner benefits – proof of the importance of pleasing faculty contracts.

In addition, Kent State union leaders have called for steady salary increases – 3 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively – for the next three academic years. The proposal also includes a 3 percent merit pool mid-year for the 2008-09 year and a 2 percent merit pool for the 2010-11 year.

Assuming the economy does not tank in the coming year, the union’s proposals seem fair – both for the university and the faculty. But, then again, economic prospects look increasingly grim. Will the state support and tuition be there in the 2009-10 year to make a 5 percent salary increase across the board possible?

On a more positive note, however, the proposal’s expanded benefit changes – improved dental coverage, family and medical leave, sick leave donation and retirement incentive change – will enhance Kent State’s already national precedent-setting reputation in this category. Higher education publication The Chronicle recently listed Kent State as one of the best colleges to work for in terms of its health insurance and life insurance benefits.

July 31 is fast approaching, as is the beginning of fall semester. A swift resolution for the faculty contract negotiations would contribute to a positive outlook, or a clean slate so to speak, for the coming academic year. An air of uncertainty is never a good way to begin a new semester.

The above editorial is the consensus of the Summer Kent Stater editorial board.