Thursday, October 29, 2009

NYT on the Woes of Public Universities

Not that this is new to members of AAUP, but the New York Times has a lengthy article nicely summed up by its title: At Public Universities: Less for More. This part in particular rang especially true:
“The students are at a point of rebellion, because they’re paying more and getting less,” says Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability.
By coincidence, their professors are getting paid less to do more. All in all, a grim time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

University of Oregon Unionizing Effort Gets Press

Although professors at the University of Oregon have been quietly organizing for months, the news came out with a bang this week. The AP ran a story that was picked up by the Oregonian, Eugene Register-Guard, and Corvallis Gazette Times.
The effort still is in the informational stage with meetings being held around campus to discuss the idea and hear from faculty members at other universities who have formed unions. Organizers say it’s not certain if or when professors will be asked to vote on the question, but one said an election could be held before the end of the current academic year.
The source of their frustration will sound familiar to PSU faculty:

The UO ranks last in average salary and in average total compensation — pay plus benefits — on a list of nine large public universities the state uses for comparing budgets. The average faculty salary is 80 percent of the average for the other eight universities, and total compensation is 84 percent of the average.

Also, the UO ranks last in pay among the 60 members of the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group made up of many of the top public and private universities around the nation. In that comparison, the UO’s average faculty salary of $73,300 is 11.5 percent below that of the second-to-last school, the University of Missouri, which has an average faculty salary of $82,600.

We wish the organizers well!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Senate Finance Passes Health Care

Yesterday afternoon, Max Baucus finally got his health care plan through the Senate Finance Committee. He even managed to pick up Olympia Snowe's vote:
With its vote Tuesday, the Finance Committee became the fifth — and final — Congressional panel to approve a sweeping health care bill. The action will now move to the floors of the House and the Senate, where the health care measures still face significant hurdles.
As a political matter, this is very good news. Getting the bill out of committee moves it to the Senate floor, where the debate won't be dictated by a single, moderate Senator from a mostly unpopulated state. As a policy matter, it's not great news: Baucus' bill was thin gruel, and while it would eradicate some of the most egregious sins committed by insurance companies, it would do little to improve the lives of middle-wage workers. This is why the AFL-CIO disapproves of it and why they want to see a public option in place:
The committee bill taxes workers’ health care benefits through its tax on certain premiums. It also does not include a public health insurance plan option that would give working families a choice between private insurance and an affordable, quality public option....

The next step is to merge the bill with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee legislation that includes a public option and doesn’t tax workers’ health benefits. That could be on the Senate floor later this month. House action likely will come soon after the Senate moves.

How It Affects AAUP

There's another piece here that has downstream effects on our membership. Currently, we are among the worst-paid faculty in the country. In terms of total compensation, however, we do far better. Over the years, we've claimed only modest pay increases in order to protect our health care. So long as we wish to keep our good benefits (which are by no means "Cadillac" benefits), our salaries will forever be hampered. Unless, of course, health care costs are reigned in. Most economists agree that the public option is the best way, short of completely re-designing health care, to contain costs in our current system. So even if our membership don't need the option, reigning in health costs would directly benefit us as the balance of our total compensation begins to shift back toward salary.

The fight's not over, but health care reform prospects are brighter this morning than they have been in months.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Compromise, But Only the Beginning

Signing collective bargaining agreements should be a time of celebration, but this year's was a little melancholy. As I took this photograph, of Ron Narode and Michele Gamburd signing the recently-approved 2009 AAUP contract, I had the thought: this is only round one.

The long-term goals of AAUP are to bring PSU salaries up to national standards, address issues in workload, and continue to provide the best education in the state. We were pleased to partner with the University to cover funding gaps in this unprecedented time. We hope that PSU will be pleased to partner with us in the future to make these goals a reality.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tentative Agreement Ratified

The final vote on ratification of the Tentative Agreement has been tallied. With 64% of ballots returned, it passed overwhelmingly:



















This was no doubt a very difficult vote for the membership to cast--it's a terrible thing to have to vote to endorse a pay cut. We must make sure that the University and OUS realize what a sacrifice this was so they can repay our goodwill down the line once the financial crisis has passed.

Thanks all who worked on this--

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gary Brodowicz in the O

Below is a letter to the editor appearing in today's Oregonian:
The report "Students cope with tuition hikes, budget cuts at Oregon's universities" (Sept. 27) states "(Portland State University) was the only large university in the system that cut faculty salaries this school year to help balance its budget."

However, many unknown facts remain. The PSU tentative agreement has yet to be ratified, and even if it is, there is no way to know how many University of Oregon and Oregon State University faculty have lost their jobs or have suffered salary reductions as a result of the continued, inadequate state funding of higher education.

It is important for Oregonians to understand that PSU -- unlike UO and OSU -- is represented by a faculty union and many of its employee relation transactions are transparent. There is no doubt that it would be advantageous for the Oregon University System, which controls negotiations with PSU faculty, to do what it can -- in a union-busting sort of way -- to make certain that UO and OSU faculty are perceived to suffer less than PSU faculty, especially since organizing efforts are currently being made on those campuses.

Although class sections and faculty are being cut at other institutions -- and athletics maintain its odd priority status -- I am proud to stand among the PSU faculty who value the education of Oregonians, with the promise from our university President Wim Wiewel -- whose feet we intend to hold to the fire -- that restoring faculty salaries is his highest priority.

Brodowicz is a professor of community health at Portland State University.