Friday, September 21, 2012

The next PERS Battle

Among the several issues which are being discussed as potential amendments to PERS in the 2013 legislative session is the idea of lowering or capping COLA increases for retirees. There have been suggestions that a lowering of COLA which does not do away with COLA altogether would more likely be sustained by the courts. As such, there is talk of pursuing legislation to restrict COLA to those retirees who receive up to $24,000 per year. This would save 3.2% of payroll, would save about $576 million per year and would total $3 billion of savings.

The idea that a partial COLA change would be any less unlawful than the full change sought and resolved in the Strunk case is puzzling. In the Strunk case, the Supreme Court specifically addressed the question of whether the COLA promise was contractual in nature and decided that it was. Oregon’s COLA, which has been in place for almost 40 years, provides for a cost of living adjustment capped at 2% with the remaining amounts of inflation banked to be used for future increase. The Oregon Supreme Court held quite clearly that this is contractual in nature and therefore cannot be amended by the legislature.

Now some proponents of change have argued that while the COLA cannot be eliminated altogether, it can be lowered. Exactly why a smaller breach of contract and/or constitutional violation would be treated any differently from a complete breach of contract is left unexplained. Interestingly, in Strunk the court was addressing a temporary suspension of COLA rather than a complete elimination.

The PERS Coalition believes that such legislation would likely not stand. Oregon has had COLA legislation in place for 40 years. The proponents may try none-the-less. We know PERS change is on a lot of people’s minds and we’re likely to face many legislative proposals this year.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Students, instructors suffer as colleges rely more on fill-in faculty: Oregonian Op-Ed by PSU-AAUP

Students, instructors suffer as colleges rely more on fill-in faculty |

Students, instructors suffer as colleges rely more on fill-in faculty

Published: Monday, September 17, 2012, 5:00 AM
Guest Columnist By Brooke Jacobson, Marcia Klotz and Phil Lesch

Just in time for the fall term, a new report from the Center for the Future of Higher Education critiques the growing reliance on contingent labor in colleges and universities across the country. In order to cut costs and maximize flexibility, higher education administrators have increasingly turned to part-time instructors, who work for very low wages with few if any benefits. In fact, the contingent workforce now represents more than two-thirds of faculty in higher education nationally. The results are bad for faculty and students alike, as the report demonstrates.

Based on a survey of 500 contingent faculty nationwide, the report highlights the anonymous status of contingent faculty, who are generally listed only as "staff" in course schedules. Not only are students in the dark about who will be teaching a given course, the instructors too are often only informed at the very last minute what they will be expected to teach. Most respondents were assigned classes less than three weeks -- some only a few days -- before the term started.

Contingent faculty consistently reported limited access to copying services, library privileges, private office space, sample syllabi, or computer and software information systems. Moreover, there was no continuity in their teaching assignments. Rather than repeating a given course once they had taught it well, they were often shuffled off to fill a new gap in the curriculum somewhere else.

The adjunct faculty surveyed face immense challenges. The majority had to commute between at least two campuses to make ends meet. They complained of crowded group offices, which afforded no privacy for conversations with students; many had no offices at all. Most -- 94 percent -- received no orientation to the campuses where they worked, and thus could not advise students about such basic questions as curriculum guidelines or academic requirements. Many report being treated as second-class citizens by the tenure-stream faculty on campus, and they worried that their lack of prestige would negatively affect their relationships to students. Yet, even with wages so low that many were eligible for food stamps, some also reported that they spent their own money on photocopies, software, personal computers and more in order to provide a high-quality learning experience to their students.

Despite their best efforts -- and often excellent qualifications -- contingent faculty are not able to provide what students need, namely faculty with whom they can develop relationships over time, for advising, to supervise independent projects, for letters of recommendation and for help with job placement.

Administrators generally explain the turn to contingent faculty as the result of tight budgets and a need for greater flexibility. But the survey found that no follow-up studies were being performed to assess the efficiency of this shift, nor its impact on the quality of education. Moreover, a number of changes, such as increasing advance notice of which classes faculty will teach, and granting them library and computer privileges, would not cost the university a dime, but would clearly enhance instructors' ability to teach well. Given the complete predictability of fundamental course offerings, the cry for "flexibility" often appears as a simple cover for lazy management.

The growing reliance on adjunct professors is quite familiar to us at Portland State University, where 75 percent of our student class hours are taught by contingent faculty. Many of these instructors are hired year after year, but never given the minimal job security of even a one-year contract. This fall, the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers will collaborate to conduct a survey, to better understand the working conditions of adjunct faculty at PSU. Clearly, "just-in-time" hiring practices are shortchanging students across the country. We are eager to understand its effects on our own campus.

Brooke Jacobson teaches film at Portland State University and is president of the PSU Faculty Association. Marcia Klotz is assistant professor of English at PSU, and serves on the Executive Committee of the PSU American Association of University Professors. Phil Lesch is the executive director of PSU-AAUP.

Panel split on college local rule | Lawmakers can’t reach agreement on a bill that would set up local governing boards for universities

Eugene Register Guard

Lawmakers can’t reach agreement on a bill that would set up local governing boards for universities

Published: September 15, 2012 12:00AM, Midnight, Sept. 15
The team of lawmakers charged with figuring out how local university governing boards would work at Oregon’s public universities failed on Friday to reach consensus on several key issues: Who would be on a local governing board? When would such a board be formed? How would a board raise tuition? And what connections would remain between the university and the state?
“There are going to be gaps, and there’s still some work to be done once it gets into the hands of the Legislature as a whole,” said Rep. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland. “But we think we’ve created a framework here.”
Dembrow described the difficulty of reaching consensus during a joint session in Salem of the state Senate’s Education and Workforce Development Committee and the House Interim Committee on Higher Education.
Out of seven public universities in the state, the University of Oregon and Portland State University are seeking to form institutional boards to govern locally, instead of answering to the state Board of Higher Education.
Lawmakers concluded the state “may benefit” from university-­level governing boards if the boards operate transparently; are closely focused on the individual university; do not hurt universities that opt not to create boards; lead to greater access and affordability for Oregon students; and have a dual fiduciary role to the university and to the state as a whole, according to a rough draft of a bill they plan to introduce in 2013.
Beyond that, agreement gets sketchy.
After 10 sessions, the joint Special Committee on University Governance still couldn’t agree on who, exactly, should be on the university-level boards.
The state Board of Higher Education includes two students and two faculty members along with business and community representatives.
“Some of us feel that that pattern should be replicated on these institutional boards, others disagree. That might not be resolved until we get into the legislative process,” Dembrow said.
The bill tasks the university-level boards with attempting to hold annual tuition and fee increases to the Portland consumer price index, and in any case, not raise it more than 5 percent. “Anything in addition to that, they would need to go to some other statewide entity yet to be named,” Dembrow said.
The 5 percent should not be assumed, said Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River.
“Five percent a year is, frankly, too high. Five percent a year as far as the eye can see leads to doubling (of tuition) in a pretty short order,” he said. “I don’t think any of us would feel comfortable saying, ‘Yeah, you can have your 5 percent a year.’”
That’s smaller than the annual increases UO students have paid in recent years.
From 2001 to fall 2012, UO tuition and fees increased 129 percent — landing at $9,309 a year, according to Oregon University System figures.
Another area of confusion: what universities would continue doing together to make movement between them smooth for students and to gain efficiencies of scale.
“We have not really nailed down the whole area of shared services,” Dembrow said. “Almost everyone, or everyone, really, has an interest in our maintaining a system to some extent.”
The most elusive decision seemed to be where the newly independent universities would be connected with the state.
There’s a plethora of education oversight boards, principally Gov. John Kitz­haber’s Oregon Education Investment Board, the Legislature’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the long-standing state Board of Higher Education.
“What we really did was try to find that sweet spot of letting these two universities (UO and PSU) reach their highest potential, yet also maintaining the integrity of the state system,” said Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.
But making sense of the higher education system of the moment proved too big of a job on Friday.
“I won’t say it’s a conundrum,” Hass said, “but it’s still vexing. It’s too many moving pieces that we still have to, frankly, coordinate better. … This is still settling into place.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

AAUP-Oregon Planning Meeting September 22

Interested faculty from Portland State, Oregon State, and University of Oregon will convene the second planning meeting of the re-commenced Oregon Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-Oregon) on Saturday September 22 from 1am to 2pm in the Memorial Union, Room 213 at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

The purpose of this meeting is for the parties to adopt the AAUP-Oregon Constitution and Bylaws, appoint a slate of interim officers to do planning until the first election is held in Spring 2013, or as soon as practicable after the ratification of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between United Academics of the University of Oregon and the University of Oregon.

The AAUP-Oregon's stated mission and objectives from the new Constitution are:

Article II. Mission

The Conference’s mission is to advance the collective interests of affiliated AAUP Collective Bargaining and Advocacy chapters, the principles and ideals of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the overall interests of higher education faculty in Oregon through the promotion of quality Higher Education as an investment in Oregon’s Future. 

Article III. Objectives

The Conference shall:

1.      Support the development of member chapters through member and leader training, consultation operational support (as available) and internal organizing.

2.      Support collective bargaining in affiliated chapters and provide collaboration when appropriate. Assist advocacy chapters in their pursuit of collective bargaining if requested.

3.      Promote AAUP principles, policies and best practices in colleges and Universities in Oregon with a strong AAUP-Oregon Committee A

4.      Organize AAUP Chapters on unorganized campuses and institutions

5.      Promote  the collective interests of affiliated chapters, as embodied in AAUP-Oregon objectives, through political action

6.      Promote academic quality, AAUP principles, and higher education best practices to the Oregon public through communications, public relations, and promotional activities. 

7.      Coordinate strategy and activities that promote AAUP-Oregon objectives with other higher education groups, labor unions, and National AAUP.

The Conference will be operated to qualify as a social welfare organization under Section 501 (c) 4 of the Internal Revenue Code for the above stated purposes in the promotion of quality Higher Education as an Investment in Oregon’s Future.

We hope to see you there!

Oregon State University rises in 'best buy' college guide

Statesman Journal
EUGENE — Oregon State University is the lone Oregon institution to make the annual Fiske Guide to the best buys of U.S. colleges and universities this year.
OSU keeps climbing up in the guide, while former regular, the University of Oregon, has been left off again, The Eugene Register-Guard reported Sunday.
Until 2005, the UO made the 40-school best-buy list annually for eight years in a row — perpetually honored as a high value university among the 2,200 four-year institutions in the nation.
The best-buy calculation is based on the quality of academics in relation to the cost of attendance. Edward Fiske, a former education editor at The New York Times, is the guide’s author.
“It’s not a question of what’s cheapest,” he said. “It’s what’s offering the best quality in relation to the cost.”
This year, the UO tuition probably ticked up just enough that it was bested by other schools in the calculation, Fiske said.
From 2001 to fall 2012, UO tuition and fees increased 129 percent — landing at $9,309 per year, according to Oregon University System figures.
“Affordability for students is very important to us,” Jim Brooks, UO financial aid director, said in an email, “and the university aims to keep tuition increases as low as possible despite the reductions in state support over the past several years. We also work very diligently to find opportunities to provide financial aid and scholarships to assist students and their families with affordability.”
Rapidly increasing tuition costs are a common story throughout the country, even at public universities, to the extent that the trend is pricing out the populace, Fiske said.
“That’s a huge issue,” he said. “The flagship publics, in a lot of states, are the equivalent of the privates.”
The UO still is listed on the top 100 Best Values in Public Colleges by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. It’s 97 on the list, down from 89 the previous year.
OSU, meanwhile, is on the ascent. It gets an “inexpensive” price rating and a “solid” academic rating from Fiske.

Oregonian gets it wrong in opposing Corporate Kicker

The Oregonian: Off The Deep End
In their ongoing quest to alienate their remaining readers, the Oregonian Editorial Board is now urging you to let large, out-of-state corporations keep their corporate kicker refunds, rather than putting those funds into K-12 schools.

By doing so, the editorial board is rejecting its own position from just a few months ago. In April, they wrote this about Measure 85:

“[T]his is a step that needs to be taken. Oregon's boom-and-bust tax structure is broken, condemning the state to a destructive cycle of building up programs and institutions in good times, only to tear them down in bad. Repealing the corporate kicker should be part of the solution.”

Now, they apparently think you should reject this historic reform and go back to waiting and hoping for lawmakers do something about the funding crisis in our schools. The editorial writers are not only out of touch with their readers—they’re out of touch with themselves.

Sound Off: Tell the O they got it wrong

Sunday's endorsement reads like it was written directly by someone at the Cascade Policy Institute, the right-wing think tank funded by corporate interests (and so far the only real opposition to Measure 85). It’s another example of how far to the right the Oregonian has jumped under publisher N. Christian Anderson III and Editorial Page Editor Erik Lukens.

By endorsing a no vote on Measure 85*, the Oregonian is holding the future of Oregon children hostage to the ideological agenda of Anderson and Lukens. Rather than reform the kicker, they’d rather we do nothing and continue sending refunds to out-of-state corporations.

This puts the Oregonian outside of every other civically minded group. For more than a decade, there’s been broad agreement—including in the business community—that we need to reform the corporate kicker policy so that we’re protecting Oregon’s priorities, rather than giving it away to large corporations outside the state.

Let’s be clear: Oregon schools have been in a state of ongoing budget cuts for far too long. We have the third largest class sizes in the country and one of the shortest school years. We’ve lost 7,000 teachers and school employees due to budget cuts just since June 2010. (Even the Oregonian, just this week, reported on classroom overcrowding in its news pages.)

And for more than a decade, nothing has happened. Not even a committee vote in the legislature on a kicker reform policy. Our K-12 students are suffering as a result of this inaction, but the Oregonian Editorial Board thinks you should just keep on waiting. Measure 85 puts the decision in your hands, and Voting YES is your way of choosing to make schools a priority.

Give the O a piece of your mind. Go here to write a letter to the editors and tell them that our schools can’t wait for help.

Go here to tell them what you think.