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U. of Oregon Union Cheers Labor Deal as Protecting Faculty Rights - Faculty - The Chronicle of Higher Education
y Peter Schmidt
The University of Oregon and its fledgling faculty union have tentatively agreed on a contract that provides all categories of instructors with more pay and job security and leaves intact protections of faculty speech and e-mails that union representatives previously viewed as threatened.
The proposed two-year contract, expected to be approved by the union's members in a ratification vote scheduled for October 8, calls for the salaries of the university's academic employees to grow by an average of nearly 12 percent over the period covered, through the end of June 2015.
The agreement contains several provisions geared toward helping faculty members employed on a contingent basis. Among them, it says the university will work toward establishing salary floors for instructors off the tenure track, with the goal of eventually paying those who work full time at least $36,000 annually and those who work part time a pro-rated amount pegged to the floor for full-timers.
The agreement also requires the university to give a written justification for any decision not to renew such an instructor's contract, and it provides that instructors whose contracts are renewed annually will be offered two-year contracts after four years of service and three-year contracts after six.
Missing from the agreement are several provisions that had been opposed by the faculty union, United Academics, an affiliate of both the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers that came into being 17 months ago.
The university's administration was persuaded, for example, to drop proposed contract language characterizing as university property any e-mail from faculty members' home computers dealing with work-related matters.
Although the administration had characterized the language as simply reflecting the scope of e-mails covered by the state's open-records law, the union had assailed it as overly broad and intrusive. The union got the administration to enshrine in the contract a current policy saying that any search of a faculty member's personal e-mail account must be conducted by authorized personnel and serve a legitimate business purpose, such as complying with an open-records request.
The union similarly got the administration to abandon, as potentially threatening faculty members' ability to express dissent, proposed contract language requiring them to demonstrate civility in their workplace interactions. At the union's request, the administration agreed to language explicitly protecting the right of faculty members to speak out on matters related to institutional policy—a right seen assomewhat in limbo as a constitutional matter in the wake of a 2006 Supreme Court decision scaling back public employees' freedom of workplace speech.
Among its other provisions, the proposed contract also increases how much faculty members are compensated during sabbaticals, and calls on the university to increase faculty salaries to make up for any decline in its contribution toward their retirement accounts under state law.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Michael Gottfredson, the university's president, called the contract "a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty."
The union on Wednesday issued a statement in which Yvonne Braun, an associate professor of women's and gender studies who was a member of its negotiating team, said the agreement "represents a major step forward for all faculty" there.