The Board of Regents has proposed changes that, according union officials representing the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities faculty, would increase course loads, curtail academic freedom and limit faculty participation in the operations of the colleges.
“I was pretty disappointed that the Board of Regents is taking such a harsh approach, given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Patricia O’Neill, president of the Connecticut State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
O’Neill said that many union members were angry about the board’s proposals.
“We felt it was important to stand up and make a statement about this. So that people understand that they are not alone in their fear and anger over what Board of Regents has proposed,” she said.
In a statement, Leigh Appleby, director of communications at the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said that it was “sad” that the union leaders seemed “more interested in writing press releases than engaging in productive conversation.”
“We don’t negotiate in the press. We negotiate at the bargaining table,” read the statement. “While people in Connecticut and across the country continue to lose their jobs and lines at our food pantries grow, it is unfortunate that a small few – who not only have job security, but have received significant raises in each of the past two years – would whine publicly rather than negotiating in good faith.”
The Board of Regents and the faculty union exchanged draft proposals on December 1. According to O’Neill, neither side knew in advance what the other would be proposing.
Increased workloads, decreased budgets
In the board’s draft of the collective bargaining agreement, obtained by CT Examiner, the board proposed increasing the faculty course loads from four classes per semester to five.
“That’s going to obviously reduce the amount of time that we are able to spend with individual students,” said O’Neill. She added that the heavier course load could limit the courses being offered each semester, making it more difficult for students to access the courses they needed to complete their degrees.
According to the union, their proposal, in contrast, would have reduced the course load to three per semester.
The board’s draft would also eliminate the $300 course cancellation fees that part-time faculty members currently receive if their classes are cancelled within seven business days before the start of classes. O’Neill said this compensation is important since it would be nearly impossible for a professor, having a class cancelled on such short notice, to find another teaching position during that semester.
The proposal also reduces funding for faculty research and development. Previously, a faculty member could apply for as much as $5,000 for a research grant and up to $1,500 in order to attend a seminar or conference.
Concerns of academic freedom and tenure
Another concern for the faculty, O’Neill said, was the elimination of the academic freedom committee — a panel of faculty members and representatives from the administration that handle complaints regarding violations of faculty member’s right to teach or do research on the topics of their choice.
“Academic freedom is not something that everyone is going to understand or appreciate, but it allows us faculty to teach our courses in the way that we think is best,” said O’Neill. “It allows us to engage in scholarly activity without fear of retribution.”
Faculty committees responsible for promotion, tenure and sabbaticals are also disbanded under the proposal, leaving the provost of a college responsible for all recommendations for tenure and promotions. The college would be able to transfer a faculty member to another department without his or her consent.
The proposal increased the length of non-tenure track positions from two years to five years. O’Neill said she believed that the Board was trying to create a subset of non-tenure-track faculty, individuals whose contracts would terminate after five years without any obligation for renewal. She said that this could make it harder to attract quality faculty members.
Looking beyond the pandemic
While CT Examiner did not see a copy of the union’s draft proposal, a letter sent out by O’Neill to the union members outlines their priorities. Among these are paid family leave, increased job security, higher wages and sick leave for part-time faculty and the establishment of a task force to create a child-care system for faculty and students.
The union also proposes the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to focus on equal pay regardless of race or gender and to provide assistance to international faculty.
The Board of Regents has not said whether these proposals are related to a budget deficit or potential budget deficit resulting from COVID. However, O’Neill cautioned against making decisions based on the current situation – she pointed out that the pandemic wasn’t going to last forever.
“I think everyone in higher education in Connecticut needs to be careful about proposals to what will be a short-term problem,” she said. “And the solutions should not result in long-term damage to the institutions.”