The Park Blocks were peaceful on Tuesday, until the bagpipes started playing.
So began a high-visibility march through campus to hand-deliver two oversized letters to Portland State administration; one went to PSU President Wim Wiewel, the other to Carol Mack, vice provost for Academic Personnel and Leadership Development.
“Our main goal is to call attention to the fact that we are opening bargaining, and that there are several issues that the faculty have that we hope to make progress on,” said Mary King, president of PSU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a national organization that represents faculty in higher education.
The letters, emblazoned in large type with “We’ve got issues!” lay out the topics the group hopes to address.
Top concerns are the dwindling number of courses taught by full-time faculty and the growing number of full-time faculty under one-year contracts.
“Many stay for a long time on one-year contracts,” said David Osborn, a University Studies instructor. “If there’s no money in the budget, [the contract] won’t be renewed. You usually don’t know until the summer, or even a few weeks before the term starts.”
This instability can mean that fixed-term faculty have a difficult time devoting themselves to their roles as educators, several faculty members said. For students looking to develop long-term academic relationships with faculty members, the reality is that everyone is at the mercy of budgetary decisions, they said.
“The nutshell,” King said, “is that we would like to see academics take priority on campus. We’d like to see PSU’s spending directed more toward the classroom [and] to a stronger, more stable full-time faculty.”
Phil Lesch, executive director of the AAUP at PSU, said that a “systemic dysfunction” is behind the issues being raised for negotiation. “There’s no willingness on the part of the Oregon people to appropriately fund higher education,” he said. “[A professor] can double or triple [his] salary just by moving to the East Coast!”
When asked if he was optimistic about the upcoming bargaining, Lesch said, “We’re always optimistic.”
This year, that optimism stems from the passage and signing into law of Oregon Senate Bill 242 in July 2011, giving the university more legal autonomy.
Until this bill took effect, the biggest obstacle to negotiations had been the lack of direct access to the levers of power, according to King.
“The biggest issue is that we [need to] have a real conversation; I’m hopeful that there’s more scope for that this year. We have more autonomy, legally. In the past [the administration] followed the line of what the [Oregon University System] chancellor said. We felt that the administrators have had very little scope to talk about the serious issues that
In response to a request for the administration’s official line going into the negotiations, Scott Gallagher, PSU’s communications director said, “We don’t comment on collective bargaining until it’s concluded…We work with AAUP and others to make sure that negotiations aren’t discussed in the media, but they are discussed over the table.”
Upon everyone’s arrival in the president’s office, amid a flurry of bagpipe music and determination, King said to Wiewel: “We just wanted to let you know that we’ve got issues.”