MONMOUTH — The associate professors at Western Oregon University have been working without a contract since the beginning of the year, said Mark Perlman, president of the WOU Federation of Teachers union.
“It was either extend the contract through June or nothing,” he said at the Jan. 27 WOU Board of Trustees meeting. “The university chose nothing.”
Members of the WOU faculty union gathered in front of Werner University Center to express their distaste over the negotiations before marching to the administration building to “Tell President Rex Fuller” what they thought of the current proposal.
The bargaining teams from both WOU and the union have been in negotiations since February 2015, Perlman said, but have reached an impasse when it comes to salaries.
When bargaining started, the university had projected an increase in enrollment, which would have meant more money from tuition and fees, WOU’s website states. Instead, enrollment is down at Western 3.5 percent, or about 160 full-time equivalent students.
President Rex Fuller said in a report to the board that being short by 100 FTE students was about the same as $1 million less in revenue, assuming the current mix of resident and nonresident students.
The university’s most recent proposal incudes a 7 percent raise over two years, with 5 percent coming the first year and 2 percent the second, with an additional 3 percent increase in the second year if fall 2016 enrollment increases by 100 FTE students over the 2015 fall enrollment.
The way tenure track faculty are paid is different from the way non-tenure-track faculty are paid, and that was one of the topics of conversation at the Jan. 27 meeting.
Universities have a two-tier system: tenure track faculty and non-tenure track faculty, David Rives, president of the American Federation of Teachers of Oregon, said at the meeting, where roughly 60 people attended.
Non-tenured-track, or associate professors, work year to year, on appointment, at a lower rate of pay than tenured professors, Rives said.
“These are the same teachers, same quality,” he said. “If you were to ask a student, ‘is your teacher tenure-track or non-tenure track,’ they couldn’t tell you.”
Rives said it is time for universities to end this practice, particularly since non-tenured professors make up 76 percent of instructors on campuses in Oregon.
Molly Mayhead, professor of communication studies, has worked at WOU for 28 years.
She is a tenured faculty member, and spoke about how Western administrators have increased in number and in pay.
“One administrator was given a $23,000 salary increase in a three-year period,” she said. “And then they have the audacity to turn to us with the words, ‘I’m sorry, there’s no more money,’ dripping from their lips.”
WOU senior Jenesa Ross said she is worried about the pocketbooks of students.
“The students don’t have the money,” she said. “We don’t know where our next meal is coming from; 64 percent of us are food insecure.”
Ross said she agrees that teachers shouldn’t be divided, but noted that increasing tuition is pricing people out of an education.
“I’m $40,000 in debt when I’m done here,” she said. “I have to pay that back, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I really don’t.”
Chloe Hughes said when she started working at WOU in 2003 as an adjunct professor, she found it difficult to survive on the income.
“I was a single mother and regularly had to make choices about whether I was going to put gas in my car or feed my kids,” said Hughes, now the coordinator of the undergraduate and post-baccalaureate teach education program. “That’s a very difficult choice to make.”
Hughes said teachers at WOU also use food banks. Members of the union say the average salary for a non-tenure-track professor is $33,000, $13,000 short of the living wage for Polk County, based on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Living Wage Calculator.”
“John Minahan, you actually took a salary cut and you led the way,” she said to Minahan, who is a member of the board of trustees. “I can’t get over how many increases there have been on this campus, and we’re saying we can’t afford to give increases to faculty here.”
Minahan was president of WOU from 2005 to 2011.
Perlman said the difference between what the union is asking and what the university is proposing is $210,000.
According to the university, the difference between the two proposals is larger.
According to WOU, the university’s proposal would cost $2.89 million over the biennium, while the union’s proposal will cost $4.23 million.
For more information about the negotiations, including copies of documents used in talks between the university and union: www.wou.edu/facultynegotiations.