By Paul Mullin
Talks between university negotiators and their counterparts from the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) over the renegotiat ion of the present contract for faculty have made little progress since they began on June 20.
As of the last negotiating session on Aug. 29, the two sides had failed to come to an agreement on any of the 40 articles that constitute the existing contract, but had begun to make some progress, something that had been missing from previous sessions.
The talks that day were much more productive than what had come before,” said Dr. Jeff Halpern, chief negotiator for the AAUP.
“I’m pleased with the way things went,” said Dr. Donald A. Steven, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “We believe that the series of discussions we’ve had have identified a number of issues on which we and the AAUP can reach agreement.”
Though he declined to be more specific, Steven expressed satisfaction in the way the negotiations developed, and said that the fear of lagging discussions is a perception contributed to by many factors.
“In addition to a later-than-usual start, both parties agreed to work our way initially through the whole agreement to clarify our respective proposals and to respond to the questions from the other side,” said Steven.
Halpern outlined some of the items that the AAUP is negotiating most fiercely for, one of the most important being an increase in the number of full-time tenured faculty.
By establishing a way to estimate an adequate number of full-time faculty, Halpern believes that some of the stress on currently understaffed departments can be relieved.
“We think that where we have faculty who have 75 advisees, there is something wrong,” Halpern said.
Halpern said the union is looking to set the acceptable number of advisees at or around 25, giving professors more time to dedicate to each student.
According to the AAUP’s non-Rider server Web site, www.rideraaup.org, one of the university’s new proposal calls for faculty with fewer than 25 advisees from their own department to be “assigned advisees from other programs so as to bring him/her up to at least 25 advisees.”
Halpern also emphasized the importance of maintaining the current level of compensation, which he explained might be slightly higher than the national average, but is by no means too high, as the university claims.
“We have, over the years, been able to hire an extraordinarily talented faculty, and we have done so because our salaries and benefits aren’t just okay, they are the type that attract the very best and the brightest,” Halpern said.
“You cannot be Rider and offer the students a second-rate faculty,” he said. “They are paying for a first-rate faculty.”
According to the AAUP’s Web site, another of the university’s proposals would create a whole new category of faculty in which individuals would never be eligible for tenure and could not be part of the union. However, Steven said this is not the university’s goal.
“Our proposal is to extend an existing category, called visiting professors, to allow us to appoint visiting senior executives, artists-in-residence and other professionals distinguished in their fields to Rider faculty on a multi-year basis,” Steven said.
Halpern maintained that an increase in full-time faculty is the obvious choice over the university’s proposal.
“Why did they choose higher education?” said Halpern of the full-time faculty. “Because it was a higher calling, it was a commitment, they wanted to be embedded in that type of life. You can’t get that when you offer people simply a job.”
Another of the more important issues in the collective mind of the union is the current system of academic governance, which, under new university proposals, would receive a dramatic makeover that would likely give the administration more power in situations, of hiring, tenure, and the creation of new courses and programs.
The understandable fear in this process is that there will not be sufficient progress by the time the current contract, which has already been extended once, expires on Sept. 30, resulting in a strike by the union. Halpern said that the AAUP would not seek strike authorization from its members until it appears absolutely necessary.
“If no progress can be made without a strike, then we are going to go on strike,” he said. “We don’t do it lightly.”
“If there is a real commitment to progress we can make an awful lot of progress in six weeks,” Halpern said. “At this point (students) shouldn’t be worrying about (a strike), they should be focusing on their academics.”
Dr. Joel Phillips, President of the Rider AAUP, said that the union’s first priority is reaching an agreement that is beneficial to both sides.
“It’s important that everyone understands that the faculty is united in its support of the negotiating team in a fair and equitable agreement and we will continue to work very hard to achieve that,” said Phillips.