Letter to the Editor: Poised to strike, professors unite

As a member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) negotiating team, I’m very, very proud of the work we as a team did, meeting throughout the spring semester to analyze faculty study reports, discussing how best to meet their identified needs, and crafting good contract language to propose.

I have to say that, in my observation throughout the 10 weeks of summer negotiations, the other side did not do its part. When they asked us what our proposed contract language meant and what goal we had in mind in proposing new language, we could tell them immediately — because we had talked it out last spring when we wrote our proposal. But when we asked them what their proposed contract language meant, and what their goal was, their lawyer said, “We’ll get back to you.”

This summer’s negotiations have been the nastiest I have experienced, with gratuitous insults to my profession as college professor delivered by the University’s lawyer.

During summer negotiations, the AAUP team had to wait a week or more for their replies to our questions about their proposals. That delaying tactic, and not the fact that each side had a proposal to present, is the reason why we had not made substantial progress toward an agreement by Aug. 30.

That changed after the Aug. 30 AAUP Chapter meeting, and there has been progress at the negotiating table since the Sept. 18 AAUP Chapter meeting, at which AAUP members authorized the AAUP team and Executive Committee “to take whatever action they deem necessary, up to and including a strike, to reach a fair and equitable contract.”

The AAUP team is strongly united. Our professional careers are bound to the continued academic and financial success of Rider University. Negotiating lawyers can be hired and fired. Administrators come and go. But the faculty are here long-term.

During my years teaching at Rider, I have seen three different presidents and five different provosts and vice presidents for academic affairs. I have negotiated on AAUP teams opposite three different provosts.

In each negotiation the AAUP team has modified contract language to fit the changing circumstances. We have been and we are prepared to agree to evolutionary changes that preserve academic freedom and the rights of faculty.

The administration, in signing past AAUP contracts, has agreed with the AAUP on specific changes, and together we have in the past managed to hammer out fair and equitable contracts. I want to reach an agreement again, but I am prepared to strike.

In 2007, Rider University is in much stronger shape financially than it was in 1994. Our University — and this is the students’, the faculty’s, the administrators’ and the trustees’ university — is on sound financial footing. We do not need to pay for new buildings out of faculty salaries and health benefits, or to be divided into two classes of faculty, those who are protected by the AAUP and those who are not.

We have shown that we are one united faculty. Hundreds have authorized a strike, have signed the petition of support, have volunteered to picket, and have agreed to wear AAUP buttons and post AAUP stickers. This united support has helped persuade the administrators, during the past two negotiating sessions, that they need to buckle down and get serious about these negotiations.

United, we have a chance to avoid a strike.

— Dr. Judith L. Johnston
Professor of English
Member of the AAUP Negotiating Team

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