By Casey Gale
Contract negotiations between the American Association of Union Professors (AAUP) and the administration continue, and the AAUP has taken a step to spur a resolution.
On Sept. 23, union members voted by secret ballot to authorize their leaders to call a strike in the coming weeks if the talks hit an impasse. Only one member of the more than 160 at the lunch meeting in the Cavalla Room voted against the authorization, said Dr. Jeffery Halpern, chief negotiator for the AAUP.
The union represents 621 full- and part-time professors, librarians, coaches, athletic trainers and reading clinicians at the university’s Lawrenceville and Westminster Choir College campuses.
This action does not confirm that the union will strike; it only provides the negotiating team and executive committee with the power to call a strike. The current contract has been extended through Sept. 30. Therefore, the first possible date for a strike to be called would be Oct. 1, but the contract could be extended again.
Despite the authorization, the administration is confident that negotiations will not escalate to that level.
“While the AAUP has taken a strike authorization vote in a number of prior negotiations, the university and the AAUP consistently have been able to successfully conclude negotiations without a strike,” the university’s negotiation team said in a statement.
Negotiations will continue on Sept. 26 and 27. According to Halpern, though some economic issues have been discussed, matters of faculty salary and benefits have not yet been negotiated in any detail. While progress has been made on many non-economic issues, such as the administration’s proposals to reduce faculty’s voice in academic decisions and the creation of full-time contingent faculty without Ph.D’s, the final decision on such matters is dependent on how negotiations continue for economic matters, Halpern said.
“The economic demands of the administration are simply unacceptable,” said Halpern. Those demands include a cut in medical benefits, a 12 percent cut in retirement funds, a 10 percent cut in new-faculty salaries, a four-year salary freeze and a 25 percent cut in funds for faculty development.
“We are committed to continuing to work with the AAUP to resolve the remaining contract articles,” said the university’s negotiation team. “The administration’s goal in these negotiations is to allow the university to continue to maintain highly competitive compensation to attract and retain high-quality faculty while keeping a Rider education within students’ financial reach.”
As previously reported in The Rider News, the administration has been seeking substitute teachers to serve in place of faculty members in the event of a strike.
The idea of wholesale replacement of faculty with substitutes “is insulting to what really goes on in the classroom,” said Halpern. “It really shows a lack of respect or understanding of what faculty do. It’s not a university without the faculty. That’s like an army without soldiers.”
In August, the AAUP negotiating team released a statement to faculty members regarding how students should be advised to handle a strike. The statement said that if a strike is called, faculty members will not be in class or holding office hours, and will not have access to their Rider email accounts. In the event that substitutes are placed in classrooms or working online during a strike, professors will not hold students responsible for attending class or doing assignments given during that period. Instead, students should keep up with their assignments on their professor’s syllabus, and the professor will determine how to make up material upon their return. For further information, students should ask their individual professors for their thoughts, as all may not have the same philosophy on this matter.
Substitutes will not be able to use the course syllabus, because Halpern said it is the intellectual property of the professor who crafted it. Any substitute who steps in will need to start the class from scratch a month or more into the semester.
As for whether or not a strike will occur, Halpern said he does not know what will happen as the final days of negotiations approach.
“I don’t want to strike. I want to work with my students; that’s why I’m here,” said Halpern. “But I will strike if I need to.”