By Sarah Bergen
While students have been studying abroad, soaking up some sun, or working hard to earn some cash, Rider’s administrators and faculty union have spent every Wednesday of their summer months negotiating a new contract.
Representatives from both sides came to The Rider News retreat on July 26, and on Aug. 28, Rider News reporters attended both the president’s convocation and the first meeting of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
The current contract details numerous topics, both in and out of the classroom, and is discussed and altered every three years. From hiring and promotion processes to faculty tenure and health benefits, this over 250-page document is full of words that may boggle students’ minds but are vital in that they govern much of what goes on at Rider.
The negotiations that have played out over these summer months have been stagnant: There are many key parts that must be weighed and balanced. The need to maintain an affordable tuition, offer students valuable financial aid, and simultaneously attract quality faculty to Rider has proven to be a struggle.
“Our goal is and has always been to keep a Rider education within students’ financial reach while providing a high quality academic experience for our students,” said Provost DonnaJean Fredeen.
The administration is confident that Rider can bring faculty salaries for prospective hires more in line with regional competitors and continue to attract talented faculty. By doing this, they hope to avoid further raising tuition.
The administration agrees with the AAUP in that the current contract works well, but argues that the procedures laid out in the contract largely contribute to the financial costs that exceed the available revenue. Therefore, the administration proposed a new contract that they believe would close the financial gap.
The AAUP is standing strong against the administration, believing that the proposed increases in untenured and adjunct faculty, changes in the input faculty can have in academic decisions, and cuts to faculty and adjunct pay will make Rider an undesirable institution for quality faculty, in turn making Rider an undesirable university for prospective students.
According to Associate Vice President for Human Resources Rob Stoto, “the University carefully considered regional and national salary data in developing its wage proposal, including information from our athletic conference and the most recent AAUP survey results.” He noted that the contract cites minimum hiring salaries and added, “Rider has regularly hired faculty at salaries above the minimums where necessary to be competitive, and will continue to do so.”
The current contract is some 250 pages and it cannot be easily summarized here. However, there are a few areas of discussion that are the hot topics of the negotiations.
One such area is academic governance, or the system used to develop and alter academic policies. In a nutshell, this system dictates everything that can and cannot occur in the classroom.
According to an AAUP statement, the “current governance system includes 33 elected faculty members, 14 chairs, all the deans, and the provost, each of whom has a vote and must work to persuade their colleagues of the merits of an idea.” Decisions are ultimately made based on that vote.
The administration has proposed a new body of academic governance called a senate, with the stated goal of creating broader faculty participation. According to the proposal, “each college and school will be represented by one Senator for every ten full-time faculty, and one Senator representing part-time faculty.” This board would be advisory and, unlike the current system, would not give faculty actual decision-making power.
The administration is also proposing the creation of a new (called “clinical”) lower class of full-time faculty. This new class of faculty would teach alongside the regular faculty, but would not be eligible for tenure (they would be able to end their contract for any reason). The starting salary of this new class of faculty would be $18,000 less than that of their colleagues hired the previous fall. In addition they would teach 33 percent more than the existing faculty. The AAUP belives that it will not be possible to maintain the quality of Rider faculty with such reduced conditions. They also believe that the creation of multiple classes of faculty will create resentments that will divide the faculty and ultimately negatively affect the quality of the student experience.
“We have 40 years of evidence that shows that the current structure works,” said AAUP representatives. “We don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken.”
Another concern is a proposed standardized student opinion survey, which is meant to replace the course surveys that are filled out by students at the end of each semester. This standardized survey would be considered when making decisions about faculty promotion and tenure.
“The administration’s primary concern is that students’ voices be heard by using a consistent survey and ensuring department chairpersons see the results,” said Provost Fredeen. “This lets them make informed decisions on adjunct hiring and faculty mentoring.”
The main issue surrounding this topic is whether students’ evaluations of professors should be used in the promotion process. Some students may base an evaluation on whether or not they learned useful material, while others may hand in a positive evaluation because the course was easy.
Other areas of discussion include, but are not limited to the salaries and benefits of both current and future faculty, as well as the hiring process for new faculty. The current contract has been extended and negotiations regarding the proposed contract will continue into September.
“There is a lot at stake in these negotiations, but the Administration is confident the two sides will find mutually agreeable solutions and craft a final agreement that will strengthen Rider for both the short and long term for the benefit of our students,” Stoto said.