Battle continues: Faculty rally, Von Arx under fire

Faculty and students make their way over to the Gonzaga Auditorium. Photo by Nick DiFazio.

Late afternoon on Wednesday, as students were taking their final exams, a united voice sprang from the outside. Students scrambled to their windows to discover the noise and to their surprise, they saw a line of faculty members and students marching towards the doors of the Gonzaga Auditorium.

As the group walked over to where President Jeffrey Von Arx, S.J., would make his end-of-the-year address to the faculty, they chanted in unison: “Fairfield united, we’ll never be divided” and “Unity, community, put the ‘fair’ in Fairfield!” Many wore signs and carried bright red papers that read “broken promises.”

The faculty members wanted to publicize at the rally the fight between them and the administration, which had, up until a few weeks ago, occurred without many students’ knowledge.

Since 1994, the University had been committed to keeping the faculty’s total compensation at a 95th percentile, a benchmark for the faculty’s salary and benefits. This high compensation is integral to recruiting faculty members to the school. Recently, administration said they must reconsider the terms of that 95th percentile.

In addition, administration also proposed cuts to the faculty’s benefits in health coverage and benefits. Over the years, faculty members have already conceded benefits in order to deal with the school’s financial troubles. In turn, the administration said they would commit to upholding the 95th percentile agreement. English professor Robert Epstein, had supported this because he said he trusted the administration to follow through with their promise.

Although the administration had once stood “firmly” behind this commitment to maintain a 95th percentile, they have since removed “firmly” from their language, according to an April 27 General Faculty meeting.

Because of the disagreements on the terms of their salary and benefits, the faculty has refused to sign a Memo of Understanding (MOU), a document that outlines the faculty members’ salary and benefits.

Read more background information on this issue in “Faculty battles broken promises,” published in the May 2 edition.

At the President’s address, Epstein has withdrawn his support for the administration. “I made the mistake of taking the President and the rest of the administration at their word,” he said to his colleagues. “And I promise you that I will not make that mistake again.”

More than 150 faculty and student attendees at Wednesday’s meeting.

Like other faculty members, Nancy Dallavalle, associate professor of religious studies, acknowledged the changes that are undergoing in institutions of higher education and the financial struggles the University has. However, she believes the commitment to the 95th percentile should not be sidelined.

Von Arx asserted that the administration’s agreement to maintain the total compensation at a 95th percentile benchmark is “not off the table.”

“The issue is not whether we hold this commitment to competitive compensation. Of course we do,” Von Arx said. However, the compensation may not be at the desired 95th percentile.

“For us to stand here and say we are committed to the 95th percentile moving forward when we know that we are in . . . a situation of financial constraint where we may or may not be able to reach the benchmark does not seem to be, to me, [very honest],” Von Arx said.

Von Arx proposed that the faculty and administration try to find an “appropriate and sustainable benchmark.”

Members in the audience expressed their discontent with murmured comments and scoffs.

David Crawford, a professor of anthropology asked Von Arx why the 95th percentile should be eliminated now, after the administration had repeated their commitment throughout the year.

He and his colleagues criticized the administration for a lack of communication. Another attendee said to Von Arx: “You are the leader of this community . . . You never thought to call us together when this crisis was unfolding months ago . . . you chose instead, as far as I can tell, to work at this with a small group of people behind the walls of Bellarmine.

“We hear you talk the talk about community but you don’t walk the walk.”

Thunderous applause followed.

According to Crawford, for the faculty to sign the administration’s proposed agreement that guarantees only short-term solutions to their salary and benefits would be “foolish” to do.

Faculty members also believe that the University has prioritized administration, athletics and renovation plans over the faculty itself.

Earlier that day, a document was sent to the General Faculty and it included information from IPED, the federal Education Department’s Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, which puts a certain university’s expenditure into seven categories. The Mirror was able to obtain a copy.

In the document it is shown that for expenditures towards Instruction, Fairfield University placed second to last out of the 16 in the comparison group of universities it compares itself. Fairfield’s percentage of total expenditure on Instruction is 37.86 percent.

Schools like Wesleyan University, Villanova University, and Quinnipiac University spend over 50 percent.

Faculty members also criticized the high number of administrators, and how much of the University’s expenditure goes towards the Institution Support. The University ranks as the fourth highest with 23.69 percent of the expenditures. The school has 18 vice presidents, including associate and assistant positions, and 29 senior administrators, including the president, a number that seemed unreasonable to philosophy professor Joy Gordon.

Von Arx countered that all of these positions are necessary for the school to properly function.

Gordon also voiced her opinion that the money spent on athletics has increased unjustifiably. In 2003, the amount of money spent on athletics was 8.3 million dollars. In 2010, it was 15.7 million dollars.

Overall, the view of the rallying faculty members was this: Reducing the faculty’s compensation to offset financial constraint from bad administrative decisions is not the answer.

Ultimately, the faculty members believe the school’s reputation is at stake. One professor said: “There will be no quality university if there are no quality faculty.”

Not only professors spoke their minds; students also entered the dialogue. Several students joined in the rally before the meeting. Senior Jasmine Mickey said that she wanted to “support the faculty that supported us the whole four years.”

Similarly, at the end of the meeting, Mikaela Tierney ‘12, former Editor-in-Chief of The Mirror, said to the President Von Arx: “There’s one priority you need to focus on. It’s respecting and working with the faculty.”

He agreed to work on faculty and administration dialogue in the future.

“I am doing the best I can,” Von Arx said. “Yeah, it hurts; my heart bleeds over this stuff. But it is what it is. Right now, my sense is to carry on in the best way I can. We are in a very difficult situation.” He went on to acknowledge that other universities are experiencing some financial restraints as well.

When asked about his feelings towards the result of Wednesday’s meeting, which largely discussed the total compensation of the faculty, Von Arx answered that there wasn’t much that hadn’t been said in previous meetings, but it is still “always important to listen to how people feel.”

Published on The Mirror website

IMG_8738IMG_8656DSC01489photo(4)photo(5)DSC01497
DSC01503DSC01505DSC01499IMG_8663IMG_8688IMG_8675
DSC01508IMG_8703IMG_8705DSC01513IMG_8696DSC01514
IMG_8713IMG_8723DSC01533DSC01531

Faculty and Student Rally, a set on Flickr.

Faculty battles broken promises

On April 27, full-time faculty members of Fairfield University expressed their dissatisfaction towards the 2012-13 salary and benefits proposed by administration.

Each year, the faculty negotiates the terms of their contract with the administration. To finalize their contracts, both teams agree to a Memo of Understanding (MOU), a statement that outlines the faculty members’ salary and benefits.

While they have a MOU for the school year 2011-12, the Faculty Salary Committee (FSC), which engages in talks about total compensation issues, could not negotiate a MOU for 2012-13 with administration.

Faculty members proposed at last Friday’s meeting that they disagree with the administration’s language in their statement of agreement and that they want FSC to continue working towards a compensation beneficial for the faculty. The faculty voted 185 in favor of the two motions.

No objections were made.

Irene Mulvey, professor of mathematics and secretary of the General Faculty, said of this result: “I cannot remember a vote like that in my 27 years at Fairfield. This is an unprecedented show of faculty unity behind protecting the reputation and quality of Fairfield.”

Irene Mulvey

18-YEAR AGREEMENT BROKEN

Collegial discussions between the faculty and the administration began in October 2011 and were supposed to end in this March; however, they have only resulted in frustration and disagreement.

According to the MOU of the school year 2011-12, the administration promised to maintain the faculty’s compensation rank at the 95th percentile.

Established in 1994, this high compensation is indicative of economic security, a means to protect the faculty members working in one of the most expensive towns in the county. “It is an agreement that the University will keep faculty compensation at or above an external benchmark,” Mulvey said. “The benchmark is the standard of our profession since it compares our compensation with other schools in our category.”

However, when the Faculty Salary Committee met with the administration in February, “the administration announced its intent to abandon this commitment to the 95th percentile which is incredibly important to faculty,” said Mulvey.

Rick DeWitt, current president of Fairfield University’s Faculty Welfare Committee (FWC), which is an affiliate of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), wrote in a March 2012 newsletter, “The 95th percentile is sacred to the faculty, and if President insists on pushing this, the situation at Fairfield may get ugly and public at a time when we are trying to recruit a class we are not sure we can get.”

Mulvey and her colleagues recognize that the decreased salaries and budget will have a “negative impact on the faculty we can hire which will have a terrible effect on the education we offer.”

Jocelyn Boryczka. Taken from Fairfield University website.

The FWC’s Action Committee encourages faculty members to respond to administration’s decision not to continue to engage in “collegial discussions” with the FSC, according to Jocelyn Boryczka who is co-chair of Faculty Welfare Action Committee and the incoming president of the Faculty Welfare Committee for 2012-13.

In September 2009, the faculty agreed to compromise with the administration by giving up benefit protections in their health coverage, retirement benefits, and more.

They were assured by the administration that they would maintain the 95th percentile.

In 2010, President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. addressed members in a General Faculty meeting. He said: “The fact that we have been steadfast in our commitment to keep faculty compensation at or above the 95th percentile of the Carnegie IIA schools is the strongest illustration of our support for the faculty.”

However, this support, according to many faculty members, is no longer being shown.

“It is our position that the discussions have not been transparent and timely and that there has been a marked unwillingness to cooperatively arrive at compromises,” stated Joseph Dennin, who is a professor of mathematics and a chair of FSC.

The administrative team responsible for these discussions consists of Vice President for Finance Julie Dolan, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., and Director of Human Resources Mark Guglielmoni.

They’ve met with the FSC approximately 14 times this academic year, according to Dolan.

ADMINISTRATION

Dolan reasserted the financial difficulties that the University had encountered and stated the administration’s commitment to rectify the problems.

“We are trying to control costs as much as possible and, at the same time, are trying to keep our tuition increases as low as possible,” stated Dolan in an email. “We recognize that, ultimately, it is our students and their families who are paying for the wonderful education that our students are receiving.  We owe it to them to make sure we continue to deliver that high quality education and services and to make that education affordable.”

The current administration proposal includes a decrease in the University’s contribution to retirement from 10 percent to 8 percent, a decrease in the amount of Life Insurance coverage, and a 1 percent increase in salary.

“The Administration remains committed to compensating the faculty well, both this coming year and into the future,” said Dolan.

The approval of the MOU must come before the approval of the budget by the Board of Trustees.

THE FUTURE

Boryczka, Dennin, and other faculty members remain steadfast in their efforts to reach an agreement with administration.

“Fairfield University’s mission is grounded in social justice, which cannot be achieved when the door to continued discussions is closed,” said Boryczka. “Faculty want that door opened.  We want to protect the quality education that Fairfield students receive and to recruit and retain the faculty who provide it.”

Others hope that they will reach an agreement for the sake of maintaining the academic integrity at Fairfield.

Peter Bayers

Peter Bayers, English professor and a member of the FWC Action Committee, said: “I have always been proud of Fairfield University and proud to be a faculty member here. This pride is at risk.”

Bayers believes that by disregarding the needs of professors who come to teach at the University, administration also sacrifices the University’s status as a highly rated academic institution.

“The proposed change in the University’s commitment to the 95th percentile and its proposed cuts to faculty compensation will have reverberations for years to come, reverberations that will diminish Fairfield’s academic reputation,” Bayers said.

He also noted that some are ready to go and find other places for their academic employment if a satisfactory MOU cannot be met.

Bayers said: “[T]he proposed changes are already having their effect–it makes me terribly sad to say that I know dedicated faculty, including myself, who are already preparing to investigate teaching opportunities elsewhere should the University maintain its position.”

Cartoon by Vin Ferrer/The Mirror