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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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, 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