Faculty discuss how to implement union vote

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Posted on January 29, 2013 in News
By Kirsten Sylvain

Faculty and committees at the University of Southern Maine gathered last week to discuss the recent work-to-rule vote of the USM chapter of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine.

The vote passed two weeks ago establishes that full-time USM faculty will only do what is specified within their current contracts. Ninety-three percent of the present AFUM members voted in favor of the move, and now each department is faced with deciding how to handle the vote.

Ed Collom, professor of Sociology and president of USM’s AFUM chapter, said that he knew departments and committees were meeting across the campus last week to decide how to implement the vote without hurting students. The vote is meant to pressure system administration to a 4.5 percent cost-of-living raise in a new contract for faculty, while following the faculty guideline to “hold students harmless.”

“Basically it’s up to individual unit members or task forces to decide how they want to implement this — if at all,” Collom said. He believes that most departments have decided to let individuals decide how much they will or will not do.

The Core Curriculum Committee met on Friday and voted to suspend all of their work until a tentative contract is negotiated. Collom stressed the importance of this decision. The core has been in place since fall 2011, but it has been a project for USM faculty for a decade.

Lisa Moore, professor of Biology and chair of the department, explained that as a department, the biology faculty are in favor of the vote, but because of low faculty numbers and a rise in the number of majors in their department, implementing the vote without harming student success will be a challenge. Over the past few years, the Biology department has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of Biology majors. They must advise all biology majors, while supervising independent study and thesis work at the same time.

“The fact that there continues to be no contract for faculty indicates that the UMS administration is not interested in supporting faculty who do extra work,” she said.

Her department  decided to let each individual faculty member decide about any additional service work in which they are willing to participate.

According to Collom,  AFUM also passed a second motion two weeks ago in which they voted to encourage the faculty senate to work with AFUM to help find ways that they can support the work-to-rule vote.

“Through the vote, what we really did was pass the ball to the senate,” Collom said. He believes that with faculty senate’s support the work-to-rule vote would have a much stronger impact.

The faculty senate meeting will be Friday Feb.1. Collom hopes that they will be in favor of supporting the vote, and senate chair Physics professor Jerry LaSala thinks that the senate most likely will.

“Part of the discussion and final motion will almost certainly be to define more clearly what sort of activities are to be curtailed under work-to-rule,” he said. “Teaching, advising and research will continue as normal, but most other activities, especially committee work, will probably be suspended.”

Part of the discussion on Friday, he said, will likely include the status of the senate under work-to-rule. He described what several possible outcomes of the meeting might be.

“The senate might decide to cancel all meetings,” he said. “It might decide to continue meeting, but only in executive session.” This option would mean that only voting faculty would be able to attend the meetings — administrators and the public would be excluded.

If the senate backs the vote, Collom believes that it will work to further slow down university projects that require a lot of faculty participation.

“It will become inconvenient that things will get done much more slowly and perhaps not at all,” he said. “That’s the idea, that basically we slow things down, university projects and initiatives, many of which are coming from the trustees directly,” he said. “That’s our ultimate target.”

He hopes that President Theo Kalikow and Provost Michael Stevenson will support the faculty effort at the Board of Trustees meeting today in Bangor. The president did not directly comment on the vote to The Free Press.

“I think that the administration gets it and is really looking forward to this being settled,” he said.

In the end, Collom stressed that USM has dedicated faculty that deserve more compensation than they are getting.

“The average full-time professor has been here for 24 years, the average associate professor – 18 years. These are people who have dedicated their professional lives to USM and to public higher education in Maine,” he said.

The University of Maine in Orono is also considering a work-to-rule vote this week.