Our Opinion: USM students should support recent faculty vote to work-to-rule

Posted on February 04, 2013 in Our Opinion
By Kirsten Sylvain

I went to the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Library today on a mission. I started on the first floor, found two girls hunkered down in the corner with stacks of books sitting on the table in front of them, and asked them if they had heard of the recent faculty decision to work-to-rule. “No – no idea,” they told me.
I went to every floor of the library, asking groups of students on the way and found not one who knew about the work-to-rule vote or the two-year period that the full-time system faculty has been without contracts or cost-of-living raises.
This is a cause of concern for me, and it leads me to ask – why is it that USM students are unaware of what’s going on with their university and their professors?
Over the past three years, professors have been working more and more. They are advising more students, doing more independent studies and teaching more classes due to shortages in faculty and funding. Since tuition was frozen a year ago, what students are paying hasn’t gone up, but we’re paying the same amount for less, and unfortunately, professors are working more for less.
If you’re not up to speed yet, let me explain. Two weeks ago, the USM full-time faculty union AFUM passed a work-to-rule motion that stated that they were only going to do the work outlined in their contracts – which is a lot less than they have actually been doing for the past two years. They are hoping to pressure University of Maine System administrators to negotiate new contracts for all full-time faculty of the UMS with four percent cost-of-living raises.
According to the fact-finding report released by the full-time faculty union in December, it is possible for the tuition freeze to remain in place with cost-of-living raises.
We have seen recently that retention and enrollment are incredibly important to the success of this university, giving the student body an enormous amount of sway. We need to understand what we’re paying for and how we can change it for the better, for our sake, and for the sake of those who come after us.
The battle of retention and enrollment in Maine is on. According to the fact-finding report, the state’s 15 to 24 year-old population will decrease by an estimated 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, potentially making it more and more difficult for public universities to compete with lower-cost community colleges and prestigious private schools.
The success of this university and its faculty relies upon our investment in it. If we truly care about USM and public higher education in Maine, then we need to step up and support our faculty. The faculty senate recently voted to suspend all of its activities until a contract is negotiated, and I would urge the student body to join the senate in publicly acknowledging their support.