University of Maine System complaint partly targets USM faculty

Posted on April 08, 2013 in News
By Tom Collier

Recently, the University of Maine System administration has filed an official complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board against Associated Faculty of the University of Maine union members for following what administrators consider to be “prohibited practices,” and at least one of the points of complaint is specific to USM faculty who are currently operating under work-to-rule.

The decision that full-time faculty would work-to-rule came after a series of failed contract negotiations between AFUM and the UMS.

“We reluctantly went to work-to-rule,” said sociology professor and the president of the USM AFUM chapter, Ed Collom.

Collom cited a recent third-party fact-finding report that advised that AFUM union members receive cost of living raises of up to 4.5 percent. “All the administration has to do is agree to the fact-finding report, and this would be over instantly,” he said.

Under work-to-rule, faculty have stopped participating in voluntary extra work, continuing only with duties that are explicitly defined in their expired contracts — literally working to the rule of their agreement with the administration. UMS administration, however, believes that some practices the faculty has followed since moving to work-to-rule constitute work-stoppage, which is a prohibited practice for unionized public employees under Maine state labor laws.

“We believe that some of the things the faculty say they won’t do are really part of their

regular and ongoing work and that it’s necessary work to be performed, and they cannot just say, ‘We won’t do that under work-to-rule,’” said UMS Chief Human Resources and Organization Development Officer Tracy Bigney.

Bigney did, however, admit that the issue is “not all black and white.”

“There are certainly some things that are not required as part of the workload,” she said. “If they [the faculty] stop doing those, that’s fine. There are other areas that, we believe, have crossed the line, and that they are required to do this work, and that it’s critical to the success of the university and the students.”

Though the prohibited practice complaint filed by the administration is taking place at the system level, at least one of the UMS’s complaints is specific to USM. The USM School of Nursing, which in the past has been one of the only schools to do its own admissions, has decided to suspend their admissions committee.

In an interview with The Free Press, Associate Professor at the School of Nursing Valerie Hart said, “We had a unanimous vote that under work-to-rule, the faculty would teach, advise students and engage in activities that would support faculty – that would mean that Peer Review committee would meet and the SEARCH committee would meet. We do our own admissions at the School of Nursing, so we would be suspending that activity.”

Hart explained that the administration would then be responsible for student admissions in the nursing program.

An email sent in February from USM President Theodora Kalikow and Provost Michael Stevenson to the School of Nursing advised faculty that the administration would take “appropriate next steps” should the school not participate in admissions and scholarship work, as they consider that decision a violation of Article 11 of the expired faculty contract, which stipulates that the faculty workload “shall consist of teaching, research, university and public service.”

The Free Press was unable to reach Hart for comment concerning the message from the administration.

Given that the language of Article 11, section C of the faculty contract is not explicit in regards to the precise duties of faculty members, it still remains a question whether the administration’s interpretations of prohibited practices actually constitute as such. That decision will be made by the MLRB at a Prohibited Practice Complaint hearing, but a specific date for the hearing has yet to be scheduled.