After months of meetings and negotiations, NMU faculty members will vote next week on a tentative contractual agreement with the administration.
NMU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been working on a new contract with administration officials since May of 2009. The proposed three year contract, which was sent electronically to all AAUP members on Sept. 9, will be voted on after a ratification meeting on Sept. 23, said Lesley Putman, chemistry professor and the AAUP’s chief negotiator for the contract.
“Everyone has to either have turned in their vote before then, or turn in their vote at the end of the meeting. After the meeting we count all the votes, and it’s either yay or nay,” said Putman.
During the contract negotiations, the four-person AAUP and administration negotiating teams worked together to discuss issues like pay increases, shared governance and promotion and tenure standards, said Putman.
These topics have caused concern for some members of the faculty. Some professors have stressed that shared governance, which is the practice of involving the faculty in university operations, may be eroded by the terms of the new contract. Included in shared governance is the ability for departments to develop their own bylaws, or operating procedures, and their own promotion and tenure standards. The proposed contract calls for a uniformity of departmental bylaws; and states that those bylaws must define promotion and tenure standards for each department.
Putman and other members of the AAUP declined to discuss the specifics of how those issues have been addressed in the contract before it has been voted on.
“If you talk too much before the ratification, you may have to go back to the table,” said Putman.
The AAUP’s contract negotiation team took information and advice from the bargaining council, a group composed of a representative from every department on campus. The bargaining council is responsible for providing feedback from the faculty to the negotiating team and vice versa, said Sandra Burr, English professor and member of the bargaining council.
“We have an advisory capacity. We may say, ‘We prefer x to y,’ but we do not create what’s happening at the table. We help guide it, and we help shape it,” said Burr.
Burr said that because the administration and the AAUP are trying to balance their responsibilities and expectations, the negotiation process consists of a lot of compromise between all parties involved.
“At the end of it, people are trying to create the best ideas possible so that the working conditions and scenarios that the administration and the faculty go through are as satisfactory as possible,” said Burr. “No one in their right mind would think that any one contract is ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world.”
Burr said that the language of the contract will remain as it is until after the results of the ratification meeting.
“It makes voting for or against a contract very complicated,” said Burr, “You might find something that morally or ethically you can’t tolerate, and you have to put it together with everything you agree with and say, ‘How am I going to vote on that?'”
Ron Sundell, geography professor and president of NMU’s chapter of the AAUP, said that if the contract is not ratified next week, the negotiations with the administration will continue.
“We have to go back to the table, and decide how to proceed from there,” said Sundell.
Sundell said that he was very proud of the work that the negotiating team and the bargaining council has put into the negotiations, and that he is looking forward to hearing feedback from the AAUP members at an informational meeting this Friday.
“It’s now up to our membership. It’s time for them to review the proposed contract in its entirety,” said Sundell.
If the contract is ratified it will have to be adopted by NMU’s Board of Trustees during their meetings on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, said Sundell.
Until the contract is finalized, AAUP members are still operating under the terms of the 2006-2009 contract, said Brent Graves, biology professor and the information officer for the AAUP.
Graves said that the contract negotiations are important to NMU students because it can insure that the university maintains the best faculty possible.
“What this has to do with is the quality of education for students; this depends primarily on the quality of the faculty and the ability of the faculty to do their job effectively,” said Graves.
The Office of the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs declined to comment on behalf of the administration until after the contract is finalized.