Faculty reps refuse to take part in meeting with University of Maine System trustees, citing contract dispute

Posted Jan. 28, 2013, at 3:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2013, at 7:11 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Faculty representatives of the University of Maine System’s seven campuses refused to participate in a meeting with the University of Maine System Board of Trustees Monday afternoon, citing contentious contract negotiations.

The faculty representatives wore pins that read, “Another University Employee Working Without a CONTRACT.”

The faculty union’s contract expired June 30, 2011, and faculty have been operating under the conditions of that old contract ever since, according to Tracy Bigney, chief human resources and organization development officer for the University of Maine System. Negotiations for a new contract began in April 2011. They are the only one of six unions representing university workers who are working under an expired contract.

“We have chosen not to participate in view of the refusal of the system’s negotiating team to move forward with a fair and equitable contract for faculty members who have been working without a contract for nearly two years and agreed to no raise in the prior contract,” Valerie Hart, faculty representative for the University of Southern Maine, said.

Hart read a statement at the beginning of an afternoon session dedicated to discussion between the trustees and faculty representatives. Hart said in her statement that faculty representatives would “not participate in our normal dialogue with the system and board of trustees.”

She said that the system’s negotiating team was using “stonewalling tactics” and criticized the system for spending “millions of dollars for consultants during the past decade and then complain[ing] that funds do not exist for equitable employee compensation.”

“In lieu of our regular meeting time, we hope you take this opportunity to discuss how we can reach a mutual accord that is in the best interest of the students and citizens of Maine that the faculty serve,” Hart said. Instead of a discussion, the meeting broke for about 30 minutes.

System Chancellor James Page said “all parties agree that we need to get this resolved.”

The dispute has dragged on since April 2011. During mediation in March 2012, the two parties agreed on several issues, but couldn’t come to a settlement on an across-the-board pay increase for faculty. A three-member fact-finding panel later recommended 2-1 that faculty get a 1.5 percent increase in the first year of the contract, which would grow to 3 percent in the second year. The other member of the panel recommended a 0.7 percent increase, according to Bigney.

The next step, according to Bigney, would be arbitration, where a panel would hear arguments from both sides and issue a binding report to resolve the dispute. She said the parties are in the early stages of selecting three people to serve on that panel.

“I understand their frustration at the lack of a contract,” Bigney said after Monday’s trustees meeting, but giving an across-the-board raise wouldn’t be “prudent” given the university’s financial standing.

The system voted to keep in-state tuition flat for the next three school years, and its other main source of revenue, allocations, also will remain flat next year. The university also faces a $2.5 million curtailment this year.

“Everybody hits their limit, and we’ve hit ours,” said Ron Mosley, president of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine. He said faculty members felt “devalued” and frustrated.

“We are unhappy. We are angry,” Mosley said. “It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.”

Much of Monday’s daylong University of Maine System Board of Trustees meeting consisted of presentations updating trustees on the progress of the first round of a series of goals and initiatives adopted by the board a year ago.

Those changes include creating a consistent system for transferring credits among the system’s universities, as well as performance-based funding that allocates money based on how individual campuses meet certain goals, such as the rate of degree attainment.

University of Maine at Fort Kent President Wilson Hess, who is chairman of the committee that drafted the credit transfer plan, told the trustees that the behavior of students and nature of higher education have changed, with students attending or taking courses from multiple colleges and universities before graduating. He said universities haven’t adapted to ease that nontraditional approach to earning a degree.

Page said that progress on these initiatives gave the system significant leverage in its bid to secure flat funding. The fact that the governor’s proposed budget keeps funding level “reaffirms that we’re on the right track,” Page said.

“It is our progress in these areas that is giving us the credibility to say we are responsive,” the chancellor added.

In other business, the trustees:

• Approved the expenditure of up to $1.55 million to install about 80 geothermal wells at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Mantor Green. The wells will be used to heat Preble Hall, Thomas Auditorium, Ricker Hall and Ricker Addition and are projected to pay for themselves in oil savings in 8-10 years.

• Listened to a presentation given by Habib Dagher, Director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine in Orono, about the progress of the university’s offshore wind turbine initiative.

• Approved $3.2 million in university funds to renovate UMaine’s Estabrooke Hall, converting the dormitory into a new “collaborative and active learning classroom” and creating a space for the Honors Program.

• Approved spending $650,000 for the replacement of a pair of oil-fired boilers at Merrill Hall on the University of Maine at Farmington campus.

• Accepted a gift of 200 acres of undeveloped property left to the University of Maine at Machias.

• Approved the creation of a bachelor’s degree program in aviation at the University of Maine at Augusta.

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