Board of trustees approves contract between AAUP and OU adminstrators

Oakland University put a controversial issue to rest at the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 22.

The board approved the contract agreement between the faculty, represented by OU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and OU’s administrators.

Bargaining to renew the contract began June 1, and a tentative agreement was reached Aug. 29.

The contract is finalized, but not everyone is happy with the changes.

“It’s a contract that is somewhat disappointing,” said Karen Miller, associate professor of history. She is a previous OU AAUP president.

The bargaining teams discussed three major points – a new pay system, tuition remission for faculty dependents and spouses and pay and benefits for special lecturers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

New Merit Pay

The contract gave faculty a raise, but it’s just enough to keep the pay ahead of inflation.

“OU’s faculty is paid substantially below our peers,” Miller said, comparing OU to other universities in Michigan of similar size.

The most significant change that this contract will bring about is that faculty will be given raises through a merit system, in which professors will receive more money based on how much they contribute to OU. The merit system will be the only way faculty will get raises during the last two years of the contract.  

“The core of faculty work is teaching, research or creative work if you’re in the arts … and service,” said Catherine Rush, assistant vice president for the Department of Academic Human Resources.

A merit pay system recognizes and motivates strong performance, Rush said.

Kenneth Mitton, associate professor of biomedical sciences and OU’s current AAUP president, disagreed.

“Merit systems don’t work. They fail miserably,” he said.

Mitton said he looked into merit pay systems and said companies try to use them and then decide not to.

“There’s a misunderstanding of what motivates faculty,” Mitton said. Faculty teach and research a subject because they love to. Small raises through a merit pay system won’t change that.

Each academic unit, or department or school, has to come up with guidelines of how to measure faculty contribution. This takes away from research time.

“We’re trying to come up with an equitable system,” Miller said. But a lot of faculty work is hard to measure.

“So much of what we do is intangible,” she said.

Tuition Remission

The negotiations also brought up the fact that faculty, their dependents and their spouses can take classes at OU for 10 percent of the in-state undergraduate tuition cost. OU’s administration wanted to raise this to 50 percent, but the policy didn’t change in the end.

“It was disheartening for our faculty,” Mitton said.

“We find it really kind of offensive, frankly,” Miller said. “It does not cost the university in any substantive way.”

Special Lecturers

Miller said pay and benefits for special lecturers are especially low. The faculty tried to fix this but couldn’t.

Bargaining Mechanics

Most faculty, which includes anyone who teaches, are members of OU’s AAUP. They were asked to fill out a survey in February 2015 of things they wanted to see changed. There were regular AAUP meetings from October 2014 until negotiations started in June.

For negotiation years, bargaining teams are formed on each side. Typically each team has four to six members.

While it seems like Aug. 29 is cutting it close to the beginning of the school year for a tentative agreement, Rush said that’s typical.

If an agreement wasn’t reached, faculty could have picketed. However, according to the Michigan Legislature website, public employees, including faculty at public universities, aren’t allowed to strike. A judge can order faculty back to work if OU’s administration complains.

This contract will be in place until 2020 with a possible re-opener in 2018. This is the first time a contract will be in place for five years. Usually there are negotiations every three.