Fairfield faculty and maintenance fight for fairness

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The air vibrated with shouts and applause. Students trickled in and out of the Barone Campus Center during lunch time. Along the way they saw people outside holding posters and signs proclaiming, “We are one Fairfield” and “Deception is not a Jesuit value.”

May Day, on May 1, celebrated workers’ rights around the world, and Fairfield’s own faculty and maintenance staff fought for their rights to fair compensation.

Monday’s event was sponsored by the Faculty Welfare Committee/American Association of University Professors (FWC/AAUP), an organization that protects the “interests of higher education and research, and in general to increase the usefulness and advance the standards, ideals, and welfare of the profession.”

The event and its many speakers highlighted issues like compensation for the faculty and staff and the need for more transparency from the administration.

Faculty and maintenance staff have had a strenuous time negotiating their compensation – or salaries and benefits – for the next school year.

Photo by Irene Mulvey

Photo by Irene Mulvey

Last year, while students were taking their exams, faculty protested against administration’s unwillingness to abide by Fairfield’s 95th percentile agreement, which keeps faculty compensation at or above an external benchmark.

The faculty has yet to sign a Memo of Understanding, which finalizes contracts for next year’s total compensation package.

But now, the disillusion has gone beyond the 95th percentile mark.

Faculty members have rejected the administration’s latest proposal, which includes changes such as a salary increase pool of 2 percent and an increase of health care cost shares to 20 percent of the total premium, whereas this year faculty had to pay 10 percent.

As for the maintenance staff, consisting of 33 members, positions have been limited because of Fairfield’s use of outside contractors. They said they feel their job stability is threatened; they have been offered only short-term contracts. The staff has joined the Local 30 International Union of Operating Engineers.

[Read "Maintenance staff fights for job security," published in our April 10 issue]

Fairfield’s Jesuit values have not been represented in these negotiations for compensation – an irony that is recognized by Yohuru Williams, associate professor of African-American history and membership director of FWC/AUUP.

“If there is any place on this planet where one should not have to make the case for economic justice for staff, asked to bear the crushing cost of health care … it’s on this campus of a Jesuit institution,” Williams said to the May Day gatherers.

Among the faculty, adjunct professors also made their case for better job stability. Elizabeth Hohl, professor of history speaking on behalf of the 350 adjunct professors, said: “We have no benefits, no representation. We’re good at what we do – we’re experienced, we’re committed … We need your help and support.”

Students echoed Hohl’s call for better stability for adjunct professors.

“I think I agree with faculty. I think the school needs to make better contracts for adjuncts,” said Julia Morrow ‘13.

There have been claims that Fairfield is not focusing enough on the academics. Mathematics professor Irene Mulvey, also treasurer for FWC/AAUP, proposed that the faculty be more recognized: “We demand a voice and a role in making sure the institution is on the right track … [faculty expertise] needs to be “acknowledged, appreciated and utilized.”

“This is our freakin’ university,” said Mulvey.

Beyond compensation woes, the governance structure of Fairfield also came under fire. English professor Robert Epstein went on to criticize the administration and  what he called its “waste, redundancy and mismanagement at the top.”

Robert Epstein, English Professor. Photo by Shawn Rafalski

Robert Epstein, English Professor. Photo by Shawn Rafalski

“There’s a minority of people here that I’m not sure [are] working towards one vision of the university,” said Epstein. “I’m pretty doubtful that they are contributing to the core academic vision of the university. The problem is they are at the top.”

Epstein said that the efforts of the administration have not produced favorable results.

Mark C. Reed,  chief of staff and senior vice president for Administration, said that it is unfair for the administration to be targeted as one entity. He said he also believes that Fairfield is not “top-heavy,” as Epstein had described.

“Fairfield’s number of deans, vice presidents, associate/assistant vice presidents, or senior-level directors is comparable to similarly-sized or situated universities.  I’m sure there are some with fewer, as there are some with more,” said Reed.

The May Day event concluded with a call for more accountability and transparency.

Epstein said, “The faculty is demanding a long-term plan for the University that makes it clear how all divisions of the University – staff, faculty, administrators, everybody – are contributing to the academic mission of the University.”

“If we’re given that, then we’ll be willing to accept sacrifices to achieve that long-term vision. But in the absence of that, we’re not accepting any more cuts in salary,” he said.

Reed responded that Fairfield does have a long-term plan. “There are regular mechanisms by which members of the University community are asked to demonstrate how they are contributing to that mission,” he said. “Faculty do it through self-evaluation and peer review, for example. Administrators [and] staff file annual reports and evaluate themselves and/or are evaluated by supervisors.  The Board of Trustees requires regular reports regarding all operations of the University.”

Reed believes that administrators are committed to the academic core vision of Fairfield and disagrees with Epstein’s claim.

“I know well the tremendous dedication and hard work that so many put into their work on a daily basis for the betterment of Fairfield University, its mission, students, etc,” he said.  “They, in my view, understand fully and care deeply about the academic mission.  Also, as a senior administrator myself, who is also an alumnus and an adjunct faculty member, I believe my commitment to the academic core mission is clear and has grown only stronger over the 13 years I’ve been privileged to work at Fairfield.”

Around 5 p.m. on Monday, an official statement from the University commented on the main issues expressed at May Day event. It stated that negotiations will continue with the 33 employees from the Department of Facilities Management to produce a “mutually beneficial agreement.

“In addition, officials are also engaged in annual discussions with faculty representatives regarding compensation as part of the institution’s academic shared governance structure.  Fairfield is fully committed to a competitive compensation program for faculty to support the recruitment and retention of high quality faculty overall,” the statement said.

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