After months of debate and protest, full-time faculty members of Fairfield University have reached an agreement on the future of their collective salaries and benefits.

On Friday, Sept. 6, faculty members gathered in the Kelley Center for a General Faculty meeting. During this congregation, they voted on the most recent Memo of Understanding (MOU) for the 2012-13 school year.

The MOU serves as “a contractual document that specifies all faculty compensation,” as stated by Dr. Irene Mulvey, professor of mathematics and former secretary of the General Faculty.

One hundred forty five faculty members voted in favor of the new MOU, with 70 voting against it and two citing abstention. With an approximate 2-1 vote, the MOU is considered to be approved by the General Faculty.

Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, a member of the administration, expressed positivity towards this latest occurrence. “I was pleased to see that the faculty voted to accept the MOU that was the result of collegial conversations between elected representatives of the faculty and appointed members of the administration,” he said.

Although some faculty members did not agree with the new standards laid down by the revised MOU, the general disapproval is less than that of the previous MOU meeting held on April 27, in which 185 faculty members voted against the version in review at the time.

So why was it rejected in the first place? In MOU of the 2011-2012 school year, the administration promised to maintain the faculty’s compensation rank within the 95th percentile. Since its introduction in 1994, this standard of compensation is meant to serve as a means of economic security for faculty members.

In a previous Mirror article, Mulvey described this benchmark as a “standard of our profession since it compares our compensation with other schools in our category.”In the original version of the 2012-13 MOU, the administration cited its intent to distance itself from this benchmark, which lead to its unanimous rejection by a General Faculty vote.

Fitzgerald explained his understanding of this situation: “The past few years have been difficult for most every member of the Fairfield University community – faculty, staff and students. We have all sought to prioritize students, allocating additional financial aid to those whose family financial situations deteriorated significantly. We also limited the tuition increase this past year to a figure below the rate of inflation.”

In the aftermath of the rejected MOU last April, faculty members and students gathered on May 9 to protest what they saw as a broken promise, made evident by chants and signs alike.

The administration responded to the unapproved MOU and subsequent protests through renegotiation, though “the vote by the General Faculty could not take place until September,” as they are not on contract during the summer, according to Mulvey.

The new language of the accepted MOU explains that the administration is committed to the 95th percentile for this year, until a new benchmark system can be implemented for the 2013-14 school year.

However, Dr. Giovanni Ruffini, assistant professor of classical studies, pointed out that the MOU refers to “a revised benchmarking [that will be] in place for the 2013-14 MOU and FY14 budget,” emphasizing the legal concreteness of the term “shall.” He explained how this contradicts the part of the agreement that states the 2013-14 MOU must first be agreed upon by the Faculty Salary Committee and the administration.

Ruffini went on to say: “Most of the people who were opposed to this MOU said this is a problem, because they want to get rid of the 95th percentile, and if we can’t agree on something by then [the 2013-14 school year], they will simply impose what they want to impose.”

As this annual renegotiation is necessary, the question remains: will there be further debate in the future?

“Moving forward, all eyes will be on this year’s negotiations,” said Dr. Susan Rakowitz, current secretary of the General Faculty Committee. “In light of some of the things that the administration proposed last year (and the faculty overwhelmingly rejected), the faculty is very wary.”

She continued: “If the administration takes those stances again, the faculty will respond with the same united opposition we showed last spring. If, on the other hand, the administration enters into negotiations with more reasonable proposals, I’m hopeful that we can move past the conflicts engendered by last year’s negotiations.”

Mulvey shared similar sentiments: “In my opinion, what happens this year – what happens right now – will set the tone and will affect how the conflict of last year is viewed in the long term.”

Mulvey went on to say: “Faculty will want to see financial decisions made that reflect our commitment to our core academic mission, and compensation directly affects our ability to attract and retain the high-quality faculty that provide the excellent education that Fairfield is known for.”

“We have extremely important discussions ahead of us and how those play out will be of great importance to the faculty,” said Mulvey.

Fitzgerald shared his hopes on the future of this subject: “As the country emerges slowly, too slowly, from the shadow of the recession, we here at Fairfield will do well if we continue to be guided by a sense of solidarity and generosity, two values which I believe are very much in evidence at this time.”

Some faculty members, like Ruffini, remain firm in their stance. “We’re never going to let them take the 95th percentile from us,” he said.

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