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Daily Egyptian

Faculty union signs off on two-year contract with university

By Bill Lukitsch

The university and the union that represents tenured and tenure-track faculty have reached a collective bargaining agreement after more than two years of contract negotiations.

Members of the Faculty Association voted Monday to approve the terms of the new contract, which modifies some contractual language with regard to faculty responsibilities and rights, a provision union leaders contend is imperative to the preservation of tenured faculty. The contract extends through fiscal year 2018 and provides no pay raises for the 500 instructors employed under it.

The tentative agreement must go before the SIU Board of Trustees for final approval.

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In a statement Thursday, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell said the agreement came from a “positive, collaborative approach” on part of the union and the university “to address issues of mutual concern.”

“I’m proud that the bargaining teams worked hard together to build an agreement in the context of a difficult environment,” Colwell said.

Faculty members have worked under the terms of a contract that expired in 2014 for the last two years. That agreement was struck in 2011 after a six-day faculty strike led by the Faculty Association because the union argued for greater administrative accountability with regard to budget shortcomings.

Dave Johnson, president of the Faculty Association, called the new contract progressive, saying it would assist in “ways of protecting status of faculty and the role of faculty.”

“We had to split some differences, but we ended up with something that we can both live with,” Johnson said.

Some of the changes to the previous contract include procedural reviews for redevelopment of programs, definition of furlough conditions and clarification of faculty promotion and tenure.

Johnson noted that some of the things kept the same in the contract are also viewed as a plus for union members, one being the article between faculty and the university that outlines the terms of faculty layoffs in a financial emergency.

The contract defines the ability of the university to declare financial exigency, which gives a public body freedom to unilaterally lay off tenured faculty members as last resort. The new contract retains the same language, meaning such a declaration is only possible when all other possibilities are exhausted and it can be contested by the Faculty Association.

Johnson called a declaration of such financial emergency possible but unlikely, nevertheless, it is “a process that has to be followed if we ended up in that bad of a situation.”

“Sometimes no change is good,” he said.

While faculty members are not granted raises under the new contract, a re-opener clause allows for the union to negotiate again when — or if — Illinois passes a full budget. In the “unlikely” event the state passes appropriations for public universities on par with funding in previous years, Johnson said he expects those conditions will be re-examined, although few faculty members expect to receive a pay raise given the current financial climate in the state.

Public universities in Illinois have been without a full appropriation following an 18-month budget impasse between the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Two stopgap budgets passed by the state Legislature in 2016 totaled $83 million in state support for the university. The operational funding loss amounted to $18 million in fiscal year 2016.

Though expected, Johnson said the stagnant pay poses the possibility that some tenured faculty could decide to leave the university, but he pointed to the reduction of programs managed by the state as matters of equal or greater concern.

“When you lose experienced people, it hurts,” Johnson said. “I think we’re all concerned what the state’s going to do regarding health insurance and pensions down the road.”

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @lukitsbill.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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The student news site of Southern Illinois University