Havre Daily News
Montana State University-Northern faculty union negotiators floated a proposal this week that would change the way instructors are compensated for online courses.
The union's president said today the proposal is in its infancy, and an administration official said a number of questions need to be answered before the college can address it.
“We do have something in place now, and this was a start at trying to look at something a little different,” Federation of Teachers Local 4045 president Roger Stone said. “It may be something we have to work on over the next contract period to further develop it.”
Stone said online course offerings are becoming more common in higher education throughout the country, and different schools take widely different approaches to compensation.
“Internet delivery compensation models are all over the map,” he said. “It's not something you just want to rush into and change for the sake of change.”
Under the old contract, faculty members receive additional pay for such courses only if they are teaching above their normal courseload of 24 credits, university negotiator Kevin McRae said.
If an online or other alternative delivery course, such as a correspondence course, puts an instructor above that threshhold, the faculty member is compensated at a rate of $55 per credit hour, multiplied by the number of students in the class, McRae said.
Under the new proposal, faculty members can choose to decline compensation and keep the rights to courses they develop, or accept payment in exchange for those rights.
If they chose to accept compensation, the faculty is proposing a fee structure for instructors who develop online courses and for other instructors who teach them. Under the proposal, instructors who develop a course would be paid $1,500 and a royalty fee of $375 for each of the first four times the course is offered. Any faculty member who teaches the course would be paid $375.
After the class has been offered four times, it would become university property and no royalty payments would be made.
The proposal also includes provisions for courses that use some prepackaged course materials, available from textbook companies and other sources, and for hybrid courses, which include some class time and some required online work.
McRae said the administration is trying to assess the financial impact of the proposal to determine how much it would change the current payment system.
Negotiators continued to work toward common ground on a number of other proposals. They met Monday and Tuesday, in the third negotiating session since October, and will meet again in January.
The nonfaculty union approved a new contract last month.
The university has stuck by its offer of a 3.5 percent pay increase this year and a 4 percent increase next year for faculty members. It is also offering a base salary increase of up to 10 percent to recruit new faculty members.
The union is now asking for raises of 4.5 percent and 5 percent, down from 7.5 percent and 8 percent in the last negotiating session.
The union is asking that this year's raise be made retroactive to Aug. 1, while the university wants to make it retroactive to Oct. 1. The contract expired June 30.
Both parties agree on a measure that would allow faculty members to keep occupational experience points, which increase their pay, when they earn a doctorate degree. Under the old contract, faculty lost those points when they earned a doctorate and moved into a different salary group.
Stone said negotiators this week spent a lot of time talking about what each side wants and how to achieve it.
“It seemed to me that what we need to do is take some time and talk through some things,” he said. “Really that's what happened. The two teams sat together and discussed our different perspectives and different needs and goals. It was really quite helpful.”
Both Stone and McRae said the negotiations have been going well.
“The negotiations have been very productive and continue to be productive,” McRae said.
McRae is hopeful a settlement can be reached at next month's session.
“I think there's a good chance there will be,” he said. “The university system will come in with every attempt to reach a settlement.”