Northern faculty union rejects contract, further talks planned
Members of the Montana State University-Northern faculty union is meeting today to discuss how to proceed in contract negotiations with the state, after rejecting the first attempt less than a month ago.
During the third week of November, the Montana Board of Regents was scheduled to sign off on the final contract with the Northern faculty. Earlier that week however, the Northern union voted 26-17 to reject the contract.
This is the first time in faculty memories that a contract has been rejected.
And among those 26 no votes, there are a number of thoughts on why it was unacceptable.
For Steven Lockwood, an English professor, portions of the contract were "too sloppy" and open to interpretation.
One example of a contract provision he objects to deals with setting office hours.
Lockwood said the faculty used to decide their office hours with the department's chair, a system that worked well with Northern's diverse course schedules including night and weekend classes, nurses who work full shifts and online course instructors.
The rejected contract draft spelled out some number requirements for faculty's office hours, but in ways that many professors aren't really sure how to interpret.
Steve Hesske, another English professor, has a number of concerns, including administrative wages outpacing that of the people they administer.
Hesske said that the chancellor in the mid-1990s made about $88,000, which was twice the salary of a professor of the time. Now Chancellor Jim Limbaugh will be starting next month at $155,000, at least three times today's faculty salary, and at an even higher ratio to staff wages.
"We're the lowest paid faculty in the country, " said John Snider, another professor who helped block the contract. "The administration could do a lot to help both of us. "
Hesske and Snider are worried about the way the administration is handling, or in their opinion mishandling, a wide variety of issues facing the university, including the languishing arts and science department and the launch of a new criminal justice program.
They see in the rejected contract more potential future bungles, that they would hope to avoid.
Now that Northern is one of the last schools to finalize a contract, including the University of Montana in Missoula and UM-Western in Dillon, the faculty union and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education are hoping to get together sometime in January to work on these issues and develop a contract that they can all agree on.
After the union meets today, it will prepare to meet with the OCHE bargaining team, which for Northern includes Associate Commissioner Kevin McRae, Northern Provost Rosalyn Templeton, Northern's Director of Human Resources Kathy Jaynes, Northern Business Director Sue Ost and Northern Student Services Administrator Tracey Jette.
Templeton, as well as faculty union officers Greg Clouse and Steven Don, declined to comment on the negotiations, deferring to McRae and faculty union President Kevin Carlson respectively.
Carlson, who has been experiencing medical issues recently, could not be reached and did not return calls or emails this past month.
McRae said this morning that he was not aware of the concerns raised, but is prepared to take the time after the holidays to develop an agreement that all parties can get behind.