News | Administration

Spar, Bell address contingent faculty union complaints

Updated Oct. 7, 10:38 a.m.

In an email sent to the Barnard community on Thursday evening, Barnard President Debora Spar and Provost Linda Bell publicly responded to recent controversial statements made by the Barnard contingent faculty union and student groups regarding the college’s stance on the union’s ongoing contract negotiations.

Since this February, the union has been locked in negotiations with the college over a first contract. Though both groups have expressed a desire to reach a fair contract, financial feasibility and disagreements over the definition of “fair” have hindered negotiations. The union has been calling for increases in per-course pay for adjunct faculty and per-annum pay for term and other titled faculty, as well as the extension of health care benefits to all contingent faculty.

As negotiations with the college have continued, the union has increased its presence on social media and on campus, circulating a petition among students and alumni, and holding several demonstrations—most recently on Wednesday evening at an event featuring Spar.

Spar and Bell’s email emphasized the college’s commitment to “arriving at a contract that is sustainable, equitable and fair” and to negotiating “in good faith.”

[RELATED: Financial feasibility hinders contract negotiations between Barnard and Contingent Faculty union]

Spar and Bell also defended the college’s retention of legal representation from the Jackson Lewis firm, which the union has repeatedly described as being “union-busting.”

“We have never negotiated with a faculty union before (indeed, most liberal arts colleges have never negotiated with faculty unions), and we want and need to ensure that this first contract sets the foundation for a long and productive working relationship,” they wrote.

Identifying possible misconceptions about Barnard’s faculty makeup, the email stated that less than 30 percent of courses are being taught by adjunct faculty this semester. Though the union has not commented on the percentage of courses taught by adjunct faculty, the union currently represents 180 contingent faculty members.

The email added that a quarter of those courses taught by adjunct faculty are being done so in the dance department, which employs professional dancers to teach technique courses on an ad hoc basis.

“Because of this unit diversity, coming up with a contract that makes sense for all involved is particularly complex,” Spar and Bell wrote.

Spar and Bell also said that while they have not physically been present at negotiation sessions with the union, they regularly consult with the college’s negotiation team and have offered to meet with representatives from both the union and Student-Worker Solidarity, which has also expressed discontent with the college’s handling of negotiations.

“Above all, we remain fully committed to seeing this through and getting it right,” Spar and Bell wrote.

The union and college will have their 16th bargaining session this Friday.

Read the email in full below and check back for updates.

Dear Barnard Community,

We are writing today with regard to our ongoing faculty union negotiations, both to offer a status update and, more importantly, to express our full support for this process—for the union members themselves, whose service we respect and honor, and for the community as a whole. This is, above all, a process that goes to the core of what we do here at Barnard and that is to educate our students. Union bargaining is by its very definition a two-sided endeavor, but we are all dedicated to the mission of the College, and we are fully committed to arriving at a contract that is sustainable, equitable and fair.

First for some background on negotiations. The Barnard Contingent Faculty (BCF)-UAW Local 2110 and the College's bargaining team have met 15 times since February. The BCF-UAW bargaining team includes four unit members and up to four UAW employees, and the College's bargaining team includes four members of the Barnard community, one of whom is a long-time member of the faculty. In addition, we have retained outside legal counsel through Jackson Lewis, a labor and employment firm with considerable experience in negotiating successful contingent faculty union first contracts at such institutions as Washington University and Northeastern University.

Although the union has been publicly critical of our use of Jackson Lewis, Barnard has long employed professional labor counsel during union negotiations, and we believe that having professional advisors in our current process is particularly crucial. We have never negotiated with a faculty union before (indeed, most liberal arts colleges have never negotiated with faculty unions), and we want and need to ensure that this first contract sets the foundation for a long and productive working relationship.  We simply do not have the expertise in-house to undertake such an important project.  

While the two of us are not sitting at the bargaining table, we consult regularly with the team, review and edit countless proposals, and remain deeply involved in the negotiating process. We have offered to sit down with BCF-UAW representatives next week and have presented information about the negotiations at New Student Orientation, Alumnae Reunion, faculty meetings, department chair meetings, alumnae leadership council meetings and the recent Board of Trustees meeting. We have also extended an offer to meet with Barnard members of Student Worker Solidarity who have recently raised concerns about the negotiations.

Secondly, the faculty union is a complicated unit whose membership is heterogeneous, covering a wide range of employment categories from instructors teaching one course a year to those who teach full time. Contrary to what you might have heard, the majority of our courses at Barnard are taught by full-time faculty—faculty who receive full-time salaries, along with College health, retirement, and dependent tuition benefits. In addition, roughly half of the unit's members are adjunct professors who teach only one course per academic year. This fall, less than 30 percent of courses are being taught by adjunct faculty, and a quarter of those courses are in the dance department, where we are fortunate to be able to draw upon the many talents of New York City's professional dance community.  Because of this unit diversity, coming up with a contract that makes sense for all involved is particularly complex.  

That said, we have been and will continue to be committed to bargaining in good faith on both non-economic and economic terms in order to arrive at a comprehensive and fair first contract.  We are working diligently with the unit to address their non-economic proposals, including such things as course observations and evaluations, union rights, and access to services. But we can neither compromise on our core academic mission, nor change the very nature of what it means to be an adjunct faculty member. So issues such as determining which courses are taught, and by which faculty, must be left to the discretion of faculty department chairs and program directors.

Of course, we are continuing to work with the union on economic terms. The College presented its initial economic proposal in May and has made some further adjustments after receiving union feedback. In early August we presented the union's bargaining team with a second comprehensive economic proposal that includes a three-year progression of wage increases. The proposal also includes provisions for a modest professional development fund and a scholarship fund for dependent children. Since then, we have had four bargaining sessions and are still awaiting a response to our offer.  

The next few months will be critical in our effort to arrive at a first contract.  Together, we have a lot of work left to do, and five more bargaining sessions are on the calendar to move towards a fair and comprehensive contract. We will continue to update you on the progress being made, and you can always find the most current information on our website (www.barnard.edu/hr/bcf-uaw-negotiations).

Above all, we remain fully committed to seeing this through and getting it right.  We will continue to partner with the BCF-UAW to produce a contract that fairly rewards the pedagogic commitment of our contingent faculty, while also maintaining ongoing commitments to Barnard's students, full-time faculty, and staff.  

Most sincerely,

Debora L. Spar

President

Linda A. Bell

Provost and Dean of the Faculty

ainsley.bandrowski@columbiaspectator.com | @ACBandrowski

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