Sessions 32 & 33: Good news/Bad news

March 02, 2016 / Phil Lesch

We met for two days of back-to-back bargaining.  On Thursday, we had a frustrating session arguing about some of the economic data that’s been presented.  But on Friday, we made some serious progress on two of our remaining outstanding issues—professional development and sabbatical.

Bad news first.  Howard Bunsis, chair of the national AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, joined us at the table on Thursday morning in a room packed with our members.  He presented an analysis of PSU’s financial health that was developed largely in response to the information Kevin Reynolds presented to the Finance and Administration subcommittee of the Board of Trustees.  Reynolds asserted that PSU will face a dire crisis when PERS rates rise that could result in lay-offs.  He also claimed that PSU faculty and AP salaries are competitive with our peers.  Howard Bunsis, an accounting professor whose specializes in public pensions, soundly refuted that forecast.  Using audited financial reports, he showed that there has been a steady decline in the amount of money going into instruction, while institutional support (upper administration) has grown over the same time period.  Bunsis’ data definitively made the case that PSU faculty lag far behind our peers in terms of salary.  When cost of living is taken into account, our salaries fall even farther behind.  Finally, the Bunsis presentation showed that the PERS increases won’t result in the doom and gloom budgetary picture that’s being painted.  He questioned why PSU routinely predicts doomsday budget scenarios and large deficits that never come to fruition.

The administrative team’s response to the Bunsis presentation was stoic.  They did not ask questions or engage him in any debate or dialogue.  Later in the day, they claimed that Howard’s work was full of flaws, but would not articulate a single example of how his calculations, data or sources were misguided.   In the meantime, we heard a presentation from HR that explained how the administration came-up with their conclusion that our salaries are on par with our peers.   Their methodology relied upon a peer set that has not been used before and contained institutions clustered in very low-cost of living states like Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.  They compared PSU salaries to salaries in the CUPA-HR data based that were reported two years earlier then “aged.”  These “aged” salaries didn’t even match the data that was eventually reported to CUPA for the comparison year, and the CUPA data didn’t match the more robust, federally mandated data that exists in the IPEDS database.  This sparked an hours-long debate between our teams about who PSU’s comparators are.  We advocated for using the OUS comparator set we’ve always relied upon that was methodologically derived, not cherry-picked.

That was Thursday.  We went into Friday’s session feeling like we’d never get anything accomplished.  After experiencing some tension in the morning when the administration scrapped work that had been done in a subcommittee regarding AP transfer policies, we decided to focus on professional development.  We’ve been very direct and up front with the administration about the changes that we want to see in terms of professional development, so we asked to go directly to the options phase of interest-based bargaining.  We presented the problems that our members have trying to access professional development money.  There is currently not enough money allocated to the travel fund to meet demand, and one has to basically win a lottery to fund a conference trip.

The administration shared our belief that professional development money should be available and accessible to all.  We reached a conceptual agreement to create individual professional development accounts for all AAUP members.  This money can be spent on things like conference travel and registration, professional organization dues or licensing fees, books, equipment or supplies, software, training expenses, tuition or fees and so on.  Funds will be allowed to roll over for three years.  After three years, unused funds will go to the Dean’s office to be spent on additional professional development activities.  The individual accounts will replace the Faculty Senate administered travel fund, but the Faculty Enhancement Grant program will remain intact.  The individual accounts will be tiered, with a higher allocation going to tenure-related faculty and a smaller amount awarded to NTTF and APs, but all members will have an account.  We will determine how much the annual stipend will be during economics bargaining.

We then discussed sabbatical.  We recounted how upset our members were when President Wiewel was offered a sabbatical at 100% pay in the third year of his new contract.  PSU faculty sabbatical pay rates are 85% for one term, 75% for two and 60% for three.  Many faculty take less time than they need to complete their projects, because they can’t afford to live on 60% of their noncompetitive pay.  We also raised some policy issues around split academic year sabbaticals that surfaced recently.  We will figure out the best way to address the policy issues in our next session, but the administration agreed to raise the pay percentages for two and three term sabbaticals.  Like professional development, we will determine the percentage increases during economics bargaining on March 10th.

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