SCRANTON - The University of Scranton faculty contract negotiations, which began in February and continued throughout the summer, are stretching toward the Aug. 31 deadline when the contract is due to expire, just five days after classes for the fall semester begin.
The main obstacle on the bargaining table, according to Faculty Affairs Council (FAC) Chairman Michael Friedman, is "New Department Chair Concept," which was introduced as a "non-negotiable stipulation." He said the concept takes the current positions of academic department chairpersons as elected full-time faculty members and replaces them with administrative appointees.
A statement released by the council in May stated, "This action constitutes an unfair labor practice because it takes work being done by union members and transfers it to non-union employees."
Stan Zygmunt, University of Scranton spokesperson, said following that statement's release, "The new approach to academic chairs to which we aspire responds to the challenging and dynamic landscape of higher education nationally; supports our pursuit of strategic opportunities and will lead to more efficient and effective academic administration."
"Of course," he continued, "we have always fully recognized our legal obligations to negotiate over the impact of moving in that direction, including any issues surrounding potential changes in bargaining unit work."
Friedman said the concept spurred the faculty to a 160 to 27 vote, which ended via electronic ballot April 13, to adopt a strict "work to rule," or "minimal compliance" status in meeting contractual obligations. He said this means the union members agree to temporarily uphold all mandatory duties outlined in the Faculty Handbook, but refrain from all duties not contractually mandatory, as a method of "pressuring administration" to agree with faculty terms for the new contract.
According to the May statement, the "New Department Chair Concept" also provoked numerous letters of protest, a boycott of the university's Faculty Appreciation Dinner March 30 and a pledge signed by 216 faculty members, stating they will not accept an appointment to the department chair position if it is not included in the collective bargaining unit represented by the Faculty Affairs Council.
Now as the fall semester approaches, Friedman said, "The faculty are prepared to continue their Minimal Compliance efforts. Therefore, they will not be taking part in the University's Fall Welcome Weekend or the Fall Convocation, where the coveted John L. Earl III Award for service to the university, the faculty and the wider community is usually presented. Since Dr. Earl was a former Chair of FAC and a strong supporter of the union, the faculty members on the selection committee have declined to meet to choose a recipient of the award named after him until the faculty have a fair contract."
At the end of May, Friedman said he was hopeful university President Rev. Kevin Quinn would withdraw the "New Department Chair Concept," after a then-recently requested meeting with the Faculty Senate's Executive Committee for further consideration of the concept.
He said, however, "Unfortunately, that action did not take place…Fr. Quinn adamantly announces his belief in shared governance, but in practice he does not seem to be willing to allow the clear voice of the faculty to affect his actions."
Friedman said although the FAC and University table teams have continued to meet over the summer, progress is slow, partially due to the absence of the University's lead negotiator, Attorney Nick DiGiovanni, of Boston, who he said was "unavailable for long stretches over the summer, and the University will not meet without him."
Friedman added that two negotiation sessions were scheduled for Aug. 14 and 15, but if neither a contract extension nor tentative agreement are made by Aug. 31, the contract will expire.
The University remains hopeful. Gerald C. Zaboski, Vice President for External Affairs, said in a statement, "Building on considerable progress made during bargaining sessions held thus far, the University hopes and expects that the union team will work hard with our team during our upcoming sessions to reach a new contract."
Zaboski added, "Labor negotiation is not a spectator sport with weekly updates, and, as we have said before, we will not respond publicly to incomplete or misleading union claims, which are part of their prearranged publicity campaign. Having said that, if we do not reach final agreement after our remaining sessions, we will update our faculty in detail as to why and identify any remaining stumbling blocks."
Meanwhile, the FAC's cause is receiving some attention on a national level. Friedman said a "resolution in support of the FAC efforts" was approved by the Executive Committee of the Collective Bargaining Congress (CBC), "the umbrella organization for all of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) collective bargaining chapters across the country." He said he is encouraged by the resolution and hopes it will have an effect on the University administration, but can't guarantee it will.
The faculty's current contract includes a no-strike clause; when it expires, so will that clause. Friedman said he is unable to speculate about what actions may occur at that time.
"I can only say that University of Scranton faculty care a great deal about their students and would never do anything to interfere with their education unless they felt that they had absolutely no other choice," he said. "FAC would strongly prefer to see the current contract extended until we can achieve an agreement."