Pay up already!

73

Like most students, when I schedule classes I consider what I need to take and what I have time to take in order to graduate. When trying to cram science or English in between work and having a life, students don’t need the added stress of potential teacher strikes looming overhead.

Teacher strikes lead to cancelled classes. Financial aid goes awry. Graduation is pushed back. Things relying on diplomas, such as graduate school or potential career offers, are delayed.

Negotiations, including threats of strike, have been ongoing since March 2007. Only recently has a tentative agreement been made and ballots won’t be calculated until Aug. 4 for a decisive agreement to be reached.

Seventeen months is a ridiculously long period of time to leave students and teachers waiting in the lurch. Professors have to assume the dual responsibility of concentrating on continuous bargaining as well as teaching.

Other urban universities often offer higher salaries, as well as local Oregon community colleges. Portland State teachers’ requests for salary increases to keep up with the demands of inflation caused by our ravaged economy are a realistic and understandable motive. Teachers’ prime concern should be about students’ education, not making sure that they have enough money to pay the bills.

“In the 2005-07 agreement, the association negotiated an 8 percent salary increase,” Julia Getchell, executive director of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) PSU chapter said.

“That was in the year the state underfunded PSU. We are still perplexed why the university is pleading poverty when it comes to raising faculty salaries. PSU has rising tuition revenue and the state increased its piece of PSU’s budget 18 percent for 2007-09,” Getchell explained.

All and all though, it isn’t about tuition increases, it’s about earning a livable wage. “We were hoping for a 12 to14 percent salary increase in that funding context. Twelve to 14 percent is what the faculty at Eastern, Southern and Western Oregon Universities negotiated,” Getchell commented.

With the high cost of urban living, the suburban universities can seem enticing to underpaid employees struggling with astronomical housing increases, school loans, Multnomah County taxes and other living expenses. Many teachers relent in emigration, leaving PSU after only a few years of teaching. If PSU wants to retain good teachers, a competitive wage needs to be offered.

Getchell said that PSU faculty salaries are 20 to 30 percent less than the average of similar universities. Talking with PSU counselors, I discovered that Oregon community college instructors often have a higher salary than PSU instructors.

Community colleges obtain funds from a different pool of money, but tuition is still about half of what PSU charges, which makes it seem like a choice of priorities during the allocation process, rather than a lack of funds.

Teachers should be a university’s most prized commodities. If PSU cannot afford to pay its teachers a decent wage, it shouldn’t be building recreation centers or heroine walks. Although those additions enhance the college experience, it’s the education that we receive that will be most beneficial when we graduate.

Hopefully this tentative agreement becomes an actualized agreement. It should only be the first step toward being competitive though, because instructors’ salaries will still be below average compared with their peers at comparable institutions.

“The university’s Targeted Market Increase salary model will invest only 1 percent of the instructional faculty salary base,” Getchell said. “That is far too little money to bring faculty salaries to the average of similar universities. “

To add another blow to an already downtrodden faculty, Getchell explained, “In a double whammy, only one-half of the instructional faculty–about 400 faculty members–will get this salary increase.”

If the tentative agreement is not approved, then it’s back to the drawing board. This is not a situation anyone wants to be in. Enough time has been wasted on both the administration and the teachers’ sides.

When I asked Randy Blazak, a sociology professor and member of the union’s executive council, what he thought would expedite a compromise in the future without having to threaten striking, he replied, “I would say that it is important for the faculty to feel like they are valued and respected, both on campus and at the bargaining table.”

“There is a lot of discussion about ‘capital investments’ at PSU but there is no greater investment in a university than in its faculty.”

I agree with Blazak that teachers should be compensated so they feel respected and valued by PSU.Personally, I have had some incredibly intelligent teachers at this university. They are passionate about their subject areas and eager to enhance students’ education. These teachers deserve to be paid accordingly. My fingers are crossed.

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