UVM professors push for more pay, more faculty

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(Host) The University of Vermont has experienced rapid growth over the past few years. But in the process, faculty members say they’ve been ignored.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, professors say that in upcoming contract negotiations they’ll press for better pay – and more colleagues to share the load.

(Sneyd) UVM has some big plans. It’s going after more students, developing a reputation for research – and it’s been building. A sprawling new student center opened just this year.

But faculty members say they’ve been neglected amid all the growth. And, they say, the numbers over the past six years speak for themselves: 28 percent more undergraduates; 48 percent more revenue from tuition; but just 14 percent more tenure-track faculty positions.

They’re getting ready to negotiate a new contract with the administration. And they say this is a good time to set out their own goals for the university’s future.

Ross Thomson, an associate economics professor, is the faculty union’s chief negotiator.

(Thomson) “The increase in the number of students has put a burden on our ability to provide the kind of high-quality, interactive education that we all desire. And at the same time has made it difficult to conduct the sorts of sustained research that will make this place an outstanding research institution. Something has to give.”

(Sneyd) Members of the union say they support the administration’s goal of making UVM a “premier small research university.”

But they question whether the leadership is putting UVM’s money where its rhetoric is.

They say too many faculty positions are being filled by part-time “adjunct” instructors or lecturers.

English professor Nancy Welch says her department is a good example. As the student population has grown, so has the English department staff. It went from 44 faculty in the fall of 2001 to 57 last semester.

But she says more than half weren’t on “tenure track,” meaning full-time instructors working toward becoming a full professor. She says eleven of them were part-time.

(Welch) “When a university tries to meet growing student demand not by hiring more professors but by hiring people for the short term only, everyone suffers.”

(Sneyd) The union has a solution. Create a “faculty investment fund.” It would be used to pay for new faculty and to even out pay scales.

Union leaders say it’s been done in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The university says the fund isn’t necessary. Spokesman Enrique Corredera says the administration has a strategic plan that includes boosting faculty salaries and numbers. And he says UVM is on track.

(Corredera) “We have always recognized that … a critical element of our strategy and to be able to achieve our broad strategic goals is to improve compensation for our faculty, and staff for that matter, on the campus. … And we believe that the strategic financial plan adequately addresses that and that we have made significant progress to date.”

(Sneyd) He says salaries at UVM are catching up. In 2002, full professors earned 81 percent of the national average. Four years later, they earned almost 90 percent.

And he says more faculty members are being hired. UVM set a goal six years ago of bringing in 84 people to help handle all the new students. By next fall, 61 of them will be on staff.

Whether that’s enough to satisfy the current faculty will be the subject of contract negotiations, which started this week.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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