UVM, faculty talks move to fact-finding stage of negotiations

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The University of Vermont and the faculty union United Academics have failed to come to an agreement after two months of mediation and have entered the fact-finding stage of negotiations.

An independent fact-finder will review the evidence from both parties and offer a recommendation. The two parties can either accept the fact-finder's report or negotiate further. If no agreement is reached, the Vermont Labor Relations Board would resolve the issue.

Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president for human resources at UVM, said she was disappointed that mediation failed.

"We put forward a fair and reasonable proposal that carefully balanced the importance of increasing compensation for our faculty with the need to keep UVM affordable for our students and their families, and to prevent any need for numerous layoffs of personnel due to increased costs over present and future budgets," Heading-Grant said in a statement.

The main sticking point is salary increases, according to Tom Streeter, a professor of sociology and the president of United Academics. The discrepancy between salaries proposed by the union and the university is within a percentage point, but there is a dispute over how those salary increases will be paid for under a new budgeting model that ties student class enrollments to allocations for each college at the university, Streeter said.

The union wants the university to reduce administrative costs, to help defray potential cuts in certain departments and colleges, Streeter said. In a 2016 study, the American Association of University Professors found that $1 out of every $3 spent at UVM is used to pay university faculty.

"As faculty we are frustrated that our administration diverts resources away from the core academic mission of teaching, research and service to our community," Streeter wrote.

Last week, UVM cancelled a dozen classes in the College of Arts and Sciences, under a new budgeting process that ties classes to student enrollment. Administrators say there has been a decline in interest in the liberal arts since the Great Recession. The college faces a projected budget shortfall of between $3.7 million and $4 million this fiscal year.

"They seem to think it is better to save a few pennies by haphazardly canceling classes and squeezing faculty salaries, instead of taking a hard look at overall priorities at UVM, especially administrative costs," Streeter wrote in a statement. "Contract negotiation is just one part of our work to help the administration straighten out its priorities and start putting education first, instead of last."

The university says that under a newly adopted budget model each individual college determines how funds are to be appropriated after funds are distributed from the central administration, including salaries.

Streeter says salaries are ultimately the responsibility of the central administration. "Some units are able to absorb the cost of modest salary increases, while others may have to reduce expenses to offset the increases," he said.

The university says the union wants to tap a $6 million strategic investment fund for academic salaries. Streeter said this is false. "The union has never stated that and used it only as a comparison to illustrate the flexibility the central administration pulled for itself on things they deem strategic," he said, "we are not asking for anywhere near that much."

The UVM administration says salaries for faculty, not including medical school faculty, are above average. Professors earn $123,619 on average; associate professors make $92,838; assistant professors are paid $78,424, other faculty earn $60,031.

A percent increase in faculty salaries adds $900,000 of additional costs to the base budget, according to UVM administrators. Student tuition makes up more than 70 percent of general fund revenue.

"Mindful of our obligations to students and families to keep tuition increases low, the university has remained concerned in these negotiations that significant increases to faculty payroll may have to involve significant further tuition increases and/or significant cuts to academic units and programs, potentially impacting faculty and other employees directly," according to a press release from UVM.

Two other employee unions that have recently settled with UVM saw salary increases of 2 percent for the current fiscal year.

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