A mass of over 100 red-shirted Portland State University faculty and their supporters rallied outside PSU's Millar library yesterday afternoon in protest of the administration's failure to adequately address their grievances: chiefly, insufficient salaries and excessive workloads.
“PSU faculty are a genuine force to be reckoned with,” bellowed Gary Brodowicz, speaking through a megaphone from atop the library steps. Brodowicz, the president of PSU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, cautioned that what many PSU-AAUP members see as the administration's intransigence could put “student access to high quality faculty in jeopardy.”
As I marched alongside the red-shirts to the auditorium where they would hear out Provost Roy Koch, who had scheduled an info session to put his contract proposal “in context,” I asked some of them whether the “got strike” pins many sported constituted an actual threat.
“Absolutely,” said Mary, a $43,000 Academic Professional with 2 master's degrees, who has worked at PSU for 8 years. “The personal needs of the faculty shouldn't be given the back seat.”
“I hope it doesn't get that far,” said Jim Bickford, who makes $49,000 teaching graduate level Special Education after seven years at PSU. But he couldn't be sure it wouldn't.
Since negotiations between PSU-AAUP and the PSU administration faltered in December, faculty anger has only increased. Now, employees worry that whatever solution the university imposes will not be retroactive—meaning that pay raises will likely not be applied to the academic year that is now nearing its end.
By shortly after 3 o'clock, the auditorium had filled, and the collectively short-tempered red-shirts quickly grew impatient with a fidgety, white-shirted Koch.
“I don't understand what we're fighting about,” said Koch to a chorus of hissing adults. Koch emphasized that as a former PSU faculty member, he was particularly concerned about faculty salaries. But despite the legislature's recent allocation of a large chunk of money to PSU—which Koch says amounts to $23.9 million this year—he explained that “the Legislature was very prescriptive with how that money should be spent.”
A series of hostile questions ensued. Were the double-digit salary increases for administrators discretionary? Why was nothing being done to lessen professorial workloads? Was Koch aware that though the percentage of faculty salaries spent on benefits appeared high—a point Koch had made via graph to boost faculty confidence in him—this was simply a result of salaries being so low?
One of the opposition's most vocal critics was David Morgan, a respected sociology scholar who has been teaching at PSU for 20 years. A tenured professor who now makes $36.000 a year working half-time, in part because he grew tired of being “battered around,” Morgan said that the AAUP campaign is basically “about justice and respect.”
“I don't think they convinced much of anybody today,” he said. A strike? “There's a strong possibility.”
Roy Koch (hand on forehead) was in no mood to talk after the tense session. But according to spokesperson Julia Smith, “We're still in mediation and we're hoping for an agreement. We're committed to continuing to have dialogue in mediation sessions.”
Meanwhile, Koch plans to put a “salary calculator” on PSU's website so that faculty can enter various factors—salary, department, experience—and find out what to expect monetarily in the coming years. The next scheduled negotiation session between the PSU-AAUP and the administration will take place on March 6.