Eh nihilo nihil fit! Or Nothing comes from nothing; everything has its origins!

Vasilka Atanasova, Senior Staff Writer

Another year has started with hopes for a better future. However, NEIU faculty and students are still not confident what 2011 will offer them. Negotiations over the faculty’s new contract are still in progress, and no confidence votes in the president and the provost carry confusion and distress.

For the last few months, the faculty and staff union and NEIU Administration have been exchanging proposals unsuccessfully. Still in mediation, the union and the administration cannot reach an agreement on many issues. “The Union sees the administration’s proposals as an increase in workload for tenure and tenure-track faculty,” said professor Therese Scheupfer, head of the union on campus. Scheupfer explained that the workload has a combination of instructions, courses and instructional activities, such as internships and independent studies, which some majors require.

Under the current contract faculty are allowed seventeen instructional activities, while the administration proposes having only seven. This takes away instructional activities such as independent study, internships, theses, course development and preparation. Yet, according to the administration’s proposal, they can be assigned such instructional activities, which increases their workload. On the other hand, even if the chair of a department assigns some required individualized instructions the Provost can deny the assignment, because it will produce paid work overload. The administration proposals emphasize that this way they will offer the students more courses, though at the cost of taking away other vital academic instructions.

“You have to give students different kinds of ways of learning. Students who are getting ready to go to graduate school need that mentoring,” said Scheupfer. “That is our concern because [that way] we can’t provide quality instructions,” added Scheupfer.

Development of new courses is an important part of the faculty’s job, in order for the curricula to stay current, and faculty are supposed to get credit for this and have the time to do it. Now the administration wants them to do it without being part of their instructional expectations and without giving them their credit. Administration claims that this is part of their job. If a faculty retires another faculty can take over the course, but they have to have the time to prepare for teaching this course and to receive credit for this task as a separate assignment. Scheupfer said that faculty may have PhDs, but these are expertise in different areas, not in everything. Therefore, it’s about faculty having enough time to do their work and maintain good classes.

Faculty gave up their raises for the last year, and they don’t want their base raises for this year. What they want is for the group of resource professionals and instructors, who are among the lowest paid, in our school’s category, in the country, to get raises, and for all to keep their workload. The faculty is asking for a three percent increase, plus $300 to the base salary across the board. Compensation and workload issues are more complicated within the different divisions of faculty, but generally, the union bargaining team does not support workload increases and has systematically lowered salary increases with each new proposal.

One example is the Academic Resource Professionals’ duties and work week. At first, their work week was 37.5 hours, including lunch hours. Then the administration decided to increase the work hours to 37.5, which did not include the lunch hours. Moreover, administration is not allowed to do this without bargaining it, but they did it anyway. Scheupfer said that over the last two years this administration has been implementing changes and faculty think that this is one reason they are fighting so hard for the contract, so they can legitimize what they have already done, which, under President Hahs and Provost Frank, is definitely not “Invest in faculty and staff to make NEIU a world-class metropolitan university and an employer of choice,” as Strategic Goal number 4 states.

The votes of confidence/no confidence in President Hahs and Provost Frank, by both the student and faculty senate, show a loss of confidence in both. Many of the decisions made were not in students’ best interest and faculty’s suggestions were not taken on many issues. Administration’s proposals for workload increase and decrease of individualized instruction, meaning making changes in programs and courses, are decisions made for shared governance, not for contract negotiations. Yet, they are trying to push this through the contract instead of going to the Faculty Senate.

The prolonged negotiations contribute to faculty unhappiness, but action like this one, and many others, forced the Faculty Senate, just like the Student Government, to conduct a vote of confidence/no confidence last semester. Academic Affairs Committees in all three colleges decides on new courses proposal, program changes or elimination and after that, decisions go to Faculty Council. Faculty Advisory Council advises Provost Frank, who is also Vice President of Academic Affairs. This is how the shared governance should work for all academic affairs in order achieving shared goals. “Shared governance means that things go through process,” said Judith Kaplan-Weinger, Chair of Faculty Senate.

However, current administration has made decisions without following that process, which translates in authoritarian governance. Despite the difficult financial constraints NEIU faces, administration has accepted excessive increases in salary and expects faculty to work more, while falling behind their colleagues at comparable institutions. University administrators should follow and adhere to shared governance policy, which include Faculty Senate participation in budget decision-making and policy implementation. Another decision, that affected students in particular, was the change in activity hour that was implemented despite the objection of the students and faculty. Furthermore, to illustrate the kicks students had to suffer and the disrespect for shared governance is the closing of the Adult and Women Study Program (AWSP). Clearly, issues were spiraling and it came as no surprise that the SGA and the Faculty Senate decided to vote ‘no confidence.’

People have the most trust in universities because they have a system of peer review, or checks and balances. “That kind of process makes institutions like universities self correcting,” said Dr. Gregory Anderson, Faculty Senate Vice-Chair. He compared NEIU to a hospital and explained, “If that was a hospital, maybe you want the hospital administrator to decide where you are buying your scrubs from, but you would want a team of surgeons to decide where to make the incisions and how to cut. You wouldn’t want the hospital administrators making that one.” In our case, NEIU administration is ignoring its “surgeons'” decisions and input, and they are told that their contribution is simply advisory. Anderson added, “That is a very dangerous precedent, because it undermines the core pillar for which the public has trust in institutions of higher education.”

A vote of no confidence is a signal to the Board of Trustees that there is a problem with the leadership of the university. NEIU’s Board of Trustees has the final word, but they haven’t responded yet. It is not just a few unhappy people, but a wide range of problems, which consequently has led to a full faculty vote of confidence/no confidence. “This is really a test of the Board of Trustees,” said Anderson and added that things are not working the way they should and many people recognize that.