Defending UM’s Lecturers

The UFA successfully negotiated a solution to the grievance it filed against UM for violating its own policy regarding the appointment of lecturers.

UFA President Paul Haber and UM President Shelia Stearns issued a joint statement on September 21 that read, “To resolve this grievance, the University will issue this group of lecturers AY 17-18 contracts that reflect their FTE, workload, salary (pending any bargained or guaranteed CBA increases) of their previous 16-17 contract.”

This agreement ends the dispute the faculty union launched contending the University violated the CBA when it issued one semester contracts that ended in the termination of lecturers at the end of 2017.

The following statement was made by UFA President Paul Haber on August 24:

Today the University Faculty Association filed an official grievance accusing the University of Montana of violating its own policy in how it treats Lecturers on campus. It is a decision we regret, but find unavoidable given the administration’s decision to not adhere to its rules.

Lecturers are critical faculty members who teach many of the General Education and highest enrolled courses. They have usually demonstrated themselves to be effective and caring teachers and therefore the university created a special policy for them. These teachers are offered annual contracts – as opposed to the course-by-course assignments made to most adjuncts – and if that contract is not to be renewed, the lecturer is told a semester before his or her annual appointment. This gives the faculty member time to find another institution and the university time to ensure another faculty member can teach their course.

This year, on almost the eve of the new semester, the University sent out a letter to many of these faculty members telling them their employment would end at the end of the fall semester. It seems the University adhered to the semester’s notice, but ignored the annual appointment part of the policy. They should have, under the policy they adopted just in March, sent such letters out before the spring semester began in January of this year that they would not receive a new annual appointment.

When the administration informed us of their plans, we sought to negotiate an alternative process. We understand the difficult financial situation the campus finds itself in and hoped we could develop a memorandum of understanding that might allow the university to reduce the number of lecturers while respecting their commitment. They chose not to negotiate with us and now we find ourselves in the position of having to file this grievance to remedy the situation.

And since the letter went out we have had numerous first-person accounts about deans having conversations with some lecturers about teaching in the spring. Some have received and signed annual contracts. The president has publicly stated that she knows some lecturers will be returning to teach.

We still hope to avoid arbitration, but also insist the University abide by its own policies. This is not how we hoped to start such a critical semester at the University of Montana, but we are left with no other option.

A copy of the grievance will be made available to all members of the UFA and the media.

The UFA accused UM of violating University Policy 350, which reads in part:

Persons appointed as members of the faculty with duties devoted primarily to teaching, subject to reappointment annually at the University’s discretion.

After negotiating a solution on this matter, Haber released the following statement on September 22:

We are gratified that the University of Montana and University Faculty Association were able to reach an agreement that ensured all lecturers at UM will be back teaching their important and valued classes this spring.

Announced at Faculty Senate on Thursday, the agreement says the University will issue annual contracts to the lecturers who received notice they would be finished teaching in December. This agreement allows those faculty members, who many of our students value as incredible teachers and mentors, to know that they will be here this full year. It also allows us to avoid a potentially lengthy and uncertain arbitration process that could leave those lecturers unsure of their status well into the winter and possibly the spring.

We want to express our thanks to our colleagues at the MEA-MFT for their work with us and both Main Hall and the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education for negotiating with us once we had filed the formal grievance.

There are still important and difficult decisions to be made at the University of Montana and we hope today also marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation that will ensure that the rights of our members are protected even as the University makes difficult and necessary decisions for the future health of UM.

We will be sending out another message soon that outlines what we at the UFA see as the current challenges regarding APASP and the budget challenges.

Today is a good day for the hard-working lecturers who teach many of our most popular and engaging classes. It is also a good day for their students and for the University community as a whole.