Katie Ward and Brian Healy
Editor-in-Chief and News Editor
After ten long months of negotiations, the USF Faculty Association and the University have officially agreed on a contract for full time professors. The vote took place over a week, March 6-13, where professors had the opportunity to vote electronically over the course of the full week. They had three options to choose from on the ballot: vote for a 15 percent salary increase over six years, vote for a 17 percent salary increase over six years, or vote to reject the contract as a whole.
Of the union’s 500 members, 423 participated in the vote. 80 percent of the voting faculty voted in favor of at least one version of the contract, although the vote was closely divided between the two versions. In the end, 55 percent of the “yes” votes chose the 17 percent salary increase, while 45 percent chose the 15 percent salary increase.
So why would people vote to take less money? According to professor Elliot Neaman, who serves as the president of the full-time faculty association, in the version of the contract that included a 17 percent salary increase, “there was a proposal that people really didn’t like that would have increased the workload for new term hires,” he said. This proposal states that any new term hire — i.e. a newly hired full time professor who has not earned tenure — is required to teach four courses per semester for their first two years at the University, although the hiring dean has the option to substitute one of those courses with a service, like advising a student organization or sitting on a committee.
By comparison, full time professors who have already been hired are only required to teach three courses per semester, with the option to substitute one of those courses for a service. Ultimately, these professors were concerned that they were accepting more pay at the expense of the University’s new hires.
Professor Joshua Gamson, who teaches in the sociology department, does not think it’s beneficial for new term hires to carry a four course workload for their first four semesters at the University. “They created a new class of worker with that contract,” said Gamson. “It’s a different workload than is already existing and there’s some concern that that could be the beginning of changes. There were some reasons for it, but it could be the beginning of changing workload expectations for other people as well,” he said.
Although this was a divisive element of the contract, Neaman is optimistic about the future of the union. “I think that the union shows that it is strong because we’re able to have differences in opinion about things like this, debate them, vote on them, and then still come together and be strong,” said Neaman.
“I was in favor of bringing the contract to a close, so I was in favor of the 17 as well as 15 percent [increases],” said professor Ronald Sundstrom, who serves as chair of the philosophy department. Although Sundstrom refused to reveal his vote, he said that many in the faculty association have voiced their doubts regarding the effectiveness of a four-course workload for new term-hires. “There are concerns with the added teaching load for new full-time term faculty, whether that load would be too much to sustain,” said Sundstrom, “and given our economy right now, in some fields there are very few openings for professors, and our new rule allows us to exploit a very unfortunate employment climate for would-be term professors,” he continued.
When asked if he thought the heavier course load would create consequences in terms of student experience, Sundstrom said, “Some people would think so, because these faculty would be so busy, how could they possibly pay attention to students, right?” However, he said, “Others think no, because if you look around the country there are excellent places to go and get an education, with excellent professors giving that education who teach a 4/4 or even higher [course] load,” said Sundstrom, who was referring to the four courses that new full-time term hires will have to undertake for both fall and spring semesters.
Santa Clara University is a suitable comparison to USF, and with exception to Santa Clara’s School of Law and Jesuit School of Theology, the official teaching load for tenured and tenure-track faculty is seven courses per year under the quarter system, which equates to five on the semester system. This means that, until this contract was approved, USF and Santa Clara shared similar guidelines for faculty course loads.
Ultimately, USF will now need to hire new term professors under more demanding requirements. But the existing full time professors at USF were able to achieve their ultimate goal: a salary increase that reflects the increase in the cost of living in San Francisco.
Photo by Racquel Gonzales/ Foghorn