Faculty at SOU to skip raises

Faculty at Southern Oregon University say they have agreed to forgo salary increases this year and next in an effort to soften cuts proposed across the university.

The Associated Professors of Southern Oregon University, the faculty union, said Tuesday it had settled a new two-year contract with university administration that includes little or no salary increase for employees.

Eligible professors will receive step increases of 1 or 2 percent on their base salary, but they won't receive cost-of-living increases or any other raise, Provost Jim Klein said.

"That does change their base salary," said Klein.

The union voted to ratify the contract Monday evening. Out of 200 union members, 116 voted, with 93 voting in favor of the contract.

If the university weren't facing such steep cuts, the union would have bargained for a cost-of-living adjustment and a salary increase to keep the compensation competitive with other universities, said APSOU President Jim Rible.

"It's pretty hard to bargain for a raise, though, when we're facing cuts," he said.

Rible said the union hopes that giving up raises will help save positions and money for the university.

"That's the hope, and hopefully it will happen," he said.

University administration announced in November its plan to embark upon retrenchment, a process in which it can cut staff and academic programs as it sees fit.

The university needs to cut between $3.3 million and $5 million over the next few years, with the amount dependent upon enrollment and funding.

The faculty union has been bargaining with the administration since last May, and the current two-year contract ended at the end of August.

"By settling the faculty contract, Southern Oregon University has a clearer picture of payroll costs and how many people will be laid off," said a release Rible sent out on behalf of APSOU early Tuesday.

"We are hopeful that agreeing to no salary increases will allow us to direct more funding toward academic programs, reducing the depth of proposed cuts," said Vicki Purslow, a professor of music, in the release.

A provisional plan released in February included cutting several majors and minors, including the entire physics department, and eliminating 12.5 professors over the next few years.

Klein said he wasn't able to comment on how the contract might affect the cuts proposed as a part of retrenchment.

"I can't talk about retrenchment, since we're still in the comment period," he said.

Some faculty members have expressed concern about the proposed cuts, questioning the ability of Klein, President Mary Cullinan and Vice President Craig Morris.

"There are ongoing concerns about the ability of current leadership to lead the university through this planning process and back into fiscal health," said Rible's release.

The faculty has spent the last week participating in a confidential vote of confidence or no confidence in university administration.

If a majority of faculty members vote they are not confident in university leadership, the SOU Faculty Senate could make a recommendation to the Oregon University System to remove university administrators from their posts.

The results of the vote are expected to be released Monday.

Klein said he was pleased that the bargaining teams were able to resolve a contract.

"Everybody was working really hard to come to an agreement," said Klein. "I'm really appreciative that we were able to."

Two other public universities in Oregon — Portland State University and Eastern Oregon University — are facing financial crises similar to SOU's and have yet to settle on faculty contracts for this year.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.

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