Opinions

OPINION: University of Alaska administration needs to come to terms with its faculty

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University of Alaska faculty are dedicated to helping people achieve their educational and professional goals. We believe Alaskans deserve a stable, affordable, outstanding state university system. These were the guiding principles in 1917 when UA was founded. Since then, UA has grown to offer hundreds of degree programs throughout urban and rural communities. These educational opportunities are essential for each graduate and Alaska’s economy.

For more than a century, UA has attracted expert, first-rate faculty from around the world, and UA students and the state have relied on these educators. Unfortunately, the past decade of state budget cuts culminated in three years of extreme reductions, and faculty reluctantly agreed to a three-year contract (extended for two additional years) with no raises to save the institution. UA administrators cut academic programs that resulted in laid-off educators, fewer course offerings, and less innovation to drive Alaska’s economy.

When time came in August 2021 to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement between United Academics -- the faculty union -- and the university, UA administrators had an opportunity to work cooperatively with faculty to make the best of these tough economic times. Instead, they chose delay and confrontation. Contract proposals from the union sat on the administration’s desk for weeks, even months, without response. That’s what led to the UA administration’s premature and illegitimate claims of a bargaining “impasse.”

During this past year of contract negotiations, the administration stalled on critical issues, including compensation and benefits. With no mutually agreed upon new contract, the rush to secure funding for raises before adjournment of the 2022 Alaska Legislature failed. Faculty will thus begin this academic year having received only a 1% raise in the past six years.

Even before this past year of aggressive bargaining, UA had a faculty turnover rate of 10.8% compared to the national average of just over 8%. Faculty turnover creates instability and less opportunity for students and encourages them to leave Alaska to obtain a degree. Many students who leave never come back.

We also approach this academic year amid disagreement about the legality of the administration’s unprecedented action to implement a new contract without union agreement. This creates a more stressful working environment for faculty members and students. Remember, faculty working conditions are student learning conditions!

United Academics has now largely agreed to the administration’s monetary offers, asking only for the addition of a clause that ensures faculty receive pay adjustments given to other employee groups. The few remaining items holding up a deal are non-monetary issues important to faculty: Fair disciplinary procedures, protections of academic freedom and inclusion of all bargaining unit members in all elements of the contract.

A fair contract will help to retain and recruit faculty who can build their careers at UA’s many worksites around Alaska, enriching Alaska’s economy and Alaskans’ well-being.

If your organization employs UA graduates, students or alumni, or if you are an elected official, send a message to UA Regents and President Pitney urging them to change course and support their faculty and, by extension, Alaska’s post-secondary students. Alaska’s future depends on it.

This commentary is signed jointly by 24 faculty members at the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast. They are: Deb Mole (UAA), Sara Buckingham (UAA), Sharon Chamard (UAA), Nelta Edwards (UAA), John Lutterman (UAA), Kristen Ogilvie (UAA), Tara Palmer (UAA), Pete Praetorius (UAA), Sudarsan Rangarajan (UAA), Toby Widdicombe (UAA), Maria Williams (UAA), Mara Bacsujlaky (UAF), Leah Wrenn Berman (UAF), Abel Bult-Ito (UAF), Jennifer Carroll (UAF), Javier Fochesatto (UAF), Falk Huettmann (UAF), Julie Maier (UAF), Tony Rickard (UAF), Susie Feero (UAS), Jonas Lamb (UAS), Kevin Maier (UAS), Kristy Smith (UAS) and Andrea Dewees (UAS).

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