Contract negotiations between Wright State University and its faculty have stalled and union leaders said they are being asked to make big concessions for talks to continue.
Wright State president Cheryl Schrader has declined to comment on ongoing talks between the administration and the WSU chapter of American Association of University professors. But, recently the chairman of Wright State’s board of trustees provided some insight into what might have stalled negotiations.
“The board is unanimous in its belief that the negotiations are about flexibility,” board chairman Doug Fecher said during a recent trustees meeting. “We truly hope that we can find a way to move forward…We do want to get this thing done.”
That “flexibility” is what Wright State’s AAUP leaders are most concerned about, said Martin Kich, president of the chapter and a professor at the school’s Lake Campus. Due to Wright State’s recent financial problems, Kich and others worry that the administration want to make it easier to lay off faculty and eliminate academic programs.
In June, Wright State’s board of trustees slashed more than $30.8 million from the university’s budget. Italian, Japanese and Russian language courses were the only academic programs that were to be scrapped by budget cuts.
The administration has asked the faculty union to consider having a “global discussion” about contract details, Kich said, which he interprets as the administration wanting to “change the ground rules” of negotiations.
“That language is there to ensure they don’t do anything impulsively,” Kich said. “It ensures that people don’t just start cutting programs because in the short term that saves them some kind of money without thinking of the long term implications.”
Pay, which is often one of the more contentious factors for entities negotiating contracts, has not been a big one for Wright State’s faculty this time around, Kich said. With the university’s financial issues, Kich said faculty have no grand expectation of raises.
Although the faculty contracts expired in June, an agreement with the administration means the expired contracts will remain in place until a new one is reached, Kich said. Talks began in January and Kich said it first appeared that the administration and union would reach an agreement relatively easily.
“Most of it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Kich said. “There’s always some stuff each side puts down that is wish list stuff but from my perspective it was not particularly contentious in any way.”
Then in March, former Wright State president David Hopkins abruptly resigned and Curitis McCray was hired as interim president. The change in leadership briefly halted talks and then the administration brought in an attorney to handle the remainder of negotiations, Kich said.
At this point, Kich said he doesn’t expect a deal to be reached until next year. While Kich wouldn’t rule out a faculty strike, he said he’s not even sure how the union would handle one since it has never had to.
“We’ve never gotten to a point where this was a real possibility,” Kich said. “It would seem kind of stupid if we got to that point. But, we’ll see what happens.”