By Joe Vitale
Settling more than a year of negotiations regarding salary and benefits that frustrated university faculty members and spurred the resignation of the administration’s chief negotiator, the Faculty Senate and university administrators reached a final agreement on Friday on a new insurance provider and improved package benefits.
The Senate vote, outlined in an email sent by Mary Ann Forgey, president of the Faculty Senate, follows months of work by the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee and ad hoc committee, which attempted to resolve the faculty’s concerns with the administration’s past proposals.
Yet, following what Forgey called “intense conversations,” Friday’s agreement reflected a consensus reached by the Faculty Senate, whose 25 members unanimously approved the latest proposal.
“The Senate’s approval reflects the confidence that your Senators have in the package as a whole,” said Forgey in the faculty-wide email obtained by The Fordham Ram. “It is the Senate’s hope that the renewed commitment to shared governance evidenced over the past month will continue to characterize the relationship between the faculty and the administration.”
The new package includes a near-two-and-a-half percent salary increase and merit increments of $1253 for half of all faculty members. The plan also ensures promotion increments, a minimum salary level, health insurance cost-sharing and an improved heath insurance plan in retirement.
With the approved package will also be a Courseload Relief proposal—passed by the Senate several years ago—that will be inserted into the university statutes with the new package.
According to an action-minutes report filed by the Faculty Senate in April, the relief proposal allows for a faculty member who is the primary care-giver of a newborn or newly-adopted child to be granted with a semester of relief from teaching and administrative committee work, or, depending on the faculty member’s normal yearly course load, a semester of “half-relief” from such duties. Granted that a faculty member meet the requirements, the proposal guarantees full salary and benefits during the courseload relief period.
Following the accord, professors are beginning to speak out about the negotiations, which they say required considerable compromise on behalf of both parties.
“Debate was strong but the Senate ultimately felt that although not perfect and with serious concerns about the impact on faculty salaries in the future, this was the best possible deal that we could get,” Andrew Clark, Ph.D., associate professor of French and comparative literature, vice president of the Faculty Senate and chair of the faculty salary and benefit committee, said.
“We have enjoyed working collaboratively and transparently over the last month with the president and hope that this will be the new model for negotiations [in] the future,” he added.
Following the abrupt resignation of John Lordan, senior vice president and chief financial officer, who faculty members found to be negotiating in “bad faith,” Clark recently told The Fordham Observer that one of the most significant provisions in the package is an increased transparency between faculty and administration. (Since Lordan’s departure, Frank Simio, vice president for finance, has served as acting chief financial officer, though the university says it is conducting a nationwide search to fill the position.)
“The acting chief financial officer is going to meet with all the chairs and all the different division heads in order to respond to their questions, to explain, but really listen to and involve faculty more in the process of trying to understand the budget and what the challenges are,” Clark told The Observer. “He has also offered to do that for the faculty at large in small groups. “
Members of the Faculty Senate expressed disappointment with Lordan, the administration’s chief negotiator, after his proposal to eliminate Cigna, the University’s current health care plan at the time, without receiving Faculty Senate approval. Senate members also contend that Lordan suggested to increase faculty cost-sharing by 15 percent.
Following the move, the Senate quickly moved to censure Lordan, accusing him of violating the University of Conduct by disrupting a a university-wide faculty meeting in September and limiting the free expression of ideas by members of the faculty “through intimidation.” The Senate also accused Lordan of refusing a request by officers of the Senate to leave the meeting. With a majority vote, the Senate passed a resolution saying it had “no confidence” in Lordan.
Since his departure, members of the ad hoc committee have negotiated directly with Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university and Thomas Dunne, vice president for the Administration, along with Simio, who temporarily is filling Lordan’s role.
These negotiations, said Clark, “have been productive and much more amicable.” He continued, adding that “rhetorically, there’s been a desire to try to ensure that everyone is acting in good faith, that everyone is speaking, at once, honestly and respectfully.”
Underscoring the considerably constructive meetings in recent days that have helped achieve a long-awaited resolution, Forgey expressed gratitude in her email to members of the faculty, adding that the package “creates space for us to address the many other pressing concerns and needs of the faculty as a whole.”
As for the coming days, she said faculty member should anticipate more details so that they can begin to make plans for the year ahead.
Laura Sanicola contributed reporting.