By Erin Shanahan
The university administration has set the faculty salary raise to 2.1 percent for the coming academic year without an agreement from the Fordham Faculty Senate, a decision that faculty says violates the university’s own rules.
The university’s failure to uphold its shared-governance policies will affect the climate of the university considerably, according to Andrew Clark, chair of the Faculty Salary & Benefits Committee.
“If the faculty no longer believes in its institution’s shared governance policies, then their commitment and involvement to the institution is going to radically change,” Clark said in a phone interview. “Having a faculty that feels marginalized and alienated will have a negative impact on the entire community as a result.”
Administration announced the increase for faculty salary unilaterally in an email on June 14, though they failed to reach an agreement with Faculty Senate at the end of the last academic year. The Faculty Senate Salary and Benefits Committee, which represents the entire full-time faculty at the university, meets annually with the university’s administration to reach an agreement on salary.
In a rebuttal email sent on Aug. 17 to all faculty by the Salary and Benefits Committee, the committee said this decision is in violation of university statutes 4-08.01 that states “the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee shall review with the administration the faculty salary structure of the University…[and] shall determine annually with the Administration the allocation of monies for faculty salaries and fringe benefits, subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees.”
The Senate contends this means the university does not have the right to determine salary increases for faculty unilaterally.
Discussions on faculty salary for the 2016-2017 year left off on May 20, when the Salary and Benefits Committee proposed an “all in” increase of 2.7 percent while the Administration proposed an “all in” increase of 2.1 percent, accounting for the combined expenditures for the across-the-board increase and the merit increments is referred to as the “all in” cost.
Hirst declined an interview request from The Fordham Ram, but the university provided a statement instead explaining that the university made appropriate decisions.
“The Board of Trustees is the final authority on salaries and benefits, per the University Statutes, and the statutes set forth Fordham’s commitment to achieving and maintaining a level of faculty compensation that places the University in the first quintile or at the 80th percentile of the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Category 1 educational institutions.”
In rebuttal email, the President of the Faculty Senate and English Professor Dr. Anne Fernald, warned that the university’s failure to abide by its own rules could have serious consequences.
“The Administration’s recent statutory violations have profound implications for all of us,” she wrote in an Aug. 17 email to faculty. “If the statutory violations are not challenged and unilateral decision-making by the Administration becomes precedent, not only are healthcare benefits at stake, but nearly any aspect of individual faculty contracts (which reference the Statutes) could be abrogated.”
“We do not deny the power of the Board to establish the University’s budget, but we do insist that there are processes to be followed in establishing that budget,” the letter continued. “The Board can reject what the Faculty Senate and Administration have agreed upon, but that does not mean that it can substitute and impose a salary decision in lieu of an agreement reached by a process mandated by the Statutes.”
The Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee initially proposed a 1.6 percent increase in “purchasing power,” contingent upon a multi-year salary agreement that would ensure long-term salary growth, according to Clark. This proposal linked all future across-the-board salary increases to the local Consumer Price Index plus an additional 1.6 percent increase.
However, the administration said it could not commit to a multi-year salary increase, given that it could not adequately project student enrollment and tuition revenue.
“After some concessions, we ultimately countered with the final proposed 2.1 percent increase, to be paid for by slashing the critical funds set aside as a contingency to cover the University’s unanticipated expenses and advance strategic initiative,” said Hirst in an email to faculty, citing that 92 percent of the university revenue comes from student tuition and fees.
“While there are a number of issues at stake in salary and benefits negotiations,” Hirst wrote, “one of the most fundamental is balancing our already-generous faculty compensation profile with the need to improve affordability for our students, now and in the future.”
The Faculty and Benefits committee claimed that her statement was misleading.
“We strongly reject any insinuation that pits faculty against mission and students,” the Faculty and Benefits Committee stated in their letter, “Our excellence in teaching, research and service and our dedication to the University’s mission brings students to the University and generates revenue. Without faculty, there is no Fordham.”
Clark said this breach in the university statutes has repercussions for everyone on campus.
“After this past violation, it is clear that guidelines that affect the student in the university statutes could now be equally violated,” said Clark.
The Faculty’s 2.1 percent raise is the lowest of the past 11 years. In 2010, during a recession, the negotiated salary increase was 2.4 percent, according to the faculty and benefits rebuttal email.
Faculty salary will be discussed at the first Faculty Senate meeting of the semester, which will take place this Friday, Sept. 9, at Lincoln Center. Agenda items include discussions about how faculty should respond to the current situation, including whether it should file a formal grievance against the university, or ask for a formal vote of no confidence in the administration.
In addition, on Friday, Sept. 23, the Senate will hold a Faculty Forum featuring a presentation by Dr. Howard Bunsis from Michigan State University. Bunsis, an expert on university budgets, will provide a detailed analysis of Fordham University’s finances.
“Salary and benefits issues are highly complex, obviously, affecting operations and programming across the University,” said Hirst. “The administration is willing to immediately commence negotiations on compensation for fiscal year 2018, including consideration of a multi-year salary and benefits package.”
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly detailed a “1.9 percent increase in ‘purchasing power'”. It has since been corrected to a “1.6 percent increase in ‘purchasing power'”.