From the 3/1/2014 Montpelier-Barre Times-Argus:
As the chair of the Goddard College Faculty Union bargaining committee, I write to correct misinformation in the Feb. 24 piece “Difficult for both sides” by Goddard College acting President Avram Patt and to offer my perspective on our union contract negotiations.
All parties agree that Goddard needs to stabilize its budget. In order to meet a shortfall caused by a downturn in enrollment, the faculty have already made significant sacrifices, including giving up our last scheduled pay raise in 2012 and taking unpaid leaves and furloughs throughout the current fiscal year. And, over months at the bargaining table, the union bargaining team has repeatedly expressed readiness to make further financial sacrifices necessary to get the college through its current challenges. We are willing to do so because we are convinced that by working together under good leadership, Goddard can surmount these difficulties, generate needed income and continue to flourish as a leader in progressive education.
Unfortunately, the Goddard administration has frustrated agreement by, among other things, opening negotiations with threats of unilaterally imposing its terms if they were not promptly accepted by the union (“declaration of impasse”), and insisting on the elimination of severance pay. The latter would do nothing to address the college’s current financial problems, but appears linked to an administration objective of restructuring to transform a stable faculty into a “flexible” (read: contingent) one.
Acting President Patt’s claim that the union rejected mediation in August is misleading. In August, the union did not rule out mediation but said that it was premature, until the union was provided with necessary financial information and until the parties had made reasonable efforts to work through the many items on the table. The union did agree in November to meet with a federal mediator, even though we did not believe then (and still do not believe) that the administration has engaged in good faith efforts to negotiate over all subjects on the table. Over three mediation sessions since then, we never received a requested report of the college’s financial activities for the current fiscal year — now more than half over — and did not succeed in discussing many proposals that had been introduced in previous months by both bargaining teams. Until our final mediation session, the administration simply did not move at all from its demand to completely eliminate faculty severance.
Acting President Patt refers to the administration offer that our members are about to vote on as a “compromise proposal” that he implies has been “accepted” by the union. Both these descriptions are simply wrong. The proposal was made by the administration as a mediated best offer that the union agreed to put before our members under the threat that if we did not do so, the administration might declare impasse and unilaterally implement an even more draconian “last best offer” it made in November.
In addition to a severe pay cut and other concessions it would require of our members, the current proposal would cut faculty severance by about half, with the administration retaining the option to seek its total elimination when the proposed contract expires in only four months. This concession in particular would do nothing to address the college’s immediate financial problems, but would certainly facilitate the creation of a “flexible” teaching staff, able to be dismissed without cost to the institution. If this occurs, we will lose what has been one of our great strengths to date: a stable faculty committed to thoughtfully engaging our students from day to day while sustaining the college’s evolving academic programs for the long haul.
The union refused to recommend the approval of the offer, although we did agree not to recommend its rejection. We have simply agreed to let our members decide how to move forward.
Next week, the faculty will vote on the offer and the results will determine, among other things, whether the administration is handed the tools to dismantle our programs at minimal cost and without any sense of financial obligation to long-serving faculty. If our members reject the offer, we hope that the administration will put aside antagonizing and counterproductive threats of impasse and return to the bargaining table. Over recent days, not only Goddard’s faculty but our staff and students have been eloquently and urgently expressing their desire to rebuild a college where we do not think of “sides,” but work together to nurture a thriving institution. With a renewed spirit of mutual respect and dedication to Goddard’s future, that is well within our reach.
Jan Clausen chairs the Goddard College Faculty Union bargaining team and serves on the faculty of the college’s Master of Fine Arts in writing program.