Faculty debates continue

by Beacon Staff • October 5, 2005

Emerson College faculty and administration representatives have met three times since classes began in September in an attempt to resolve the ongoing dispute over faculty contracts. The two parties agreed during meetings earlier this year that the resolution will result in both a teaching contract and a handbook of guidelines for the relationship between faculty and administration.

The terms of the handbook and the contract have not yet been finalized. Negotiation sessions will continue between administration and faculty to complete an agreement for the Emerson College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (ECCAAUP), the union of faculty members.

David Rosen, vice president of Public Affairs, said the agreement is a step forward in the long-term negotiations between the faculty and the administration.

"At a number of colleges and universities with unionized faculty, that's the usual way for faculty and administration to relate to each other, through a handbook," Rosen said. "It's when you have both a contract and a handbook that questions arise about where the two documents overlap."

The contract would cover terms of employment, such as salary, whereas the handbook would outline broader issues like grievance procedures and academic governance, Rosen said. When negotiations are complete, the two documents would constitute a financial agreement between the parties.

Last spring, the dispute over contract negotiations led to faculty demonstrations on Boston Common and a student-led boycott of classes in support of the teachers' position.

According to representatives from both sides, a series of discussions that took place this summer in a less-formal setting were congenial and showed signs of progress.

During a Faculty Assembly meeting on Sept. 27, members discussed the possibility of working under the guidelines of a handbook. A motion in favor of adopting a contract and a handbook was passed 53 to two, with two abstentions.

The faculty's role in crafting the handbook remains to be determined, said Faculty Council Chair Jerry Lanson.

"This college has always worked with a contract," Lanson said. "A lot of people were uncomfortable with the idea of a handbook without the input of a faculty union."

At the meeting, several assembly members expressed concern that the administration would have too much control over the content of the proposed handbook.

"When two parties are in a dispute, and one of them suddenly says 'I am also the referee,' they are then playing a third role," said Tom Cooper, a visual and media arts professor and ECCAAUP member. "When you change roles in that way, you are in an ethical conflict of interest situation because as a referee, you also have a vested interest in the outcome. It's about common sense and fairness."

Earlier in the school year, the faculty agreed to suspend political action against the administration, including demonstrations, until Oct. 10. If a contract is not in place by that date, however, the assembly will resume political action and will stop participating in certain college-wide advisory boards, Lanson said.

Many of the students who participated in last year's protests were seniors who have now graduated, according to Kevin McKeon, a junior film studies major who took part in some demonstrations.

"A lot of students don't even know what's going on," McKeon said. "The sense I've gotten this year is that the faculty have sort of given up. It seems like a moot point."

A meeting scheduled for today will be the final negotiation session before the Oct. 10 deadline. Lanson said the faculty is willing to continue discussion through the weekend, if necessary.

"I would say that we have made progress but remain apart on important issues," Lanson said. "We'll either reach agreement by the 11th or the faculty will decide on what steps to take next."

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