The angry river that is the faculty and administration contract negotiations took an interesting turn last week that left the course ahead looking rocky and rapid-filled at best.
On Nov. 24, the Youngstown State University-Ohio Education Association faculty union voted to reject the contracts that the Board of Trustees ratified earlier in the month. Had the union agreed to the contracts, the conflict would essentially be over and there would be no looming threats to the spring semester.
The union didn’t, and now it is unclear as to what will happen. At this stage, the ball goes back to the administration, who can choose to go back to negotiations — the option the faculty has officially agreed to support — or to reject the faculty’s demands for further negotiations, which would very likely end in a strike.
YSU-OEA, the faculty’s union, voiced several issues about their agreement with the administration. Issues of total pay decreases (when considered against the rising cost of living and other factors), healthcare contribution concerns (which ended up being resolved, not due to negotiations) and a lack of confidence in the administration’s leadership were and continue to be the primary sticking points for the faculty.
At the union meeting where the contract was rejected, faculty present wore large red buttons, saying things like “We are YSU,” “You can’t put students first if you put faculty last” and “Academics over Athletics.” Some students and members of the faculty are changing their profile pictures to photos of the buttons, and it’s likely some faculty will be wearing the buttons around for the remainder of the semester.
The button concerning athletics is one that is especially fresh on the minds of the faculty, as Penguin head football coach Eric Wolford was terminated the same night as the contract rejection. This will require the university to pay up to $100,000 to terminate his contract.
The contract buyout is especially concerning to YSU faculty as the accepted 2015 budget saw 15 layoffs of non-teaching personnel and the elimination of 43 open positions at the university. The administration justified these cuts by citing budgetary limitations, but somehow saw it appropriate to buy out Wolford’s contract during a tumultuous negotiation with a faculty that already believes that the administration values athletic programs above all else.
Critics of the faculty’s demands, such as those in the bizarro savage lands that are The Vindicator’s online comment section, call the faculty entitled, greedy, lazy, etc. But make no mistake, the lack of understanding between the administration and the faculty is a two-way street, made obvious by the move to terminate Wolford’s contract on the very night the faculty voted on the contracts.
This is not a new fight between the administration and the faculty. Each year the athletics program cuts more and more into the general fund, meaning less money is available for other crucial departments and programs, such as the library. While the athletics program upgrades their facilities — such as the Beeghly Center lobby, new stadium lights to keep up with NCAA broadcast standards, a hydrotherapy pool that can hold up to 15 football players and new softball and soccer venues — the library has had to consider cutting its online journal repository and hiring freezes have left necessary services for students understaffed.
Our student athletes are incredible students. Most of us at The Jambar would die if we had to keep up with the rigorous training required to perform at the level of our student athletes. They are underappreciated. This is not a point against them.
We have to invest in our athletics, but that can’t be at the cost of programs and services that are used by all students, athlete or not.
In a recent Jambar letter to the editor, A.J. Sumell, professor of economics, illustrated the priority YSU places on athletics over academics, asserting that the 2015 budget is reducing support for academic affairs by 9.6 percent, and increasing spending on athletics by 3.6 percent.
The administration and faculty may eventually come to terms with each other on conflicting positions concerning faculty salaries, but the fight over administration priorities is not one likely to be put to bed anytime soon. Until there is a total concession on the side of the faculty, or there is a change in culture in the administration, this fight will continue to rear its head year after year.