By Ana Pairet Viñas, Member, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
This bargaining session had two core themes: salary increases (see Article 8–Salary Provisions, Faculty Compensation Program/FCP, and Health Insurance Benefits) and working conditions (Memorandum of Agreement on Infosilem/CourseAtlas). Changes in terms and conditions of employment (Article 21–University Procedures) were also discussed.
Faculty members presented testimonials on the ways the adoption of software solutions such as Infosilem/CourseAtlas and Salesforce substantially alter our working conditions, negatively impacting workers’ productivity, life/work balance, and satisfaction; workload; staff and faculty retention; course offerings and enrollment; and students’ access to a full learning experience. The proposed Memorandum of Agreement aims to reintroduce some much-needed faculty expertise in the scheduling process. There was no substantial progress on the substance of the MoA at this bargaining session.
Union members did most of the talking at this session. Management representatives promised a response to the union’s proposal on salary increases, possibly by the end of the coming week (December 9, 2022).
On the matter of scheduling faculty offered powerful testimonials to document the lived experience that informs the proposed Memorandum of Agreement. While Infosilem/CourseAtlas has no proven benefits, the union is willing to work with the administration to minimize its impact on curricular offerings, work/life balance, our ability to fulfill our mission of teaching, service, and research, and the overall educational experience. On the matter of procedures, management explained the rationale for modifications to the conditions of employment (formalizing practices across the university regarding the calculation of vacation days; flexibility in the disciplinary suspension process). Some consideration was given to the situation of faculty who are not tenured or tenure track.
The bargaining session lasted around 90 minutes, allowing for input from union members and representatives of the administration. There were some disagreements, but no tension or confrontation. While the discussion was not particularly productive, it was respectful, and channels of communication remain open.
The union’s request for a response to Article 8 was characterized as questionable bargaining practice. Our bargaining team replied that a response would be the respectful path forward, after working 152 days without a contract.
On the matter of scheduling, testimonials from Undergraduate Directors provided examples of the ways Infosilem/CourseAtlas impacts enrollment and leads to a narrower learning experience. To date, the administration has not provided data on or evidence of the effectiveness of the scheduling tool. The primary rationales used to justify the adoption of Infosilem (reducing course-related student bus trips and using classroom space more efficiently) have never been supported by evidence. Stripping departments of the ability to oversee schedules compromises our ability to fulfill the university mission of teaching, research, and service.
The eloquent testimonials from faculty did not elicit an adequate response. The administration’s representatives appeared to be unaware of the concerns conveyed by faculty through a variety of channels. They claimed they had received positive feedback on the scheduling software, but were unable to document sources other than the Office of Scheduling and Space.
Extensive documentation on the negative impact of Infosilem/CourseAtlas collected by the union and the New Brunswick Faculty Council supports testimonials by three undergraduate leaders presented during the bargaining session. The impact is most noticeable in New Brunswick due to scale, but the fundamental question of departmental oversight on course scheduling is relevant to all branches of the university, as is the lack of shared governance.
Hundreds of faculty have voiced their concerns about Infosilem. The administration continues to ignore resolutions about Infosilem from faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Faculty Council. Management ignored the examples, presented at the session, of enrollment dropping in courses that are key to the university’s educational mission (such as “History of the Holocaust”) as a result of an undesirable scheduling. The effectiveness and benefits of the Infosilem/CourseAtlas scheduling system remain to be established.
Faculty shared concerns about the adoption of other systems, such as the new travel reimbursement system, which limits options and results in higher costs and lengthier travel time. Unless faculty and staff input is taken into account when adopting new systems, onerous corporate solutions will continue to negatively impact workload, productivity, and retention.
Overall, little progress was made at this session, other than a commitment to provide a reply to Article 8, whose substance was not addressed. Due to technical issues, the hosts were not able to accommodate accessibility requests for captioning, a standard feature in Zoom meetings. The sound and video equipment underperformed, and the main speaker representing the administration was at times barely audible.
The above is a report from a bargaining session for our next contract. After each session, our union will provide an update, written by a rotating cast of member-observers who are sitting in on negotiations. Click here for a full archive of Bargaining Updates.