The University of Connecticut has already been negotiating a new contract with its chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for months, but a number of factors could delay them well into next fall or even spring.
Statewide budget cuts in particular have put pressure on agencies to avoid making commitments, said Christopher Vials, an English professor and a member of UConn AAUP’s executive committee.
“For things involving money, the kibosh has been put on that by the governor’s office probably until September, until the next legislative session,” Vials said.
Michael Bailey, executive director of the AAUP, said the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) could avoid delaying negotiations by calling a special session to approve contracts before the weekend of July 4.
The legislature needs to approve the union contract (or at least have it come before them for 30 days without disapproving it) in order for it to take effect.
“I believe there were two reasons the legislature was reluctant to vote on contracts in this legislative session,” Bailey said. “One was the uncertainty of the deficit for FY 17. The legislators were unwilling to commit to contracts that included salary increases when the size of the deficit was unknown. Secondly, all of the legislators are up for re-election in the fall. Legislators may have been unwilling to put their name on approving or rejecting a contract for state employees, some who may reside in their districts.”
Even if discussions on financial matters end, the AAUP and administration can continue to negotiate non-economic issues, Vials said. Many of these issues concern the rights of adjunct faculty, who are instructors employed on a temporary part-time basis without a track to gain tenure.
“The non-economic stuff is what we’re spending most of our time on, things like how easily you can be let go as an adjunct, can you be let go from teaching evaluations, what kind of teaching evaluations, what kind of notice do you have for non-reappointment, do you get compensation for classes that are canceled at the last minute,” Vials said. “Some of those are quasi-economics but a lot of those are things that we’re negotiating for adjuncts.”
Currently, adjuncts’ performance reviews are based entirely on student evaluations of teachers. By contrast, the evaluations of tenure-track professors also take into account their outside work or research and their community service, and their teaching is usually evaluated by another professor.
“Because student evaluations of teaching are so unreliable, especially the online ones, it seems an unreliable way to determine if people should continue to be employed,” said Rebecca Rumbo, an adjunct professor of English.
Many adjuncts teach courses that are general education requirements, Rumbo said. Her English classes receive many students that are not English majors. Those students might not like that they have to take the course at all, and this can make their reviews more likely to be negative, Rumbo said.
“There hasn’t been that much research on student evaluations of teachers, but the kind of research that exists, including those commonly used at UConn, are the least reliable,” Rumbo said. “The questions that ask overall, ‘Is this a good teacher or a bad teacher’ or ‘How would you rate this teacher overall,’ they are the most likely to elicit stereotyped answers where the students respond negatively to minorities, to women. The kinds of questions that are more reliable are not generally included in these student evaluations of teaching.”
Rumbo said she has previously asked students to comment on the selected readings for her courses and at a few times has changed the materials in response to this.
Adjunct pay and benefits are likely to remain one of the dominant issues in the negotiations going forward.