Earlier today, Bob Howe, Assistant Vice President for Communications and Special Advisor to the President, sent an email to the Fordham community on the ongoing disputes between faculty and administration. The memo has since sparked statements of further anger and frustration from faculty members, in support of Faculty Senate’s planned vote of no confidence in President Rev. Joseph M. McShane’s, S.J., leadership, to be held April 19.
In the April 13 statement, Howe states that “the Faculty Senate’s proposed vote of no confidence is mystifying.”
“Discussions with our colleagues and members of the Fordham faculty community have been–and continue to be–cordial, frank, and productive,” he said in the email. He states that the Board of Trustees “has acted in accord with its statutorily established authority in setting the budget, and thus capping salaries.” In the fall, the Faculty Senate accused the administration of violating university statutes in the salary negotiations, which has since led to protests.
Currently, 92 percent of operating revenue comes from tuition and student fees, and 63 percent of the university’s costs are related to “salaries and benefits of those who work at the university to serve its students and advance its mission,” according to Howe’s email statement.
Howe also addresses the ongoing disputes between adjunct and contingent faculty with the administration, which led to a protest during Spring Preview on April 8. “It should be pointed out that the University has not blocked the unionization of adjunct faculty: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) voluntarily withdrew its petition without prejudice, meaning the union is free to file for recognition again,” he states.
In an earlier comment, Howe said that the administration was “not aware of the reasons” why the SEIU had withdrawn their petition.
An email within Fordham Faculty United (FFU) on March 30 said that because of the administration’s statement saying the NLRB has no jurisdiction over Fordham University, the existing petition process seemed likely to be a “lengthy and uncertain legal battle.” The letter from FFU leadership indicated a push for a “robust public campaign to… win a real voice.” The Faculty Senate has expressed solidarity with FFU.
The Faculty Senate’s vote of no confidence was proposed during their April 7 meeting in reaction to the administration’s intention to replace faculty healthcare contracts, and statement against the non-tenure track faculty’s petition to unionize, noting that it “overturned 30 years of historical precedent,” and “threatened [faculty and staff’s] health, well-being and incomes.” The university stipulated this year that they would not renegotiate on salary unless the faculty accepted lower health insurance premiums and reduced coverage and benefits.
With negotiations on faculty benefits and salaries taking place today, Howe outlined three objectives: “the university will strive to make our proceedings as inclusive and transparent as possible; the university will maintain good relations with its unions and unionized employees and continue to support the right of employees to organize and join unions; And we, as members of the Fordham family, will continue to treat our colleagues with care and will resist the temptation to personalize issues of a professional nature.” The full text of the statement can be found at the end of this article.
While the Faculty Senate has not issued a statement in direct response to Howe’s memo, Faculty Senate President Anne Fernald, Ph.D., referred The Observer to an April 12 statement she issued announcing the vote of no confidence on the administration for April 19.
In an April 6 negotiating meeting with the administration, Fernald said in the statement that progress was made, but “that small progress last Thursday was not enough for us to feel confident in an outcome that the Faculty Committee on Salary and Benefits can recommend accepting.”
As a result, the Faculty Senate will move forward with the motion to hold a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the President.
“It is not a decision we undertook lightly,” Fernald said in the statement. “And we deliberately did not ourselves make the vote, preferring to defer it, announce it, and open it to the faculty at large.”
While Fernald said in the statement that she does not know if an agreement will be reached before the April 18 Senate meeting, she states “we continue on two tracks: the one, that imagines that we might come to an agreement before the Board of Trustees votes on a final budget (including our salary and benefits) on Thursday, April 20 and the other, that imagines that no agreement has been reached.”
Andrew Clark, Ph.D., chair of the Faculty Senate Salary and Benefits committee, was dissatisfied with Howe’s statement.
“Its representation of the contingent faculty situation is deeply disingenuous as is the statement that they have been bargaining in complete good faith and total transparency,” Clark said.
Other faculty independent of the Faculty Senate circulated public statements of their own stating their disapproval of Howe’s statement.
“After pouring my soul into building a communication and media studies program that will help to shape the professional futures of thousands of students, I am being told, by the Institution to which I’ve devoted my professional life that my health, and the health of my son, no longer matters,” Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D., Associate Chair of the department of communication and media studies, said in a lengthy letter addressed to McShane and the Board of Trustees which she posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon.
The negotiating parties for the administration and the Faculty Senate met this afternoon.
The following is the full text of the statement from Assistant Vice President for Communications Bob Howe.
Dear Members of the Fordham Community,
This is an update regarding the ongoing negotiations between the University administration and the Salary and Benefits Committee of the Faculty Senate.
As you may know, the Board of Trustees and members of the administration have been working with faculty representatives to finalize the budget for the fiscal year and negotiate equitable, competitive, and improved solutions for benefits and salaries. Discussions with our colleagues and members of the Fordham faculty community have been—and continue to be—cordial, frank, and productive.
For this reason, and because Father McShane and the administration have acted in good faith throughout the process, the Faculty Senate’s proposed vote of no confidence is mystifying. The Board of Trustees has acted in accord with its statutorily established authority in setting the budget, and thus capping salaries. In addition, it should be pointed out that the University has not blocked the unionization of adjunct faculty: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) voluntarily withdrew its petition without prejudice, meaning the union is free to file for recognition again.
In keeping with our Jesuit values, we want to assure you that the Board of Trustees, the President, and the Fordham administration profoundly respect our faculty members. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to the University to balance difficult budget demands with the rising cost of healthcare, and at the same time we do what we can to restrain the unsustainable rise of tuition for our students. As it stands, 92 percent of our operating revenue comes from tuition and student fees, and 63 percent of the University’s costs are related to the salaries and benefits of those who work at the University to serve its students and advance its mission. These stark figures indicate that every year, we have to balance a range of goods. (We have to do our level best to moderate our tuition increases; we have to create a robust financial aid budget that will allow us to fulfill our important mission of making a Fordham education available to students from families of modest means; we have to care for our faculty, staff and administration and their needs; and we have to make sure that we do nothing that will compromise the University’s ability to continue its service into the future. This balancing act is what makes the present conversations and negotiations so delicate and so difficult.) From both moral and business perspectives, therefore, it is clear that we have to make adjustments in order to ensure that the University’s future is secure so that it can fulfill its mission for years to come.
While the details are still being negotiated, our principles will remain fixed. Acting in full accord with the University’s governing statutes:
The University will strive to make our proceedings as inclusive and transparent as possible.
The University will maintain good relations with its unions and unionized employees and continue to support the right of employees to organize and join unions.
And we, as members of the Fordham family, will continue to treat our colleagues with care and will resist the temptation to personalize issues of a professional nature.
The University is optimistic that the administration and faculty will reach a mutually beneficial agreement that honors the centrality of the faculty to the University, and the significant contributions that faculty bring to the Fordham community. As our conversations evolve, we will be sure to keep students, faculty, and staff informed as new information becomes available.
Assistant Vice President for Communications
& Special Adviser to the President