As university faculty in dozens of states across the country have unionized or are engaged in legal battles for the right to unionize, a group of about 50 professors and other faculty members at the University of Nevada, Reno, met in the Knowledge Center Rotunda last Tuesday for lunch and to hear a presentation about collective bargaining from representatives of the Nevada Faculty Alliance — an advocacy and lobbying group that represents faculty from the eight institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education.
Dr. Tom Harrison, a counseling professor at UNR and chair of Faculty Senate, and Dr. Kent Ervin, a chemistry professor and legislative liaison for the NFA, recommended that UNR professors work with the NFA and consider collective bargaining as a way to push for better pay and benefits.
According to Ervin, UNR faculty lost merit or performance-based pay a decade ago, cost of living allowances haven’t kept up with inflation and salaries aren’t competitive enough to keep faculty members from moving to other schools.
“We’re doing more with less,” Ervin said.
Ervin presented four components of a “sustainable compensation system” that the NFA would pursue through a collective bargaining agreement with UNR faculty, including competitive base salaries, regular cost of living allowance increases to match inflation, performance-based increases in pay and a strong healthcare and benefits package.
Ervin said UNR’s base faculty salaries are 13 percent lower than the national average at doctoral universities.
“If we take a very broad view of all doctoral universities at our level and our aspirant level, R1, highest research institution, our salaries are low,” Ervin said.
According to Ervin, for the last decade two promotions have been available for new faculty at the university, but once full professorship is achieved, there are no more increases in pay available based on performance. Merit pay was reintroduced for state employees in 2015, but Governor Brian Sandoval took it out of the state budget, Ervin said.
The NFA hopes faculty compensation will be a priority for NSHE, the state legislature and the governor’s office in their budget proposals for higher education.
“We would like faculty compensation, like last time, to be the highest priority, to be a real priority that’s commutative to the governor and to convince the governor and the executive branch budget people to put compensation into their budget,” Ervin said.
Ervin testified about the NFA’s goals during public comment at the NSHE Board of Regents meeting last week. NSHE is currently discussing budget proposals and will make final decisions on the budget this summer.
John Nolan, a UNR business professor, also spoke during public comment at the Regents meeting on behalf of the College of Business and NFA. Nolan has been at UNR for six years, and he said he has seen seven respected junior faculty members from the College of Business take jobs at other institutions due to a “lack of adequate compensation.”
“Teaching loads have increased, research requirements are higher and there’s more service that needs to be done,” Nolan said. “All this is supposed to be done without increased compensation or more faculty.”
Nolan said the fact that faculty are leaving UNR for “practical economic reasons” is a “tragedy of epic proportions.”
The presentation last week was NFA’s way of introducing collective bargaining as a path to better compensation for faculty.
The NFA sent a poll to UNR faculty via the NFA’s listserv, asking whether faculty would be open to the idea of collective bargaining. The poll had a 38 percent response rate with 67 percent responding that they are unhappy with their salaries. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said their salaries aren’t competitive with peers at other universities and 68 percent said they support collective bargaining, while 10 percent did not.
Harrison said faculty attended the meeting last week for curiosity and information gathering because they are concerned about compensation, but they aren’t yet sold on the idea of collective bargaining.
“I think they’re ambivalent,” Harrison said. “I’m not sure [collective bargaining] is the way to go, but we have to be going somewhere.”
Ryan Suppe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @salsuppe.