Although contract negotiations between Barnard and the contingent faculty union remain at a standstill, the two parties say that they hope to settle negotiations by the end of the semester. This is in spite of the union’s ongoing strike authorization vote, which, if passed, would allow union members to strike at any time without prior notice to the college.
While progress has been made on several key noneconomic portions of the contract, the college and the union still have not agreed on economic provisions despite having met 19 times since February.
The impact of President Debora Spar’s impending resignation on the negotiations remains unclear, although Spar has said that she would like to wrap them up before she leaves in March. However, Provost and Dean of the College Linda Bell said in an interview with Spectator that she does not anticipate that Spar’s departure will affect negotiation proceedings.
The college made an official offer regarding wages and benefits in August, which, according to Bell, included a “minimum salary raise” for both adjunct and term faculty. The union, which represents 180 contingent faculty members, has yet to formally respond to this offer.
Bargaining committee member and adjunct English lecturer Sonam Singh told Spectator that the union did not think the proposal was an improvement on the college’s previous offer.
“They haven’t taken seriously that we don’t feel that we’re being treated equitably at the college,” he said. “It’s really important that the college understands that the union is prepared to strike if they don’t become more serious.”
The union has since begun voting on a strike authorization. The vote is set to close on Tuesday, according to bargaining committee member and adjunct dance lecturer Siobhan Burke, BC ’07.
However, Bell said that she found it “unusual” for the union to move on a strike authorization vote without responding to the college’s offer first, particularly given that she does not believe the two parties are at an impasse.
“I am a little bit disappointed that the union decided to take a strike authorization vote at this stage of negotiations,” she said. “It's a little bit of an unusual action—I wish that they hadn't taken that action, but it doesn't impact in any way our really strong desire to go to the bargaining table, get the deal done, [and] sign a very fair first contract.”
Should the union vote to approve a strike authorization and then choose to initiate a strike, Bell said that the college would work to resume operations as usual, but did not disclose exactly how.
“We intend to continue the operations of the college as normally as possible,” she said. “We can't risk any disruption or closing of the campus in any way.”
Bell held a special faculty meeting last week, which she said was the best way to address the numerous questions she’d received from faculty members about the progress of the negotiations.
“The more that we can dialogue constructively around a goal, which is a shared goal, which is a first contract and an aversion of a strike, then we're all on the same page,” Bell said. “It becomes a kind of strategic problem-solving exercise to try to figure out how to get to that point in a certain period of time.”
Members of the union said that they felt the faculty meeting was a helpful forum for clarifying their positions to the administration and full-time and tenure-track faculty.
The meeting also came just five days after Spar announced her resignation, and Singh said he is hopeful that Spar’s impending departure will inspire the administration to settle the contract without pushing the union to a strike.
“I would like to think this would give her a very strong incentive to really leave the college on a strong note by settling this contract amicably,” Singh said. “But also, I think it would just smooth the path to whoever her successor is, to know that they are coming into a college where the administration and the faculty work together.”
Though Bell does not think that Spar’s departure will impact the negotiations, she did add that if they shift to focus on economic provisions, she is confident that a “very fair” first contract can be reached by the end of the semester.
“I'd like to get this thing wrapped up so that we can go on with the business of the college, which is educating our students to do wonderful things in the world,” Bell said.
But union members said that while they don’t want to strike, the union would be willing to do so in order to force the college to take their position more seriously.
“In the long run, it is better if there is some stability so that there is a cohesive body of knowledge that is an agreed-upon body of knowledge that we are imparting on the students,” adjunct architecture lecturer Todd Rouhe, GSAPP ’97, said. “Even if there is a disruption in teaching, it will be better for the college in the months and years to come.”