This spring, for the first time in its 35-year history, the Portland State University AAUP chapter voted to strike. Instead, on the scheduled strike date of April 16, chapter members found themselves celebrating a 97 percent ratification vote for a new contract.
The contract includes several hard-fought gains, including the provision of two-and three-year contracts to many more full-time, non-tenure track faculty than the PSU administration had ever been willing to even discuss, a significant increase in the universal minimum pay for faculty and academic professionals, a mechanism to start a campus conversation about better incorporating goals and benchmarks for academic quality into university planning, and a much better pay package than had been envisaged given the administration’s crisis talk of a $15 million “structural deficit” for a unit perennially in the tenth percentile on pay.
What particularly galvanized the 1,262-member bargaining unit was being met at the start of bargaining with an assault on long-held contract protections for the faculty role in shared governance, captured in provisions that changes to promotion and tenure guidelines and unwritten work policies (“past practices”) require mutual agreement with the PSU-AAUP.
A year of frustrating negotiations produced nothing but the repetition of empty, stock phrases at the table, until PSU faculty and academic professionals had had enough, and implemented a serious organizing effort, culminating in a strike authorization vote with huge membership turnout voting 94 percent in favor of a strike.
The PSU-AAUP had the support of students at the bargaining table with them, the formal support of the student government and a thrilling 700-student walkout to join 350 faculty and academic professionals at an informational picket and rally, in the cold, February rain.
On the day the strike was called, a standing-room-only crowd was audibly moved by compelling testimony from students, faculty, academic professionals and campus allies about conditions on campus after twenty years of budget cuts in a public hearing before a panel of legislators and faith leaders organized by Portland’s Jobs with Justice chapter.
The contract is settled, but the long campaign remains to put PSU back on the right track to a student-centered budget that prioritizes academics, rather than administration, real estate and athletics, with the support of adequate public funding for affordable, high quality, public higher education.