Faculty and students attended the Connecticut Board of Regents’ final meeting of 2021 Thursday as the faculty union’s fight for a fair contract continues.
CSU-AAUP members are asking to maintain basic rights that have been in place for decades, like the shared governance model, and relatively small extras when compared to what they have accomplished during a global pandemic.
However, CSCU System President Terrence Cheng responded in much the same way he did during his system-wide tour of the campuses.
“I know that we’re in a tough place right now,” he said after public comment ended. “I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but I really feel confident that we’re really, at the end of the day, we’re actually on the same page.”
Union members and students are frustrated with the abundance of words and lack of action on the parts of the president and board as negotiations continue to drag on, with dozens of the board’s proposals remaining on the table.
These proposals would negatively impact students like Francesca Palmer and Suomia Dode, who both spoke at the meeting.
Palmer, a senior at CCSU, credits much of her success to her professors. She worked full-time while attending school full-time and is set to graduate in the spring.
“When you treat (faculty members) poorly, and your contract proposals certainly aim to do that, you will hurt students, particularly the most vulnerable students,” she said.
Dode, a student at Tunxis Community College, said she struggled mentally in college before finally making an appointment with a counselor. She helped Dode find a therapist, make a plan to finish school and unload during stressful times.
“Her support still follows me to this day,” said Dode, who is set to graduate and become the first in her family with a college degree. “I just hope that my story really shows just how much of an impact that mental health services have on a student on campus.”
Faculty also spoke about how the board’s contract proposals felt like a “kick in the gut” last year.
“Your contract does not ask us to do more with less,” said Susan Gilmore, associate professor of English at CCSU. “It asks us to do too much with next to nothing.”
Ann Marie Spinelli, an adjunct professor teaching math at CCSU, spoke about how support for students is key to retention. To do that, some adjunct professors will help students outside office hours or even come in on the weekends, receiving no compensation to do so.
Faculty heard mixed messages during Cheng’s campus tour, said Cindy Stretch, a English professor at SCSU. Cheng spoke about keeping control of curriculum with faculty and working as colleagues, but he also implied that faculty aren’t innovating enough and talked about the universities in a business context.
But faculty do innovate, often, and they also do want to help students find jobs. However, an education at a liberal arts public university is about more than learning just what you need for a job. It’s about learning how to think, learning about different cultures and becoming prepared to participate in society. The board’s proposed decimation of the union contract would do away with that.
“To attack our contract is to attack our students,” said John O’Connor, professor of sociology at CCSU.