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Portland State University will spend $6.4 million on faculty raises, hopes to net good will
Author: Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian
Posted: April 8, 2014

Read the original article in The Oregonian here. 

Under a new contract tentatively agreed to Sunday, Portland State University will give its faculty $6.4 million worth of raises over the next year and a half, officials said Monday.

That is $2.8 million more than the university had said it could afford in its March 7 "final offer," so the university will have to spend more from savings than it planned and "continue to sharpen our pencils" to look for efficiencies or other savings, President Wim Wiewel said Monday.

"We are still working on" figuring out where all the money will come from, he said.

But Wiewel was effusive about his administration's agreement with the union on the raises and other provisions.

The new contract, which still must be voted on bythe faculty union's roughly 900 members, will largely give the union what is sought during 11 months of negotiations, including more multi-year contracts for non-tenure-track instructors, an end to faculty pay below $40,000 and no change in the union's say over procedural rules for tenure decisions. Raises will not be nearly as large as the union had requested but about three times as large as the administration's initial offer.

Mary King, president of the Portland State chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said in a Sunday email to union members that "this contract is a big win, and we got it by working together and standing up for our students, our university and ourselves."

Wiewel said no particular provision of the contract was a big victory for his administration. Securing an agreement and avoiding the strike was the big deal and a huge positive for PSU and its students, he said.

"To me, it is all about it being a win for the students," he said. 

Avoiding a strike will improve faculty morale, save students from a rocky spring term and avoid a potentially damaging hit to the university's reputation that could have repelled prospective students, Wiewel said.

"By improving the mood of the faculty, will this help us with our student retention and graduation and attraction?" he asked, adding that he believe it will.

Being pressured to give faculty bigger raises than he thought the university could afford wasn't a bad thing, he said.

"It's not like I feel our faculty and staff are overpaid. It is not that I don't want to pay them more. It's a matter of balancing it with what is fiscally responsible so that we can stay in business in the long run," Wiewel said.

"I always feel good when we can pay our faculty and staff somewhat more because they do deserve it... It will require hard work on our side to" make sure there is enough money to pay the higher salaries in this two-year budget and after that too, he said.

Just how disgruntled faculty had become over the direction Portland State has moved under his leadership was a surprise to him, Wiewel told the Faculty Senate on Monday.

His interactions with faculty and staff during the past year and over his six years as president of Portland State had left him with a rosier sense of the faculty mood, he said. Faculty members' treating him with the stereotypical "Portland nice" restraint and his own sunny optimism are probably both responsible for his misreading of faculty members' mistrust and anger, he said.

"I have heard you and I am listening," he told the roughly 100 faculty members assembled at the senate meeting.

Wiewel said he will launch widely inclusive discussions about Portland State's direction and priorities. He also will work harder to be transparent about university spending and decisions, he told them.

Once the contract is finalized and agreed to by the faculty union, "I want to assure you things will not just return to normal. I will work with you, the union, staff and students to engage in a dialogue about the future of Portland State."

Faculty members responded to Wiewel's brief speech with extended applause.

-- Betsy Hammond