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SOU faculty, board settle on new contract

Southern Oregon University professors have approved a first-ever three-year contract with a 2 percent raise the first year.

David Carter, president of Associated Professors of SOU, said professors will receive a 2 percent pay increase and assistant professors 2.5 percent. The old rates were set years ago, he said.

SOU had fallen so far behind in pay it was competing with community colleges for faculty and had to significantly up entry pay to make SOU more marketable, Carter said. 

“We’ve looked at the average masters-granting institutions,” he said. “We’re continually trying to have better working conditions for faculty, the type of work and keeping it no more than 50 students, instead of taking it to 100 students. The agreement was about strengthening the working conditions.”

The agreement was voted on all last week and ratified by midnight Friday, with an “overwhelming” vote of 97 percent, Carter said.

The contract, a year longer than previous contracts, includes pay increase of 2.75 percent in year two and 3.5 percent in year three. Present health care remains the same, and there is increased funding for professional development.

Talks had broken down a few months ago and mediation looked unavoidable, but the deal was sealed without it, said SOU spokesman Ryan Brown.

Chief faculty negotiator Kimball Yates said he’s pleased to sidestep mediation and still come out with a “fair deal” for both faculty and administration, but is still worried about the Legislature finding funding for the increased salaries in the upcoming first year of the biennium.

“We’re ahead of the game now,” said Yates. “We will have to negotiate the next contract in mid-2018, between the legislative sessions, but this lets everyone know what’s going on over the next three years, instead of us waiting for the Legislature to speak and then work its way down through the appropriate process and trickle down here to Ashland.”

Yates said Friday's settlement was a “big relief. ... We feel we suffered through the worst that SOU ever suffered in 30 years. In 2014, the time of retrenchment and the no-confidence vote. It was a maelstrom of bad news. We got a crummy contract leading into the 2013-14 biennium. That was the year from hell, 2013 to 2014.”

Yates said faculty members feel optimistic about the future now, although there’s still uncertainty, especially leading up to the hiring of a new university president to replace Interim President Roy Saigo.

“It’s the single most important factor in SOU’s future,” Yates said. “How we run the presidential search and who we will hire. Roy Saigo has been a good war president, but now we’re out of the main part of the storm. I love him to death but he can’t say on 10 years. We need someone to stay. The faculty is nervous but excited about the Board of Trustees and hiring the new president.”

The SOU board of trustees was apprised of the contract during its Friday meeting. (See correction, below.)

The board approved a 3 percent cost of living adjustment for Saigo, who did not get the raise in October along with the rest of administrators because he was on a separate contract. His contract, due to expire at the end of June, was extended for a month to help with the transition to the new president. His moving expenses were upped from $5,000 to $15,000. The vote was unanimous.

Also on Friday, the SOU board moved forward on a $2 million bond issue for McNeal Pavilion and $1.5 million in bonds for the new Jefferson Public Radio building.

The bonds for the athletic complex — the old one is now being razed — will cover some $2 million in increases in construction costs accrued since the contract was made. The board’s vote authorizes it to approach the state Legislature.

The money for the JPR building, to be built by the SOU Theater Arts building, would be paid by SOU with debt service funded from the JPR Foundation over a period of time.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Correction: The faculty contract was negotiated by an administrative bargaining team and approved by Saigo. The SOU board does not approve the contract, as was indicated in a previous version.