In search of union contract, professors warn proposed cuts will impact CT students

NEW HAVEN – Professors, students and two state lawmakers on Tuesday accused the Connecticut Board of Regents of Higher Education of jeopardizing the academic accessibility of regional public universities in the state with proposals to increase class sizes and reduce wages during contract negotiations with the teachers’ union.

Contract negotiations between the union, the American Association of University Professionals at Connecticut State University, have been underway for nearly a year. On Tuesday, union members said the endless talks threatened to force both sides into a costly arbitration process.

The union, which represents around 3,000 faculty members from the state’s four regional universities, has strongly opposed the Board of Regents’ proposals, which include removing caps on class size, more faculty transfers. between campuses and facilitating the elimination of majors.

Union members on Tuesday described contract negotiations as stalled and called on regents and Connecticut state college and university system chairman Terrence Cheng to step up the pace of those talks.

“We need the board to enter into good faith negotiations and negotiations with our team so that as many of these proposals are taken off the table before going to arbitration,” said Sara Baker Bailey. , member of the board of directors of the union and assistant. professor at Southern Connecticut State University.

“It’s a system that says we don’t have money, so why would we spend money on arbitration if we don’t need it?” Bailey said.

Cheng, who met with students and faculty on Tuesday about contract negotiations, later said he was confident in the negotiation process, which he said would continue for the time being.

“We’ve worked really hard to try to get to the middle and get to a ‘yes’ position, but if we need the help of a referee then that’s what will happen,” said Cheng said.

Speakers at Tuesday’s SCSU quad rally, however, described the regents’ proposals as ignoring the needs of students, many of whom are low-income or first-generation students who benefit from smaller classes and faculty who can spend more. of their time during office hours.

State Senator Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, a SCSU graduate, described how his own relationships with his university professors served as a springboard for his political career, which brought him in direct contact with the regents during budget negotiations.

“Every time they come before us they say, ‘We’ll do more with less, it doesn’t matter if you give us less money,’” Winfield said. “But then they do these things, then they raise your tuition, so when they say they’re going to do more with less, what they mean is you’re going to get less.”

Officials cited declining enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic as the source of significant financial challenges for the state’s public colleges and universities. In March, the Board of Regents voted to freeze tuition fees at state community colleges and four regional universities.

Enrollments at the four regional state universities – Western, Southern, Eastern and Central – are said to have declined by more than 5% in the first year of the pandemic, creating a budget deficit of $ 52.5 million.

The University of Connecticut, the state’s largest public university, is governed by a separate board of trustees.

“We’re in a place right now where there is definitely fiscal pressure as well as enrollment pressure,” Cheng said. “The goal is to come to an agreement on a contract that treats our people fairly and gives them the support they need and which is ultimately sustainable for our institutions and our system.”

In Southern, union organizers on Tuesday inflated a 14-foot-tall skunk named “Skunkzilla” that became a staple of their protests during the bargaining process.

It is a message, spray-painted on a sign hanging on the neck of the skunk: “The proposals of the regents stink”.

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