LETTER: An open letter to the CMU community from Provost Shapiro

I am writing today to offer my perspective on the current state of negotiations — the impasse between the university administration and the CMU Faculty Association.

I was trained as a social psychologist, and my dissertation was on the topic of different forms of justice. It focused on how two parties, both motivated to be fair, can come up with a very different division of rewards because they used different principles of justice. Interestingly, I believe this same dynamic has brought us to where we are today – far apart on a handful of key issues because the two sides fundamentally see things differently. Fortunately, a process (fact-finding) is in place to help bring us to a timely resolution.

I believe most people in the university community would agree that the inability of the two sides to reach a new contract has become a major distraction and created an atmosphere that is counterproductive to serving the mission of this institution. Likewise, few would question the quality or commitment of our hard-working faculty and staff.

It is also my personal belief – and I am sure that many share it – that most of our students are more concerned about attending classes, making progress toward their degrees and participating in campus life than they are about who is right or wrong at the bargaining table. Likewise, I believe the vast majority of our faculty and staff have a vested interest in CMU’s continued success.

Despite recent rhetoric on campus and in the news media, I also believe strongly that the university is fortunate to have excellent high-level administrators – starting with President Ross – who care deeply about CMU and are working hard to make it a better place for our students, faculty, staff and community.

Although consensus has eluded us so far, both the university administration and the Faculty Association have worked very hard to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. It is important to understand how we got to where we are today and what lies ahead.

Beginning April 29, the parties met 23 times and reached tentative agreement on many issues. However, significant areas of disagreement remained, and both sides realized that little future progress would be made without the intervention of an outside mediator.

The two sides met with the state-appointed mediator five times and were able to resolve a number of additional issues.

On July 14, both sides and the mediator recognized that the university administration and the Faculty Association remained far apart on fundamental issues. Both sides petitioned for fact-finding; the mediator certified these petitions and called for a fact finder to be appointed by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

The University administration and Faculty Association met with the fact finder four times and presented their positions and supporting facts. The fact finder’s report is expected in late October or early November.

While there are other issues, the major remaining differences revolve around compensation – principally the size and timing of salary increases for faculty (the university is not proposing any reduction of salary) and the amount of university contributions to medical insurance. The two sides are not only far apart on the amount of dollars involved in the competing proposals, but also have different positions on what should be the basis of an agreement. One side believes the university has adequate resources and should use these resources to increase the compensation of faculty. The other side believes the important issue is whether faculty compensation is appropriate in relation to comparable universities. Given these fundamental differences in perspective, I believe it is unlikely that the two sides will be able to reach agreement without the outside perspective of the independent fact finder.

The university’s administration awaits the fact finder’s report and recommendations and looks forward to using those recommendations as the basis for a new contract. In the meantime, I ask everyone on campus to focus on the things that brought us all to university life – helping students, advancing knowledge and providing service.

E. Gary Shapiro

Executive Vice President/Provost