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EWU faculty group rebukes trustees

The Faculty Senate at Eastern Washington University voted Monday to pass a motion of censure against the school’s board of trustees, as faculty discontent over stalled contract negotiations escalated.

The move is an expression of faculty displeasure with increasing workloads and stagnant salaries, growing class sizes and the effect of those changes on EWU’s quality, several professors said Monday afternoon at a meeting of the Faculty Senate. The body also voted to send copies of their motion to Gov. Christine Gregoire and the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“The purpose is to make a point of our displeasure,” said Tony Flinn, president of the United Faculty of Eastern, before the vote was taken. “If we don’t vote (to censure), that’s telling the board of trustees to keep doing exactly what they’re doing.”

The discussion, which lasted nearly two hours and pushed back regularly scheduled business, took new President Rodolfo Arevalo and Provost Ron Dalla by surprise.

Administrators have said little about negotiations, which broke down last month and will be entering mediation in the weeks to come. After listening to the faculty discussion, Arevalo made brief comments that reiterated the idea that negotiations were intended to stay between the bargaining teams.

“It takes two parties to come to an agreement,” he said. “So to blame only one party for not reaching an agreement …”

Kris Mikkelsen, chairwoman of the board, said Monday night that she was disappointed in the faculty group’s motion, and had felt the mediation process was going well. She wouldn’t comment on the faculty’s complaints about salaries and workload, saying they’re the subject of negotiations that should be carried out between the parties and not in the press.

“The board is absolutely committed to student success and committed to maintaining and attracting a high-quality faculty,” she said.

The motion says the board has “faltered in its responsibility to ensure the quality of the students’ academic experience and thus the health of EWU” by ignoring the impact of growing workloads, promoting conditions that drive away early and mid-career faculty, failing to address classroom overcrowding and declining applications, and by putting Arevalo in a difficult position right off the bat.

“Just as war is caused by the failure of a party in diplomacy, mediation is caused by the failure of a party in contract negotiations,” said computer science professor and department chairman Ray Hamel, who presented the censure motion to the senate. “Criticism, then, should come as no surprise.”

Faculty members said that if the board doesn’t respond and begin to show flexibility in negotiations, a vote of no-confidence will follow. The difference, they said, is that a censure vote indicates displeasure with specific areas of the board’s performance, while a no-confidence vote would indicate an overall lack of faith.

Several faculty members said they felt board members have treated them with disrespect, an attitude Flinn called “Olympian detachment.” They also complained that the administration has been unwilling to increase faculty pay, which has not kept pace with peer institutions.

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