S.L.A.P. Holds Mock Debate

On Tuesday October 18, the Student Leader Action Project (S.L.A.P.) hosted a mock debate followed by a speech regarding United Academics and the faculty union here at UVM. One of the goals of S.L.A.P. is to promote solidarity for United Academics, the teachers’ union, and to educate others and promote awareness of issues surrounding United Academics. Currently, the faculty here at UVM is trying to get a union contract passed that will increase the salary to help promote and increase in faculty while UVM is going through the process of expansion itself. The mock debate first began with a speech from S.L.A.P. leader Brady Fletcher who posed as the student representative in the first portion of the debate. According to Fletcher, in order for UVM to become the “public ivy” that many want it to be, the university needs to be competitive in attracting students. One important way for this to be done is through having an outstanding faculty. However, if the student body of UVM is going to increase, then there needs to be an increase in faculty. While the average salary for faculty members is 25 percent lower than those of peer institutions, it is going to be difficult to have a leading faculty that students can rely on. Fletcher stated that, “with low salaries, academia won’t want to teach here.” This could result in severe problems in the future. Already the student to faculty ratio is 16:1, whereas in the past it was 14:1. Recently, there has also been a decline in faculty available for TAP programs for first year students. With problems like these, “the image of the university is at stake,” as Fletcher put it. Following Fletcher’s argument, was David Bates, a student posing as a member of the administration at UVM. Bates’ rebuttal wasn’t as much of as a rebuttal as it was a performance of poking fun of representatives of the administration. Mr. Bates, as he introduced himself, spoke about the other actions that the school is doing with monetary funds instead of increasing the salaries of the faculty. Mostly, he focused on the new building projects that have been taking place around campus. According to Bates, bigger, better, and newer buildings on campus will attract more students, not help to increase the faculty. Since UVM is going through the process of expanding the student body, more buildings will be needed to accommodate them. As Bates put it, the reputation of the school is based on the campus itself and the surroundings. “Students come here to ski…students don’t come here to learn,” he said. Through this part of the mock debate, S.L.A.P. was trying to point out the “absurdity of some of the attitudes in the administration,” as Fletcher stated. After the mock debate had wrapped up, a panel of both students and two faculty members formed to reiterate S.L.A.P and the teacher’s stance on the union and the fair contract they are fighting for and how it will impact UVM and the students. The student panel consisted of Harris Bucklin and Colin Robinson. Representing the faculty was Professor Ross Thomson of the Economics Department and Vice President of United Academics and Professor Stephanie Kaza of the Environmental Program. The student panel gave their speeches first. Harris Bucklin began, stating that the “standards for education are in jeopardy” here at UVM. With an increasing student body, it will become harder for students to meet with professors and advisors during office hours or other available times. As the student body increases, the faculty needs to increase as well. However, with unimpressive faculty salaries compared to other institutions, the faculty number will not increase at the same rate. Bucklin also stated that you, “can only have a world class institution if you set world class standards.” Currently, those standards are what S.L.A.P. and United Academics are fighting for. Following Bucklin was Colin Robinson. Robinson, now a senior, stated that he was concerned about class size even as a freshman. Due to his close relationships with faculty members, he feels that faculty/student relations help to shape students’ experiences at UVM. He went on to state that, “faculty members have truly become my friends and family.” In order for UVM to maintain and aspire to attract premiere faculty members, faculty wages along with health benefits need to be improved greatly. According to Robinson, the only way that this could happen would be with the contract. After the students’ speeches, Professor Thomson began with his stance on the issue of the contract. He and other faculty members aggress with President Fogel’s vision of UVM becoming a premiere small university. In order to do though, Thomson feels that UVM, “needs an outstanding faculty.” The administration is proposing to increase the student body and the number of students that are assigned to each faculty member. While these changes are taking place, faculty members’ salaries are not increasing. The contract that the faculty is hoping to obtain will establish a learning environment where students can interact with the faculty. One example of this is through TAP classes. In previous years, between 85-90 percent of first year students were in TAP classes. Now the number is around 74 percent. Also, there is difficulty for juniors and seniors to get into necessary seminars because not enough faculty members are available to teach more sections. Professor Thomson went on to say that the perfect goal of the faculty union would be to have a contract established by the Board of Trustees meeting which will take place from November 17th to 19th. Professor Kaza continued on from the points that Professor Thomson made during his speech. According to her, conditions for the faculty have improved since the first union contract, however, those conditions are still not up to where they need to be. The faculty has lost very promising people due to the low salary levels and limited benefits that are offered. Compared to other institutions like Oklahoma State University or public ivies such as the University of Virginia, UVM ranks on the bottom when it comes to faculty salaries. S.L.A.P. and United Academics stress that UVM is going through many changes that will have an extraordinary impact on the students, especially if faculty conditions do not improve and a shortage forms, resulting in a possible crisis. By getting the word out about the plans that the union has for improving conditions for the faculty here at UVM, S.L.A.P. hopes to get more students involved in the cause for increasing salaries for the faculty. So far, a petition drive has been organized and petitions have been circulated around campus. For more information regarding this issue and to find out more about United Academics, visit http://www.unitedacademics.org/ or attend meetings for Students for Peace and Global Justice on Thursdays at 6:30 in 306 Lafayette.