Knight Library

Knight Library (Emerald Photo Archive).

Fourteen librarians are among a pool of 211 career faculty at the University of Oregon facing potential losses to hours and contracts for the upcoming academic year, as part of the university’s COVID-19 planning.

For career faculty with contracts up for renewal in the fall, new contracts could put them at .55 full-time equivalent, or almost half-time, rather than 1.0 FTE, or full-time. Contracts will also be for one year rather than the usual two or three years.

The new contracts also affect faculty up for promotion this year. Five librarians faced a choice of receiving their promotions alongside a reduction in FTE, or pulling promotion applications to retain full FTE under their current contracts, according to the UO Librarians United website. Two of the five librarians pulled their applications to ensure 1.0 FTE in the fall.

In mid-April, the university told United Academics, UO’s faculty union, that contracts for 211 career faculty would not be renewed or would be put at 0.1 FTE if UA did not agree to the administration’s proposed wage cut plan, according to a UA newsletter

UO’s initial plan was a progressive pay reduction plan for almost all university employees, with proposed cuts differing based on salary, according to the UA newsletter. The cuts increased incrementally, starting at salaries of $40,000 and capping at $200,000. In the most significant budget challenge scenario, the lowest percentage cut would be 1.18%. All salaries $200,000 and over would receive the same percentage cut of 20% and UO President Michael Schill would receive a pay cut of 25%, according to a draft of the plan from the Office of the Provost.

Negotiations with UA resulted in a final agreement of .55 FTE, which union members  approved on May 7. The new agreement also allowed faculty to keep their health insurance eligibility, which was especially important during a pandemic, according to Ann Shaffer, UO’s music and dance librarian. Shaffer is a representative and steward for UA.

The losses to FTE aren’t yet certain, as the university must wait to see the pandemic’s impact on fall enrollment and state funding before it goes forward, according to Mark Watson, interim dean of libraries. Even through next year decisions will be made term-by-term, he said.

“It’s an arbitrary selection of people and our understanding is this was a decision by the provost office without asking any input from the deans of the various colleges and schools and units,” Shaffer said. “So, those areas didn’t have a chance to make any decisions about where they could or couldn’t spare people.”

“It was essentially a random group of librarians, so the cuts are not in optimal places,” Watson said.

“My hope is that doing this won’t be necessary,” he said. “But the contracts are a reality.”

Shaffer didn’t see the contracts as just a contingency plan.

“What we’re experiencing it as,” Shaffer said, “is we’re getting the heavy end of the cut now with these questionable assurances that it’ll get fixed later.”

Kate Thornhill, a digital scholarship librarian at UO and a steward for UA, noticed disproportionate effects on faculty.

According to the UO Librarians United website, 58% of the total affected career faculty and 76% of the affected librarians are women.

“That’s really concerning, given that women form the majority of lower paid, less secure jobs,” Thornhill said. “It’s just really disheartening to see how these cuts are affecting a group of people who are already at an economic and social disadvantage.”

If the selected faculty are put at .55 FTE next year, Shaffer said she will need to look for another job.

“I’ve got a seven-month-old baby, and my husband and I just bought a house last summer so we have a brand new mortgage,” Shaffer said. “And my husband also works in the library. He’s a classified staff member so he’s concerned that there might be layoffs coming for classified staff as well. So, just the bare fact of paying our bills and feeding our family is a concern and a question of what does this do for my long-term professional goals.”

Shaffer said she was also concerned about being able to find a job to supplement her income given that the university and many other institutions are currently implementing hiring freezes.

NEWS ARTICLE

Thornhill said she is lucky to have started another job this spring due to her own academic interest, but she wished she didn’t have to work elsewhere out of necessity.

“I have to seek these opportunities out,” she said, “and this time that I’m spending working for another university could be spent helping the University of Oregon.”

There is no comprehensive plan yet for fall term in the libraries if they have to function with fewer full-time staff, according to Watson. Spending a lot of time and effort to make a plan now doesn’t make sense, he said, with so many things that could change during the summer.

“Planning will emerge organically,” he said, based on the decisions of the university and the state.

Thornhill and Shaffer are also concerned about the impact of lost library resources on the rest of the university. Librarians “wear many hats,” Shaffer said, beyond what’s visible on the front end, and have even returned a value of over $53 million to the university through access to its print materials and electronic resources, according to the UO Librarians United website.

“Because of the nature of our work, the loss of the librarian FTE impacts everybody else on campus because our work is entirely in service to all of the other units on campus,” Shaffer said. “So, for example, I’m the only librarian for music and dance, and that’s specialized enough that there’s not really any other person that can cover for my work if I do end up at .55 in fall.”

All three science librarians in the Allan Price Science Commons and Research Library happened to have contract renewals this fall, according to the UO Librarians United website. If their hours are cut to .55 FTE next year, their contributions to research, instruction and library collections for STEM fields will also be cut in half, according to the website.

The selection also includes three out of five librarians in the John E. Jaqua Law Library, eight subject liaison librarians who support instruction and research and two librarians who manage library databases and electronic resources.

Affected librarians, including Shaffer and Thornhill, also felt a decreased sense of morale for their university work.

“When COVID-19 hit, we were labeled as an essential part of this university,” Thornhill said of the UO administration. “And their treatment towards us does not back up that statement.”

“This also reflects that the administration is viewing the essential part of the libraries as the buildings and the stuff that’s in the buildings,” Shaffer said, “and not the professionals, the people who work there who actually do the work of connecting our patrons, our students and our faculty with the resources they need.”

“I feel like what we’re experiencing at UO is a really sad, broader trend that is happening across the country,” Thornhill said

The goal of UO Librarians United, according to their website, is to share the burden equally throughout the university, including administration, and not just among “arbitrarily” selected faculty.

“We believe that UO can do better than this plan,” Shaffer wrote in an article on the UO Librarians United website. “We call on university administration to restore the 211 Career faculty affected by these cuts to their full FTE appointments, and to work in a good-faith cooperative effort with United Academics, SEIU, and the GTFF to develop a truly equitable solution to this potential budget shortfall. A shared burden requires shared governance.”

The website highlights several testimonials given by UO faculty. Librarians ask people on the website to share stories of the impact of librarians as well, and for people to write to UO Provost Patrick Phillips. 

“I have been greatly heartened by all of the expression of advocacy and support,” Watson said, and no matter what happens, “it’s never going to be about the fact that we’re needed, not valued or not respected.”

“I want people to continue to speak up for us,” Thornhill said. “We just need people to be loud and help with the amplification.”