UNH faculty demand fair contract as negotiations stall


Isabelle Curtis, News Editor

On Jan. 31, faculty members at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) delivered a petition to President James Dean demanding a fair contract after two years of negotiations. This comes after the university proposed base salary freezes, reductions in salary minima, increased costs borne by employees for medical benefits, as well as cuts to retirement and parental leave.  

The petition received 454 signatures and was signed by 87% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty at the Durham and Manchester campuses. Union members held a small rally outside Thompson Hall before taking the petition to Dean’s office. Some also carried signs expressing their frustration with slogans such as “Hands off our Benefits” and “Pay Us like Hockey Coaches.” 


Meanwhile, the union is seeking modest salary increases, to maintain or increase current parental leave provisions, and to minimize cost-shifting of medical plan costs onto employees. 


“We’re just frustrated that it’s taking so long to make progress here,” said Cliff Brown, president of the American Association of University Professors at UNH (AAUP-UNH). 


 The current contract between AAUP-UNH and the college began in February of 2020. In July, leadership reached an impasse and mediation failed again on Oct. 27. A two-day fact-finding session was conducted by an independent party in late January. However, because the report is not binding under N.H. labor laws, neither side is obligated to accept it. This means the stalemate could easily continue, according to Brown. Both sides have until March 14 to submit final briefs to the fact finder who will then review the material and submit a report back.  


Brown also emphasized the extra work faculty have put in during the pandemic, including adjusting to new technology and accommodating students. “It’s just been a really challenging situation for everyone. And the idea that in the wake of everything that we’ve done to try to keep this university going and to meet the needs of our students, that they want to cut our benefits and won’t settle a fair contract,” he said. 


The issue is compounded by inflation and rising housing costs in southeast New Hampshire, per the petition. Union members also worry that the university’s proposals will be detrimental to attracting and retaining younger professionals as they are most affected by cuts in parental benefits and long-term retirement benefits. This worry also extends to UNH’s ability to attract more diverse teachers and, in turn, students.  


“It just feels like the wrong direction to be going in,” said assistant professor of history and petition signer, Nicoletta Gullace.  


Gullace has been working for UNH for 30 years and said she was taken aback by the university’s position. While Gullace is most affected by retirement changes, she is concerned about the faculty’s lower take-home wages.  


“We’ll be getting the same amount of money but paying more for health and getting less for retirement,” she explained.  


UNH maintains that these cuts are necessary due to the pandemic and projected future decline in student enrollments. However, in an independent financial audit, AAUP consultant and economist Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum deemed university finances “robust” due to federal funding for the pandemic and reductions to faculty and staff. He also found that compensation for administrators and other non-instructional employees has increased by 25% in the last five years, according to an AAUP-UNH press release.  


Gullace feels there is nothing necessarily wrong with increased non-instructional spending for positions such as the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program or psychological services that are “crucial for student well-being” but believes there should be more information on who exactly is benefiting. 


Because Fichtenbaum’s presentation was made during the fact-finding session, UNH will only be addressing this information with the fact finder and not publicly at this time, according to Executive Director of Media Relations Erika Mantz. However, in an email sent last week from President Dean and Provost Wayne Jones to employees in AAUP-UNH, the university highlighted a 1.5% salary increase this year for faculty and staff not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.  


The email also asserted that the recent negotiations between Keene State College and their tenured faculty provides “clear guidance” on the changes the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) is seeking for medical plans, employee medical costs and retirement contributions. These medical plans have already been implemented for many UNH faculty and staff. 

“These benefits are benchmarked against dozens of other institutions of higher education across the country,” the email said.  


It also expressed UNH administration’s intention to continue the bargaining process in “good faith” and their hope to reach a new agreement this semester.

“I would like to see more engagement by top administration here. I would like to see more evidence of commitment and they are concerned about the well-being of the faculty and not only in terms of dollars and cents, but mental health and declining morale,” said Brown. 

Photo courtesy of Siobhan Senier.