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Oregon Tech leaders 'disappointed' as faculty union delivers intent to strike

If OIT's union goes on strike, it will be the first case at a public university in Oregon's history.

Posted: Apr 9, 2021 11:06 AM
Updated: Apr 9, 2021 11:37 AM

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Senior leadership at the Oregon Institute of Technology said Friday that they are "disappointed" in the actions of the faculty union as tensions at the public university come to a head.

Oregon Tech - American Association of University Professors (OT-AAUP), the faculty union, said Thursday that it has delivered notice of its intent to strike. If the strike does materialize, it is set to commence "no earlier than Monday, April 26."

“We could have gone on strike as early as April 19th, but we hope with this additional week the administration will offer a proposal that respects the work of faculty so that a strike can be averted,” said Dr. Mark Clark, former president of OT-AAUP.

According to the union, the two sides have been bargaining for 16 months, with mediation ongoing for almost six months — but agreements on salary, benefits, and working conditions are still far from settled.

If OT-AAUP does strike, it will be the first time that a public university faculty has done so in Oregon's history.

Oregon Tech's administration released a statement on Friday, expressing dismay at the union's declaration. The senior leadership said that it believes the parties are making progress on an agreement.

According to OIT, the university pays full-time professors more than comparable institutions, and meeting the union's demands for salary increases would result in a significant jump in tuition while potentially reducing student instruction time.

“Oregon Tech places emphasis on student instruction, and this has always been a point of pride for faculty and the University,” said OIT's president, Dr. Nagi Naganathan. “Oregon Tech remains committed to working collaboratively with OT-AAUP to achieve a sustainable first faculty contract that meets the interests of all of Oregon Tech and in particular, our students.”

OIT's leadership said that the unions demands would cost the school roughly $9 million over the next three years.

Parallel to the faculty union's push for better compensation, the university's Faculty Senate has been leading an effort to oust Dr. Naganathan — most recently culminating in a "no confidence" vote circulated among full-time faculty. According to a statement from the Faculty Senate this week, the vote returned a clear repudiation of the president's leadership, with 92 percent of respondents affirming the vote of no confidence.

“We have attempted in various forums and over multiple years to communicate our faculty's concerns with his leadership style to Dr. Naganathan,” said Faculty Senate vice-president Dr. Christopher Syrnyk. “However, the results provide a statistically clear statement of the faculty’s position: 92 percent of faculty have expressed their lack of confidence in the president.”

Dr. Clark, also a member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, said that public comments made by Naganathan made matters worse after the Faculty Senate delivered its concerns.

“He has said that faculty dissatisfaction is overstated, and that any visible discontent is the result of agitation by a small number of individuals,” Clark said. “I think this vote is a definitive refutation of his position – he has clearly alienated the vast majority of faculty members and should be removed from his position.”

The results of the vote are being presented to the Oregon Tech Board of Trustees.

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