A Brief History of Collective Bargaining at Kent State University

Ken Calkins, Emeritus

The AAUP had a proud tradition at Kent State long before its involvement in collective bargaining. An organization with hundreds of local members, the Association began publishing a detailed annual analysis of faculty salaries at KSU in the 1940's. It was an active supporter of the Faculty Senate. Its Committee W worked hard to improve the position of female colleagues. Its Committee A served as a bulwark of academic freedom at a time when, under the impact of the Cold War, it was far from secure. In the aftermath of May 4, 1970, an AAUP commission produced an important critique of the misguided Portage County Grand Jury report on the tragic events of that day.

As the University confronted manifold problems related to May 4, it is hardly surprising therefore that the AAUP decided to investigate the possibility of using collective bargaining to enhance the faculty’s role in the leadership of Kent State. A committee was established in December 1971 to study the issue. By that time, a significant number of chapters around the country had successfully moved toward collective bargaining, and the resulting report was positive. The AAUP then took the initiative in the establishment of a broad Coordinating Committee on Collective Bargaining, Chaired by Ed Bixenstine (Psychology), whose mission was to solicit support from the faculty for a collective bargaining election and to negotiate the ground rules for such an election with the Board of Trustees.  During the spring and fall terms of 1973, the CCCB circulated a petition calling for an election which was signed by 641 faculty members. When this petition was presented to the Board of Trustees in the spring of 1974, however, the Board asked the Faculty Senate to conduct an “informational program” on collective bargaining, apparently with the expectation that, once properly “informed,” the faculty would abandon their demand for an election.

One basic problem was that Ohio did not yet have a law governing collective bargaining by public employees and would not until 1983. In the meantime, public employees had to persuade their employers to permit collective bargaining elections, and the procedures under which such elections were held were determined by negotiations between the parties involved. In this instance, the CCCB had to wait while the Faculty Senate dutifully established a Collective Bargaining Study Commission, held various symposia on the issue, and then, in the fall of 1974, polled the faculty on whether they desired a collective bargaining election. The result dramatically confirmed the perspective of the AAUP and the CCCB. Fully 75% of the faculty supported holding an election. Under the impact of this referendum, the Board of Trustees reluctantly agreed during the spring of 1975 to permit an election and began the difficult process of negotiating with the CCCB the procedures to be followed.

While all of this was happening, another major player appeared on the scene. The Ohio Education Association had organized thousands of K-12 teachers and now began a major effort to extend this success to colleges and universities. The already existing KSU affiliate of the OEA was reorganized for collective bargaining purposes during the spring of 1974. Under the effective leadership of Harold Kitner (Art), it quickly became a significant ally of the AAUP in the campaign for an election, but it was also an imposing potential rival of the AAUP for election as bargaining agent. Utilizing funds provided by the state organization, an office was rented across from the campus on Lincoln Street and a secretary was hired to staff it.

During the spring and summer of 1975, therefore, negotiations were going on not only between the CCCB and the administration, but also between the AAUP and OEA. The faculty received a slue of communications touting the virtues of the AAUP and the OEA (now renamed the Kent State Faculty Association) as well as reports from the CCCB about its efforts to persuade the Board of Trustees to accept ground rules which would assure that the impending election would be fair. Both sets of negotiations proved to be time consuming and tense. Eventually, the CCCB and Board agreed to turn to the American Arbitration Association to conduct the election and scheduled it for October 28 and 29. A few weeks earlier, on September 16, the AAUP and the Kent State Faculty Association agreed to merge in a new organization called the United Faculty Professional Association.

The hectic campaign that ensued led to a turnout of over ninety percent of the faculty with the UFPA defeating “no agent” by twenty-one votes. Kent State thus joined Cincinnati (AAUP) and Youngstown State (OEA) as the third public institution in Ohio to endorse collective bargaining. Despite its dramatic success, however, the UFPA faced a series of daunting tasks. It had to move quickly to create an efficient internal structure; it had to establish a working relationship with its state and national affiliates; and it had to initiate negotiations with an extremely reluctant administration and Board of Trustees. Ed Bixenstine, who had led the CCCB to success, was elected president of the new organization which took up residence in the office on Lincoln Street that had been occupied by the KSUFA. Harold Kitner was appointed chief negotiator. Dues were paid to both the OEA and the AAUP which, for the time being, worked to the advantage of the UFPA, for both affiliates were eager to demonstrate what they could do to assure the new union’s success.

Dealing with the administration and Board, on the other hand, proved to be extremely difficult. Although the Board formally recognized the results of the election early in January 1976 and authorized the administration to begin preliminary discussions with the UFPA, it was clear that it was little interested in moving rapidly ahead. At the end of March, for example, it instructed the administration to conduct a search for “an experienced labor relations expert” and “to provide a policy for decertification” as approved by the Board before engaging in any formal negotiations with the UFPA. In May the administration went so far as to issue “Offers of Appointment” to individual faculty members listing their salaries for the 1976-77 academic year and rejected responses by colleagues who objected to the fact that these were not the product of a negotiated settlement with the UFPA. The UFPA responded to these and other provocations by initiating court action to force the administration to restore various services that had been withdrawn from the UFPA and successfully calling for a faculty vote of no confidence in then President Glenn Olds.

When negotiations finally began during the summer of 1976, progress continued to be painfully slow. The first formal proposal put on the table by the administration, for example, stated that “the process of salary determination each year will begin with the recommendation of the designated supervisor and forwarded to the appropriate Dean”(sic). All such increases were “to be on merit”. The administration also insisted that departmental chairs and school directors be excluded from the bargaining unit, in spite of the fact that they had been permitted to participate in the bargaining election. The administration apparently discovered, after these colleagues had failed to swing the election against the UFPA, that they constituted “the cutting edge of management”. The UFPA’s proposal that part-time and term faculty be included had, of course, been emphatically rejected before the election was held.

Nevertheless, negotiations continued through the fall and winter of 1976-77 with tentative agreements being reached under heavy pressure by the Association in a few areas. Late in April, however, the Board suddenly suspended negotiations and directed the administration to issue individual contracts as they had the previous year. The Association’s response was immediate and sharp. A large meeting was held at the Presbyterian Church on Summit Street and the faculty was called upon to authorize the UFPA Council “to invoke appropriate sanctions, including withholding of professional services”. For its part, the administration had already issued a “Manual for Contingency Operations in the Event of Unlawful Work Stoppage”.

In the event, a crisis was averted when the Board agreed to resume negotiations, and the two sides quickly agreed to an “Interim Agreement” on May 11. This document consisted of several sections dealing with governance and such matters as management and union rights that the parties had negotiated during the past year as well as an agreement concerning 1977-78 salaries. One interesting feature of the governance section was the inclusion of executive committee chairs at the departmental, school, collegial, and regional campus levels who were to be elected by their colleagues. The result was that for one brief year there were, in effect, two chairs in each unit, one an administrator and the other the elected leader of the faculty. It is hardly surprising that the administration discovered that this arrangement tended to blunt “the cutting edge of management” and thus demanded that such faculty chairs be excluded from the master contract signed in 1978. A remnant of this arrangement, however, continues to exist in the regional campuses and seems to function very well.

The “Interim Agreement” represented a major step toward the regularization of the collective bargaining process at Kent State. Nevertheless, much still remained to be done, and negotiations to complete a master contract dragged on well into 1978. In addition to financial questions, major issues included the relationship of the Faculty Senate to the contract and procedures to be used if retrenchment should become necessary, a possibility that hung like a dark cloud over the faculty during those years. The UFPA originally proposed that the entire Faculty Senate Charter be included in the contract, a suggestion that was rejected out of hand by the Board and administration. In fact, one of the few references to the Senate that eventually made it into the original Collective Bargaining Agreement involved the requirement that the Senate play a major role in assessing and implementing any retrenchment proposals that might be made.

The spring of 1978 brought a new period of tension between the UFPA and the Board. Among other things, the grievance procedure that had been agreed to by the UFPA and administration bargaining teams in January was not scheduled for Board action until June. Moreover, on March 16, the administration directed chairs and directors to begin the process of merit determination in spite of the fact that salary negotiations had not been completed. In response, the UFPA began a massive petition campaign calling for the Board and administration to abandon their policy of procrastination so that a comprehensive master contract could be ratified that spring. The Association also asked the members of faculty advisory bodies to refuse to act on merit issues until negotiations had been completed, a request that was widely followed. The UFPA Action Committee, chaired by Bob Dyal (Philosophy), again prepared a series of additional measures should these become necessary. Fortunately, the Board and administration, now led by President Brage Golding, recognized that further resistance would be counterproductive and began to move quickly toward agreement with the UFPA on a master contract.

The first comprehensive Collective Bargaining Agreement, which became effective on September 16, 1978, was less than one third the size of the current Contract.  Yet it provided a substantial basis upon which later negotiating teams could and did build. Association members celebrated this hard-won achievement at a dinner dance held in the Student Center Ballroom featuring a band led by fiery negotiating team member Tony Silvidi (Physics). Even as they enjoyed their success, however, Association leaders were well aware that they would soon have to confront another difficult issue within the organization itself.

The problem of paying dues to two affiliates was manifest from the establishment of the UFPA in 1975, but those who negotiated the merger of the AAUP and OEA at the local level hoped that over time some sort of satisfactory compromise could be made with their state and national affiliates which would make dues manageable for Association members. How difficult this would be, however, became increasingly apparent once the UFPA demonstrated that it had broad faculty support and could confront the Board and administration on its own effectively. Even before the comprehensive master contract was completed, the OEA withdrew its support for a separate office across from the KSU campus and required that the Association be integrated into its existing UniServ system. This meant that Association affairs would be administered from a UniServ office on Martinel Drive that was staffed by a “UniServ Director” and a secretary, both of whom were hired by the OEA. This office also provided administrative support to OEA units at half a dozen local school districts. Although this arrangement was understandable from the OEA’s point of view, it came as a shock to many UFPA members who felt that the Association was in danger of losing its independence and identity. The OEA refused to provide a dues rebate which might have made it possible to continue to maintain a local office.

A discussion of the affiliations issue was initiated in the UFPA Council in the fall of 1978. After attempts to negotiate with the affiliates, and especially with the OEA which required much larger dues payments that the AAUP, the Council decided to conduct a referendum to decide the issue. Several large membership meetings were held in February to discuss the matter and campaign fliers were distributed by advocates of the various possible arrangements. When the votes were counted early in March 1979, it was apparent that a clear majority favored disaffiliating from the OEA and nearly ninety per cent supported remaining affiliated with the AAUP.

Once the decision to disaffiliate from the OEA took effect, the Association was simply an AAUP chapter, although it retained the UFPA name until 1987. Now paying considerably lower state and national dues, the Association had the resources necessary to establish its own local office. The development and staffing of that office represents one of the major strands of the history of AAUP-KSU. For nearly a decade, the Association had just one employee, whose duties were largely secretarial. It was only with the hiring of Sue Averill in 1988 that the office began to develop the professional character that marks it today. Sue had a wide range of experiences. She had taught as a graduate student in Romance Languages while at Ohio State and had worked for five years in China. While employed by the Association, she began working on a law degree at the University of Akron. Eventually, she began to play an active role in grievance administration and to organize and prepare arbitration hearings. She also helped the Chapter to deal with the State Employment Relations Board and gradually became involved in negotiations, even serving at times as a team member. As she assumed such important new responsibilities, she needed help in dealing with the day-to-day functions of the office. In 1991 Marsha Keith was hired on a part-time basis to provide such assistance. She became a full-time staff member in 2000. When Sue Averill moved on to become Assistant Legal Counsel at Cleveland State in 2005, the AAUP was fortunate in recruiting Kathryn Makra, another experienced attorney, as her replacement. In 2006 Brian Horton was added to the staff on a part time basis to deal with information technology issues.

Just as the Collective Bargaining Agreement has been vastly expanded and improved over the years, to the point that it has become the envy of chapters at many other institutions, the Association’s administrative structure that supports the enforcement of the contract has become much more sophisticated and efficient. These developments were made possible primarily by the leadership and hard work of a large number of colleagues who have been willing to devote substantial amounts of time and energy to the service of the faculty and, indeed, of the University as a whole. Their efforts led to a substantial growth in membership, particularly at times of tension between the AAUP and the administration. This progress was, of course, dramatically reinforced by the victory of the non-tenure-track track in 1995 and the establishment of a second bargaining unit within the chapter. The inclusion of a fair share provision in the Association’s two contracts as of 2006 has further strengthened AAUP-KSU. The result of all of these developments is that the AAUP has become a well-established and powerful institution committed to protecting not only the welfare and rights of individual faculty members but also the role of the faculty as a whole in the governance of the University.