Faculty upset with HU officials

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By David Giuliani

Highlands University’s faculty union contends the school is taking care of administration but leaving professors behind.

University President Jim Fries disagrees, saying the administration is trying hard to get the faculty to the bargaining table.

It’s the first time in years that the faculty has openly rebelled against the administration. In early 2005, professors loudly criticized then-President Manny Aragon’s decision to deny tenure to a number of professors, despite faculty committees’ recommendations to give tenure.

In its April newsletter, the Highlands University Faculty Association took particular aim at a $56,000 raise given to the school’s president, James Fries, in October, for a total annual salary of $232,000.

The union notes that the Board of Regents’ argument was that it wanted to pay Fries an amount that is roughly equivalent to presidents at peer institutions. Yet faculty members maintain that they are yet to get pay that’s anywhere near that of such institutions, although they acknowledged a good-sized raise last year.

“Our salaries are behind our peers, but the president’s isn’t. We feel the faculty should get what they do at peer institutions,” said Kathy Jenkins, the union’s president.

To get the faculty at peer levels, it would cost $781,000 more a year, according to the newsletter.

“The fact is, the university could have raised faculty salaries to peer levels last year, quite easily with budgeted monies. The administration could also have filled all vacant faculty positions,” the newsletter states. “But they didn’t. Instead, they worked to expand the administration yet again.”

At the same time, the university has spent $403,000 more for administrative positions this fiscal year, including the president’s raise, $60,000 for a new budget director’s position, $87,000 for a new interim dean’s position, $100,000 plus for new positions at the golf course and an estimated $100,000 for the new executive director of advancement.

Fries took exception to the numbers. The golf positions are paid for through fees at the course, not from funds for instruction, he said. As for the interim dean’s position, Fries said Highlands eliminated two associate dean positions, which produced offsetting savings. Additionally, the director of advancement is getting $92,000, not $100,000, he said.

In another grievance, the union contends that the university promoted eight faculty members to either associate professor or full professor last year, but they have yet to receive raises.

Fries said he had hoped negotiations for a new faculty union contract would have been completed last August, which would have meant those professors would have received raises back then. He expects the eight professors as well as all others will get pay increases retroactively once the two sides finish their talks.

The union also objected to the appointment of Sharon Caballero, a former Highlands president, as the interim executive director of advancement, which the association said came as a surprise to its members.

The association contends that the university promised to freeze positions because of budget cuts, but it said Caballero’s hiring proved that wasn’t true.

Fries said Highlands has previously kept positions vacant in reaction to budget cuts, but he said there wasn’t a promise. He said the position Caballero holds has existed since before he started in early 2007.

The university had conducted a national search for that position, but the winning candidate had to pull out in February because her husband couldn’t handle Las Vegas’ altitude.

“The purpose of the position is to raise money, build support among alumni and friends, augment scholarships. It’s an investment that should show a good return over time,” Fries said.

Fries said the administration has been trying to get the union to the bargaining table, but the association has canceled the last few meetings.

“I’m disappointed with the tenor of the newsletter of the faculty association. The newsletter appears to be a replacement for going to the bargaining table,” the president said.

He noted that the faculty salaries were increased by an average of 10.8 percent last year, higher than the 5 percent appropriated from the Legislature.

“We more than doubled it. There is still a need to increase faculty salaries,” he said. But he contended that the two sides need to come up with a “meaningful list of peer institutions” when determining faculty pay.

“The university has every intention of providing salary increases for all faculty,” he said. “We have to negotiate the salary process every year.”