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Northeastern reaches deal on three-year contract with part-time faculty union

10/26/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Students walk across campus on a late Fall day at Northeastern University on Oct. 26, 2015. Staff Photo: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern University reached an agreement early Thursday morning on a first contract with part-time faculty working on the Boston campus.

The deal was reached during the 20th formal bargaining session with the Service Employees International Union, after the university had made it clear a proposed work stoppage on Jan. 19 would not impact the university’s final offer. Shortly thereafter the union agreed to the university’s terms, James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote in a message to Northeastern administration, faculty, and staff on Thursday.

The three-year agreement is subject to a ratification vote by union members. It includes a wage increase, which Bean said will match or exceed the prevailing market per-course rate in the vast majority of cases. All part-time faculty will see some level of wage increase, and some will see course rates rise immediately by more than 10 percent. The salary increases will be front-loaded.

In addition, Northeastern will provide qualifying part-time faculty access to the university’s three existing health plans, with a 50 percent contribution from the university.

Bean, in his message, described the deal as “a fair and equitable agreement.”

“Our accomplished and diverse faculty is the backbone and lifeblood of the university,” Bean wrote. “We deeply value the contributions to our community made by all faculty—part-time, full-time, tenured, and non-tenure track. In the months and years ahead, the administration looks forward to working with the faculty, and all members of our community, to continue Northeastern’s remarkable trajectory and realize incredible new heights.”

In a statement, SEIU Local 509 said the agreement “makes significant progress in compensation and course stability, professional development and the faculty role in decisions that affect their work.”

Under the agreement, part-time faculty will receive enhanced benefits, including increased professional development opportunities, access to administrative support and meeting space, and discounted access to the Cabot pool and campus parking.

Bean also emphasized that the university retains the ability in all cases to guide the academic direction of its colleges, departments, and programs. The agreement prohibits strikes and pickets during the life of the contract.

The deal includes strong protections that preserve operational flexibility for the university, which, Bean wrote, “will allow the university to continue to be innovative and nimble—allowing us to maintain our leadership in a rapidly changing global higher education landscape.”

Contract negotiations began in September 2014, following the decision in May by part-time faculty members to join SEIU Local 509. A total of 609 ballots were counted—representing about 62 percent of the eligible voters—with 323 voting in favor of SEIU representation and 286 in opposition.

Northeastern has hired more than 500 new tenured and tenure-track faculty since 2006, which has contributed in part to a decrease in reliance on part-time faculty. Today, about one-quarter of course credit hours are taught by part-time faculty, who are hired for the sole purpose of teaching courses. Their roles differ from full-time faculty, in that they are not expected to participate in other forms of university service such as faculty committees, curriculum design, or time-intensive research.

Editor’s note: The final paragraph of this story has been updated from its original version to more accurately reflect the expected roles of part-time faculty at the university as described in Provost James Bean’s message to the campus community on Jan. 8, 2016.