A campaign known as Faculty Forward presented a petition demanding professor salary increases not be paid for with student tuition to the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors on April 10.
Michael Behrent, a history professor at Appalachian State University and the university’s representative on the American Association of University Professors, believes the BOG’s attempt to use tuition increases to fund pay raises sends a false message.
“The Board of Governors seems to be saying that they want to raise salaries, but the only way they can do that in these difficult budget times is if we simultaneously charge the students more,” Behrent said. “The petition signers feel like that’s a false dynamic to give.”
Faculty Forward is a campaign launched by the Service Employee’s International Union. The SEIU is currently the fastest-growing labor union in the United States that focuses on employees of the service sector. Although they have not been able to work officially in North Carolina, due to the state’s restrictions against unions, their campaign has nevertheless been able to gain traction.
Appalachian’s tuition will increase by 5 percent next academic year – as ruled by the BOG on Feb. 27 – regardless of whether faculty raises come from that amount or not.
“This imposes hardships on [students] by making it more difficult to pay for college or even go to college,” Behrent said. “Student tuition is already a problem without this adding to it.”
The petition was not directly linked to any specific voting issues, so no legislative change technically occurred. However, John Steen, one of the co-writers of the petition, believes it accomplished its goal to raise awareness.
“We believe the action [of presenting the petition], by bringing attention to our concerns, was a success, but only the first step in a much longer process,” Steen said.
The petition also draws attention to the fact that the necessity to pay for pay raises through tuition hikes was borne from earlier budget cuts made to the school system. According to Behrent, this is a clear indicator that the Board of Governors does not care about what he believes should be the key focuses of universities: teaching and research.
“The Board of Governors should oppose the erosion of state support for UNC by acknowledging these deep budget cuts,” the petition said. “Then, it should reprioritize teaching and learning system-wide by dedicating a higher percentage of funds to instruction.”
Behrent said he believes the issues addressed in the petition should be important to all people, due to the principles of the situation.
“These issues are not just important to the narrow self-interest of professors and students, but it’s really a civic issue,” Behrent said. “this affects all people in our state and all people in our society.”
Story: Thomas Culkin, News Reporter