UHPA Responds to Campus Reopening Plans

As UHPA continues to join with the UH administration to battle budgetary concerns created by the Senate, it is critical to ensure we remain in alignment with UH administration on other issues impacting faculty and students. It is imperative that we see eye-to-eye on the details of the campus reopening to move forward together. Clear communication and open dialogue are critical to avoid misunderstandings and missteps so we can effectively address bigger issues affecting public higher education in Hawaii.

We Successfully Worked Together at the Start of the Pandemic

When the pandemic and resulting lockdown occurred early last year, the University of Hawai‘i administration and faculty came together to determine how to deliver education in an online environment. Together, we were able to rapidly pivot to ensure there would be no interruption in the education of students and safely carry on research.

That experience showed the value of collaboration to create a positive experience for the UH administration, faculty, students and the community. 

Shouldn’t We Work Together to Plan the Reopenings Too?

Now nearly a year later, with the prospect of the University of Hawaii preparing to resume in-person learning on the campuses statewide, it would be prudent to approach the reopening with the same degree of meticulous detail to cover all the bases to ensure a successful reopening.

UHPA was Notified On 5/20 About the Reopenings

UH Vice President for Administration Jan Gouveia sent a letter dated May 20, 2021 to University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) Executive Director Christian Fern announcing UH’s plans to transition to campus reopenings. The letter sent was subsequently transmitted to the UHPA Negotiations Committee.  

And it Was Brief On Details & Specifics

The perfunctory letter outlined little about the UH’s plan other than the tentative targeted dates, as noted below, to coincide with a full campus reopening in the fall 2021 semester:

  • By June 1, 2021: Remove all signage that campuses are closed to the public. Supervisors should start preparing for all buildings and offices to be open for full, in-person services during normal business hours by July 6, 2021. 
  • July 6, 2021: All UH buildings and offices will be open for full, in-person services during normal business hours. 
  • August 3, 2021: All employees are expected to report to their respective campus offices and resume normal business operations. The COVID-19 Voluntary Telework Policy will be rescinded as current COVID-19 conditions no longer warrant the need for employees to work from home.

We Have Concerns About the Lack of Details

The brevity of details and specifics were very concerning. Such vague reopening plans can lead to many different interpretations, expectations, outcomes, and directives without understanding the UH administration’s intent, purpose, and desired outcomes. To move forward together, we cannot afford ambiguity. Clarity, open communication and collaboration are critical. 

UHPA has Responded and is Looking Forward to Discussions

The UHPA Negotiations Committee wasted no time in sending back a response to the UH Administration on May 27, 2021 — a day before the requested deadline — with a list of questions and requests for information, while also expressing concerns and reservations about resuming normal operations on all campuses on August 3, 2021. 
UHPA has requested that the UH administration respond no later than June 7, 2021 to the list of questions and requests for information so that informative and meaningful discussions and dialogue can commence immediately.    

Regent Jan Sullivan Attacks Academic Freedom

Academic Tenure is Essential to Preserving Academic Freedom

Freezing Tenure? Faculty Must Keep Their Guard Up in Contract Negotiations

With the current contract between the University of Hawai‘i and the UHPA Faculty coming to a close at the end of June 2021, negotiations for a successor agreement are continuing. During this economically challenging time, we should brace ourselves for difficult negotiations, with Employer proposals that seek to threaten the very core of academic life.

The UH Board of Regents meeting held on Thursday, Jan. 7, may be an indication of what’s in store for the future — unless UHPA Faculty members remain vigilant and take proactive measures to intervene.

In a discussion of the actions UH has undertaken to address the state’s budget deficit, University of Hawai‘i Regent Jan Naoe Sullivan said “freezing tenure” should be considered. She told UH President David Lassner that she believes the collective bargaining agreement has been a hindrance in the past and that the current economic climate presented an opportunity to introduce the concept of suspension of tenure that she proclaimed other universities have followed. (Sullivan has brought up similar challenges to the concept of tenure several years back, but that proposal was justifiably shot down.)

A Brazen Attack – Biting The Hand That Powers Your Company

This ongoing, brazen attack on the fundamental principle of academic life was being live streamed statewide and immediately set off a flurry of text and email messages among UH Faculty. Some Faculty were aghast that Sullivan, chief operating officer of Oceanit — which relies heavily on the UH for research to further her company’s business interests — apparently does not understand, recognize nor appreciate the value of a university system. We can only speculate why Sullivan seems hell-bent on insisting tenure be frozen before her term as a Regent ends this year and Gov. David Ige appoints a successor to her seat.

A Lone Voice

Fortunately, there were strong indications Sullivan was once again a lone voice, an outlier among the Board of Regents on this issue. UH BOR Chair Ben Kudo, attempting to appeal to her legal mind, delicately reasoned with her that tenure can only be questioned if a faculty member commits acts that violate the law or contract. Lassner suavely appeared to acquiesce, pointing out tenure suspensions have only been applied at small, private colleges, but also disturbingly suggested perhaps a “targeted” approach to tenure suspensions at the UH. The other Regents remained noticeably silent, perhaps because they understand, recognize, and appreciate the value of tenure and did not wish to embarrass her or themselves.

Let’s work with, not against each other

We hope these kinds of theatrics in the public eye do not represent the sentiment of the entire Board of Regents. Drama like this has no place in negotiations at a time when the state’s dire situation requires all us to work together — rather than against each other. These ill-conceived notions breed distrust and suspicion. They become distractions to moving us forward to meaningful and respectful discussions. We can and must do better when each of us at the table shares the same goals and aspirations for the University of Hawai‘i and appreciates how much higher education and research contribute to our community and our State.

 

 

Image credit:

DRAWING OF PEOPLE WHO CUT DOWN THE BRANCH ON WHICH THEY SIT is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Image has been resized or cropped from original along with minor text changes.

Listen to The Conversation between UH and UHPA

UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern & Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno spoke with Catherine Cruz from Hawaii Public Radio

On Dec 29, Catherine Cruz of Hawaii Public Radio invited UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and UH Provost Michael Bruno on “The Conversation” for a one-hour discussion, “UH Administration Talks Labor Contracts, Federal Aid Ahead of 2021.”

The discussion is worth a listen and covers topics such as:

  • Reorganization efforts at UH Manoa
  • How UH positively impacts Hawaii’s economic landscape
  • Impact of furloughs on the UH community

Deferring Payroll Tax Obligation

On August 8, 2020, President Trump directed the Secretary of the Treasury to defer the withholding and payment of the employee portion of social security taxes from September 1 to December 31, 2020. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirmed on September 3, 2020 the tax deferral is optional and employers are not required to participate.

The directive does not eliminate the tax liability for employees. The IRS advised on August 28 that employers that choose to participate should withhold the deferred taxes from employees pay from January 1 to April 30, 2021 (next year), in addition to normal withholdings.

After a detailed evaluation and legal review, the State of Hawaii will not be participating and will continue standard tax withholding practices for our employees until such a time that conditions warrant reevaluation.

UHPA Requests Cease and Desist to Governor and UH

Dear Governor Ige, President Lassner, and Board of Regents:

As the public employers defined in Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS), §89-6(d)(4), for the purposes of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for Unit 7 Faculty Members of the University of Hawaii (UH), the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) submits this written letter in response to the Tuesday, August 18, 2020, Civil Beat Article entitled “Ige Plans Furloughs For Public Workers In November.”   

Over the past several months, numerous public statements, news articles, resolutions, and internal UH communications have been announced and published about unilaterally imposing furloughs, wage cuts, and job reductions for State employees, impacting Unit 7 Faculty Members.  As all of you are aware, we have an active and mutually agreed upon Unit 7 collective bargaining agreement for the duration of July 1, 2017 through and including June 30, 2021.  While we acknowledge that Article XVI, Retrenchment, has been negotiated and agreed upon to address fiscal exigency for the UH, furloughs, wage cuts, and job reductions are all mandatory subjects of bargaining under HRS, §89-9(a), and cannot be unilaterally imposed unless it is mutually agreed to by the parties.  To date, the public employers have not properly notified the UHPA of any request to engage in mid-term bargaining under HRS, §89-9(b), in an attempt to negotiate and obtain mutual agreement over these additional concepts.  While the Tuesday, August 18, 2020, Civil Beat Article, does not identify Unit 7 Faculty Members to be subject to this unilateral imposition of furloughs, it also doesn’t exclude them from the impact. 

What I do want to make crystal clear is that UHPA has never been approached by any of the public employers with specific mid-term proposals to bargaining over furloughs, wage cuts, and reductions during the entire term of our existing contract. In addition, UHPA has refrained from publicly responding to these statements, articles, and UH communications since we believe it is not aligned with the intent and purpose or HRS, §89-1, as well as, Regents Policy RP 9.203, Collective Bargaining.  Nevertheless, the constant and relentless messaging of unilateral impositions of mandatory bargainable subjects is causing tremendous fear, anxiety, and apprehension for UHPA Unit 7 Faculty Members which is not helpful during these unprecedented times.  While UHPA does recognize the State’s dire economic situation in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, this pattern of negotiating in the media is neither “respectful” nor “appropriate.”  We acknowledge that there will unfortunately be significant negative impacts and hard decisions to be made, the statutory defined process outlined in HRS, Chapter 89, is what all parties are required to follow.  

Therefore, I respectfully request that all public employers cease and desist from any further public statements, news articles, and internal UH communications speaking on this matter unless it is clearly stated and defined that it does not apply to Unit 7 Faculty Members.  If it is the public employer’s intent to propose such measures, we respectfully request that the public employer follow the statutory process under HRS, Chapter 89, and uphold and comply with its own Regents Policy RP 9.203, Collective Bargaining.

Thank you for your time and attention to this sensitive matter.

Sincerely,

Christian L. Fern

Executive Director

Your voice made the difference at Thurday’s BOR meeting

Our Collaborative Effort Made a Difference: BOR Votes to Defer Premature Resolution

At yesterday’s July 16th  Board of Regents meeting, UHPA and UH faculty successfully sent a strong message to Regent Chair Benjamin Kudo that struck a chord with the Regents.  

Through the collaborative efforts of UHPA, HGEA, Academic Labor United, and UH faculty and students, we made Chair Kudo stop in his tracks. We collectively presented a strong, unified voice to defend the University and forestall a requirement by the UH Board of Regents for the UH administration to develop a short-term plan of action to address the financial impact of COVID-19 by next month — without the benefit of input from UHPA and the faculty.

A Thousand Individuals, One Strong Voice

Nearly a thousand individuals submitted testimony in opposition to UH Board of Regents Chair Benjamin Kudo’s ill-conceived resolution and proposed letter to Gov. David Ige. Fortunately, the other Board of Regents listened to the concerns raised by faculty and others, and realized the resolution was premature and conceived in a vacuum. 

Vote Defers Resolution; Withdraws Letter to the Governor

The result of mobilizing quickly paid off. The Board of Regents unanimously voted to defer Resolution 20-03 and to withdraw Chair Kudo’s letter to the Governor, which sought to defer the negotiated pay raises of faculty and other public-sector union members  It was an important achievement for all of us. 

Collective Bargaining 101

The live-streamed meeting exposed Chair Kudo’s deficient understanding of collective bargaining and the role of the Board of Regents as an employer in the legal process of reaching an agreement. 

All of the written and oral testimonials enlightened the Regents about their legal obligation to comply with collective bargaining agreements. They publicly acknowledged faculty for stepping forward to raise their concerns and recognized the importance of faculty input on the resolution. UHPA and faculty will now have the opportunity to work with the Board of Regents to work on a revised resolution for consideration next month.

Continuing the Momentum

We are off to a good start, but this is by no means the end of this battle. It has become painfully clearer what we are up against. We must contend with a group that does not play by the rules because they do not know the rules. We must remain vigilant and cannot let our guard down.

Mahalo again for everyone’s support, especially to Randy Perreira, Executive Director of HGEA and his members throughout the UH system, Academic Labor United, and the many UH students and community members for coming together and providing a unified voice to support and defend our University.  We appreciate everyone’s kōkua!

Agreement reached over Covid-19 impacts on promotion, tenure and renewal.

Agreement reached with President and Governor over Covid-19 impacts on promotion, tenure and contract renewal 

Last week the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with President David Lassner and Governor David Ige on addressing the possible negative consequences and impacts the unanticipated switch to on-line instruction due to COVID-19 may have on tenure, promotion, and contract renewal.  

Agreement result of combined efforts

These concerns were raised by UHPA Faculty Members who are serving on Temporary Work Group which was a combined effort of the UHPA and UH Administrators to discuss health and safety issues, as well as making sure Faculty Members received the required support, services, resources, etc. to help with the transition to on-line instruction and other conditions as they have arised.  The Faculty Members recognized how adverse and negative the Spring 2020 semester could have in the areas of tenure, promotion, and contract renewal processes which are based on face-to-face evaluations, peer evaluations, student evaluations, application deadlines, research endeavors, and other related measures.  

Exemplary decision making via the collective bargaining process

“The Temporary Work Group epitomizes the intent of Hawaii’s collective bargaining law, by providing for joint decision-making; having employees granted a right to share in the decision-making process; and having a venue to exchange ideas and information with administrators to help the government become more effective and responsive in these unprecedented times.”  Christian Fern, UHPA Executive Director

Highlights of the MOU

  1. Faculty Members employed during the Spring 2020 semester may elect to extend their probationary period for an additional year, but not to exceed eight (8) years;
  2. Faculty Members expected to undergo contract renewal in the Fall 2020 semester may elect to extend their contact and postpone their contract renewal by one year; and
  3. Faculty Members or Lecturers holding multi-year limited term contracts in Spring 2020 who are up for contract renewal and who are not being paid via extramural funds will be extended for one (1) additional year.

The temporary work group consists of Faculty Members and UH Administrators and has continued to meet on a weekly basis since Spring Break.  

 

Faculty Working From Home

Message from UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and UH Vice President Don Straney on behalf of the UHPA-UH Joint Workgroup

This message is to clarify the University’s intent regarding its new “work from home” form and its application to University faculty. To reiterate, instructional faculty (including lecturers), research faculty, graduate assistants, and other faculty who are not normally expected to be on campus during set working hours, are not required to fill out the work from home form or create a work from home plan. These employees also are not required to input their status as “Covid-19 Work From Home” in the online leave system. Faculty who, under normal conditions, are required to have a physical presence on campus during set working hours (for example, Librarians, or some Specialist Faculty), are the only faculty expected to fill out the work from home form (and the online leave system) to indicate the days they will be working from home or on-campus. Because the Covid-19 Work From Home status in the online leave system was intended to apply to all University employees working from home, including our hourly employees, it includes an “hours” and “minutes” data field; however, these fields are not intended to apply to faculty. The intent was not to “keep track of” faculty’s work.

The campuses may request faculty to self-report when they will physically be on campus. Again, the intent is not to keep track of faculty’s work, but for logistical purposes of tracking building use. If buildings are not being used, or are only partially being used, the campus may be able to close certain buildings or portions of buildings and reduce custodial and other services to those buildings. We appreciate the cooperation that faculty have shown in this regard, and ask that you continue to help us assist our facilities’ staff in dealing with the emergency situation as best we can.

If you have any questions regarding this memo, please contact your designated campus human resources department.

Message from UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and UH Vice President Don Straney on behalf of the UHPA-UH Joint Workgroup

Last week, the Temporary Remote Teaching Workgroup—a combined effort of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and UH administrators—met to review the support and resources available to faculty preparing for the transition to working with students who were not on campus. Several recent proclamations from the Governor and Mayors probably made your preparations more challenging. This week, we have been monitoring the initial stages of implementing last week’s planning on each of the 10 UH campuses.

The initial reports are that you have made a great start on this new mode of working at UH. We have heard from faculty on each campus and from some of their administrators how the first two days have gone. There have been issues, glitches, and problems for sure, but far fewer than one might have expected. The resources and mini-courses provided by instructional designers last week are definitely paying off. Most impressive to us have been the reports of faculty pitching in to help one another: explaining to colleagues how to use Zoom, offering advice on posting videos to YouTube, even videotaping each other performing lab experiments for students to critique and analyze. Librarians, advisors and other faculty supporting student learning have also had to adapt to delivering services in a climate of uncertainty about health and safety. The hard work of last week (and it has only been that long) is beginning to pay off for our students. Your professionalism, creativity and commitment to the students will carry the University of Hawai‘i community through this difficult time.

We have heard reports that some people are uncertain if they can come to campus under the current stay-at-home orders. People who provide education can leave home to come to campus for work. Instructors should feel free to use their offices and the various teaching resources on campus, including HITS classrooms. The campuses are implementing all of the CDC recommendations to maintain a safe work environment and the facilities staff have stepped up the cleaning protocols to meet current needs. The University is providing any protective equipment your work requires and you should talk with your department chair or supervisor if you have concerns, questions, or ideas.

One common report in the past few days has been that students are not all fully engaging with remotely-delivered classes and don’t always respond to instructors’ or advisors’ emails. It is important to continue reaching out to your students to help keep them engaged with the university. We have also heard of increased interactions students are having in some classes, where chat boxes, for example, make it easier for them to ask questions and interact with each other. Engaging students with learning tasks has always been the challenge for instructing, advising, or supporting learning but current situations are making it more difficult while also presenting new opportunities.

The working group will continue to meet over the next few weeks so faculty and administrators can provide input to each other on how the semester is progressing and what issues, concerns and problems arise. Please don’t hesitate to contact us via our email address with concerns you have.

UHPA Update on COVID-19 Working Conditions

On Friday, March 13, 2020, UHPA met with UH administrators and voiced our concerns for the health and safety of our membership as a whole, as well as, making sure all Faculty Members received the required support, services, resources, etc. to help with the transition to on-line instruction, as well as, other conditions as they may arise. UH agreed with UHPA that a working group should commence immediately to address these concerns that UHPA raised and jointly noticed all Faculty Members of the establishment of the working group and an email address to allow all Faculty Members to share their concerns to the working group – which consists of UHPA and UH representatives.

The working group includes eleven (11) Faculty Members. In constructing the committee, UHPA wanted to ensure that we had broad representation, and included a total of four (4) Faculty Members, including two (2) Librarians, that are non-instructional. The working group has been meeting daily since Tuesday, March 17, 2020 and will continue to meet on a regular basis in order to address the multitude of questions, concerns, and seeking clarification over the numerous messages that have been issued by our State’s government leaders. UHPAʻs goal is to obtain all the necessary information on these issues so that we can collectively, with the UH, provide a list of Q&A’s on these topics and seeking commitments from the UH to provide a safe workplace as required by OSHA rules and regulations.

UHPA’s position is that we need to ensure that all Faculty Members are provided with all available resources, services, and support in helping them transition to on-line instruction. We also want to ensure that all Faculty Members who continue to teach courses, programs, and classes that require face-to-face instruction, as well as non-instructional faculty that will remain on campus for their duties, have access to the required resources, services, and support to protect their health and safety needs. In this regard, we are ensuring that any and all recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are being recognized and will be implemented by UH on this matter. The CDC recommendations are changing and evolving. The links here are the most up to date issued by the CDC on this subject:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/workplace-school-and-home-guidance.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/colleges-universities/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-ihe-response.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/community-mitigation-strategy.pdf

It is important to point out that instructional faculty have not been assigned to “work from home.” What has changed for them is that students will no longer meet with them in person in a classroom. The joint committee has been working to identify issues and are looking for different ways that they can engage in and develop ways to teach their classes in other modes. All non-instructional faculty can utilize the voluntary work-from-home process announced by President Lassner last week, if such accommodations are available.

The University has shared the COVID-19 Work-From-Home Request form. This form should be completed by non-instructional faculty members solely to be used as a means to document their request and ability to work from home.

The situation is constantly evolving, and we will be sure to send updates based upon directives from the Federal, State or County officials.

We are still in discussions with the UH Administration through this working group on addressing all of these concerns, inclusive of UHPA’s concerns over the health and safety of it’s membership, and we will continue to meet and function as a working group to collaboratively address these issues as they arise.