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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

SMFA part-time lecturers continue union negotiations for separate compensation structure

PTLs and university have brought in a federal mediator after a summer of negotiations over wages.


The School of the Museum of Fine Arts is pictured on Nov. 18, 2022.

SMFA part-time lecturers remain in negotiations with the university, following the reopening of the collective bargaining agreement to continue pay structure negotiations.

In August 2022, PTLs from the School of Arts and Sciences and the SMFA ratified a new five-year contract that runs through June 2027. The SMFA part-time lecturers, who are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 509, renewed negotiations to address faculty compensation structures in the contract.

In an email sent to the SMFA community by Scheri Fultineer, dean of the SMFA, and James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, it was revealed that the “main challenge at the bargaining table this summer has been to integrate our part-time lecturers at SMFA into the course and compensation structure that is used throughout the rest of the School of Arts and Sciences, and one that has been adopted by a majority of our art school peers.”

SEIU Local 509 explained in a statement that the current contract pays SMFA PTLs less compared to their Arts and Sciences counterparts.

The pay differential that currently exists is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of a fine arts education and a blatant devaluation of the academic integrity of the SMFA program,” the union wrote to the Daily. “Tufts has cited the lack of graded exams and other hallmarks of a traditional academic environment as justification for paying these teachers less, which we believe only underscores how little the administration understands about the depth of expertise and effort required to teach the fine arts.”

The union expressed its dissatisfaction with the existing contract, writing that there is “no credible explanation” for why Tufts would insist fine arts teachers be judged by the same standards as other liberal arts professors and “necessarily be found wanting by comparison.”

John Ros, SMFA part-time lecturer and union negotiator, raised concern over grouping SMFA PTLs within a collective bargaining agreement including all PTLs in the School of Arts and Sciences.

“For the case of this re-opener, we realize we are sort of in our own group. The language around this is immaterial to some degree — but I think the argument Tufts Admin is using is for administrative streamlining,” Ros wrote in an email to the Daily. “This has its own issues though — and streamlining here is a matter of perspective. In some ways our own group would be just as simple.”

In a statement to the Daily, Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, expressed how the university believes that “integrating the part-time lecturers at SMFA into the course and compensation structure that is used throughout the rest of the School of Arts and Sciences – and that is used by a majority of our art school peers – is a matter of equity in how compensation is structured across the school.”

Collins repeated statements made by Fultineer and Glaser that the university will continue to negotiate in good faith but will not speak to the specifics of discussions made at the bargaining table.

A major change in this round of negotiations is the addition of a federal mediator in discussions.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) provides free mediators for unions and employers to work through difficult negotiations, whether this is around contracts, grievances, or other issues,” SEIU 509 wrote. “Bringing in a mediator signifies that both parties are still committed to reaching an agreement and feel they could benefit from the assistance of a neutral third party to get there.” 

In 2017, the union explained, the FMCS was used to reach a contract between Tufts and the part-time lecturers.

Ros, however, still feels the university has not moved on their opposition to the PTL’s demand for pay increases.

Tufts and SMFA admin continue to insist on giving SMFA PTLs pay cuts. They are referencing reduced course hours …But they seem to ignore the fact that we were always looking for pay increases, regardless of the structural changes. So offering us pay decreases is unacceptable,” Ros wrote.

Ros also drew comparisons to Tufts’ other ongoing labor negotiations.

“You also see SMFA PTLs are not alone in this fight. Other members of our Tufts community are fighting for fair wages — dining workers, grad student workers, RAs. Tufts has an opportunity to stand on the right side of history and take a stand for the people that actually run the day-to-day and face-to-face interactions with our students,” Ros wrote.