Ruled Non-Negotiable in Ohio
WILBERFORCE, Ohio — The Central State University faculty union has lost a lengthy court battle concerning its right to bargain over professors’ workload.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, ruled in late October that a 1993 law requiring professors at that state’s public universities to spend more time in the classroom does not violate the Ohio Constitution.
That law was challenged by the American Association of University Professors Central State University chapter, which claimed the law violated the equal-protection cause of the state and U.S. constitutions because it blocked university professors from negotiating workload rules while allowing other state employees to do so.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah L. Cook, writing for the majority, said the law was designed to address “a legitimate government interest” and therefore did not violate the equal-protection cause.
Cook wrote that state legislators “identified a disturbing trend in faculty workload at public universities” and concluded that the trend required legislative intervention. Legislators were responding to complaints that professors were not spending enough time with students, particularly undergraduates.
Robert Marcus, a Central State faculty member and president of the university’s AAUP chapter, says he is surprised and disappointed by the ruling.
“I’m not certain it’s in the best interest of higher education in Ohio,” Marcus says, adding that the union may work through the state’s employee relations board to retain the right to bargain over certain workload-related issues.
Steve Finner, the AAUP’s director of chapter and state services, says faculty unions still can bargain about the impact of rules related to issues such as class size or hours, even though they can’t negotiate about those items directly. For example, faculty unions have the right to demand higher pay if the university requires longer office hours or larger class sizes, Finner says.
Gary Dowdell, vice chairman of Central State’s board of trustees, says the court ruling will have a positive effect.
Universities, like all businesses, “need to be able to be flexible and creative and flow to the work,” Dowdell says. “It’s not healthy for the faculty or for the administration to be hamstrung.”
In 1994, Central State’s board of trustees voted to raise the normal full-time teaching load of professors from 12 to 15 credit hours and to boost faculty members’ required office hours from eight to 10 hours a week.
The university told the faculty union it would not bargain on the workload issue because of the state law that said such issues were not subject to collective bargaining. The union went to state court, seeking to have the university barred from implementing the workload policy.
In its first ruling on the issue in September 1998, the Ohio Supreme Court sided with the faculty union and barred enforcement of the law. The state court said there was no evidence linking union contracts with a decline in classroom teaching by university faculty.
State officials appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the state Supreme Court’s ruling in an 8-1 unsigned decision. The case was then returned to the state supreme court.
Central State University, with an enrollment of 1,130, is Ohio’s only historically African American public university, and is located in Wilberforce, Ohio, adjacent to the private historically Black college and university, Wilberforce University.
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