UIS faculty to vote on new contract

Separate vote of “no confidence” in UIS Provost Dennis Papini by some faculty members

University officials defended a top administrator at the campus after a vote of “no confidence” in UIS Provost Dennis Papini by some faculty members.
Unionized faculty members at University of Illinois Springfield are expected to vote in the next few days on a new four-year contract that includes pay increases each year, the union’s president says.

The proposed contract settlement, which would be retroactive to August 2021 and expire in August 2025, also contains language important to faculty members to help improve the quality of instruction, Kristi Barnwell told Illinois Times.

Barnwell is president of the UIS United Faculty-Local 4100, which on April 30 announced a tentative settlement with the university.

The ratification vote is scheduled for May 6 through noon May 11. This would be the union’s second contract. The previous five-year contract, reached after a four-day strike in May 2017, expired in August 2021.

The two sides wouldn’t disclose more information on the potential new contract covering the 134-member bargaining unit of tenured and tenure-track faculty members.

The sides did issue a joint statement that said, in part: “We look forward to continuing to work together to fulfill our university’s mission to provide a uniquely student-centered educational experience both in and out of the classroom through active learning, meaningful research and impactful civic engagement that prepares graduates to contribute fully to society.”

Members of the union voted April 19-20 in favor of authorizing a strike as soon as May 2 if the unit’s leaders decided a strike was necessary. A walkout never took place.

Union officials previously said the main issues of contention in negotiations were faculty pay, financial support for research and funding for “faculty development.”

The union had criticized the university for its spending on administrative functions at the expense of instruction.

Union officials said UIS faculty members haven’t received cost-of-living raises since 2020 “despite skyrocketing inflation and health care costs.”

University officials declined further comment on the potential contract settlement.

University officials did, however, defend a top administrator at the campus after a separate vote of “no confidence” in UIS Provost Dennis Papini by some faculty members.

The vote, held April 25-28 by a faculty group calling itself the Coalition of Concerned Professors, showed that despite the tentative union contract settlement, UIS needs “a cultural sea change,” according to UIS history professor and coalition member Heather Bailey.

The coalition would like to see Papini, a vice chancellor, removed from his position as the campus’ chief academic officer, Bailey said. Papini has served in that role since 2017 and is paid $227,848 per year.

Before coming to UIS, Papini was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at South Dakota State University.

The coalition and its members said in a news release and interviews that Papini was ultimately responsible for enrollment declines, employee turnover and staffing shortages in the offices of admissions and financial aid, wasteful spending and a “toxic” work climate on campus.

“The provost bullies people to get his way,” said John Martin, a coalition member and UIS professor of astronomy-physics.

Papini, a 64-year-old Springfield resident, declined a request to be interviewed.

UIS spokesman Derek Schnapp emailed Illinois Times the university’s response to criticisms of Papini: “For the past several years, Provost Papini has been charged with leading a transformation of UIS’ academic organization to better position the university to serve students going forward,” Schnapp said. “The changes have been invigorating for some, yet difficult for others. We are disappointed that this group of faculty members took this approach to express their concerns with certain leadership decisions, but we hope to redirect them to more productive, appropriate university-recognized processes to effectively address their concerns. We appreciate Provost Papini’s dedication to UIS and its future success in alignment with our strategic plan.”

Bailey said the coalition hopes its vote sends a message to incoming UIS Chancellor Janet Gooch, who will start work in Springfield on July 1.

“We wanted to preemptively let her know,” Bailey said. “She probably hasn’t been given the full picture of what’s going on at UIS. We will have a crisis in leadership.”

The hiring of a provost is done by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, but Martin said trustees at universities often give incoming chancellors the option of selecting a new provost. Former UIS Chancellor Susan Koch, who had served as the campus’ top administrator since 2011, retired in June 2020. Her salary at the time was $299,636.

Karen Whitney has been interim chancellor since then. Whitney is a contract employee with the same annual salary of $299,636, Schnapp said.

Gooch will be paid $300,000 annually pending confirmation by the Board of Trustees at its May 19 meeting, Schnapp said.

UIS serves about 4,000 students and has an annual operating budget of $91 million.

Bailey said 154 tenured and non-tenured faculty members – both inside and outside the union bargaining unit – were eligible to take part in the no-confidence vote.

Sixty-four percent of those eligible voted, and 74.5% of those voting, or 73 people, supported the no-confidence measure, Bailey said.

Schnapp said those indicating no confidence in Papini amounted to fewer than half of the faculty members eligible to vote.

Coalition member Jay Gilliam, UIS associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, said only 25 faculty members, or 16% of those eligible to vote, cast votes in support of Papini.

Bailey said a 64% participation rate in the no-confidence vote was “a very high response rate for any kind of vote at UIS.” The coalition’s news release said the fact that enrollment rose at the university’s Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses in fall 2021 while declining at UIS cast doubt on claims that the COVID-19 pandemic was to blame for an ongoing enrollment slide at UIS. UIS enrollment in fall 2021 was 3,944 students.

Gilliam said failures in leadership at UIS have resulted in “catastrophic mistakes.”

But Schnapp said the pandemic and other factors have affected UIS and other university campuses across the country. “We’re not alone in some enrollment declines in the past few years,” he said.

Bailey added, “Failure to hold subordinates accountable for their actions, including policy violations, was another major theme in faculty comments on the provost’s record of academic leadership.”

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer with Illinois Times. He can be reached at dolsen@illinoistimes.com or 217-679-7810.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
dolsen@illinoistimes.com or 217-679-7810.

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