UM campus

The University of Montana's Main Hall in Missoula

Kurt Wilson, Missoulian

The University of Montana rescinded its attempt to cut short yearlong contracts with more than 30 lecturers Thursday, after the faculty union brokered an agreement.

The union filed a formal grievance against the administration in August, citing the university's own rules that give lecturers a guarantee of two semesters of employment before being let go. Earlier that month, the university sent notices to 34 non-tenured faculty they may not have jobs in the spring 2018 semester.

According to a copy of an email from Interim President Sheila Stearns and Faculty Association President Paul Haber, the university will issue full 2017-18 contracts to the affected faculty.

"This is what we sought, was for them to abide by the policies they set forth,” said faculty union spokesman Lee Banville. “We’re happy that they’ve agreed to settle this and do right by these lecturers.”

Of the 34 lecturers, many had taught at UM for more than a decade and were key figures in departments. George Price, with the Native American and African American Studies departments, Traolach O’Riordain with the English and Irish Studies departments, and Garry Kerr with the Anthropology Department were among the lecturers to be let go, according to a list published by the Montana Kaimin.

Though the agreement rectifies the short-term situation, it doesn’t guarantee the lecturers will be around next school year.

“If they (administration) feel like these lecturers aren’t critical to the mission of the university they could notify them in January they won’t return in the 2018-19 school year,” Banville said.

The union held several negotiations with UM administrators, Banville said, including staff from the Commissioner of Higher Education’s office, in the last few weeks to figure out a settlement.

Haber said it came down to the university's interpretation of the policy, which they admitted was wrong through the negotiated agreement.

"Now we all know that the collective bargaining agreement is the law of the land," he said. 

Banville and Haber said there's a need to involve all parties in certain decisions, especially as the university moves forward with budget cuts in individual departments and implements program prioritization. Both were optimistic the University feels the same way.

“We hope that the administration learns that it can do things more effectively by working with the faculty,” Banville said. 

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