It’s an understatement to say that the last 14 months were challenging for educators across New Mexico.
As a faculty member in the biology department at the University of New Mexico, I built new online lecture and lab courses in real time to replace face-to-face instruction. I was intent on maintaining quality and substance for the 1,604 UNM students I taught during the pandemic, each of whom were coping with their own struggles. I found it humbling to maintain my professionalism on Zoom, while simultaneously supervising three children in their virtual Albuquerque Public School classrooms.
I have been amazed by the resilience of my faculty colleagues this year. They mastered remote teaching, helped each other with tips and techniques and created volumes of online teaching materials, all while staying engaged with and attentive to their students. They rose to these challenges with enthusiasm and took on extra work, and many are facing exhaustion or burnout as a result.
Before the pandemic hit, I joined the bargaining team of our faculty union, United Academics of the University of New Mexico (UA-UNM). Along with an overwhelming majority of the UNM faculty, I had voted in favor of unionization because I perceived that there were deep problems that had been long neglected by the administration. The goals of our union are aimed squarely at those problems. We seek inclusive decision-making, fairness, equity and reasonable compensation.
Collective bargaining between our union and the administration started in January 2020. Since then, those of us on the UA-UNM bargaining team have volunteered six to ten hours each week for our work. We crafted well-researched proposals aimed at solving the serious concerns of our faculty, and we have described these concerns in detail to members of the administration’s bargaining team. But even after 16 months of bargaining, the administration’s proposals show that they have not yet engaged with the seriousness of purpose that is needed to reach an agreement.
The UNM faculty deserve a contract that provides them with basic protections, a modicum of job security and compensation that keeps up with the cost of living. Faculty compensation is embarrassingly low at UNM relative to similar research universities, and this hurts recruiting, retention and morale. It is time for the administration to embrace the fact that the faculty are the “frontline workers” of UNM’s academic mission.
We provide the substance, and we have maintained the flow and the quality even while short-handed during the pandemic crisis. We did our absolute best to shepherd UNM’s students through this brutal year. It is gratifying to see that the UNM Board of Regents recognized the success of the University through the pandemic by spontaneously awarding a five-figure bonus for crisis management to President Garnett Stokes. Now it’s time for the administration to recognize the faculty contributions to this success by agreeing to a fair contract before the end of the semester.
Satya Maliakal Witt
Senior Lecturer III, UNM Biology Department