Pa. Faculty Union Pushes Back Against Plan to Cut Extra Pay for Online Teaching

A proposal to phase out incentive pay for teaching online courses has become a sticking point in contract negotiations between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the system’s faculty union.

The system has provided professors with financial incentives to develop and teach online courses since 1999, shelling out about $5-million annually, said Kenneth D. Marshall, a spokesman for the 14-campus system. But system leaders have proposed cutting those incentives in negotiations for a new contract, and the professors’ dissatisfaction over that plan and other issues may lead them to strike.

The professors receive $800 per credit for each online course, as well as $25 per student taking the course, to cover the time they spent developing the materials or learning new technology tools. They also receive extra payments if the course is reused in following years, said Stephen Hicks, president of the union, the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties.

Some faculty members have said they would stop teaching online courses if the extra compensation were phased out, he added.

“To do a good online course, you have to understand the technology as well as your discipline,” Mr. Hicks said. “Oftentimes there isn’t anybody to help you on the tech side, so it’s a lot more work to develop the course.”

But the system needs to cut costs, and extra compensation is no longer necessary now that faculty members have more technical resources at their disposal, Mr. Marshall said. “We needed to create these incentives 13 years ago,” he said. “But now, it’s appropriate to begin treating online courses the way we treat face-to-face courses.”

The two parties have battled for months over the contract, which actually expired in June 2011. The union has pushed back against other proposed changes as well, most notably a decrease in pay for temporary faculty members.

Administrators at California University of Pennsylvania, which offers online undergraduate and graduate courses through its Global Online program, said they could not comment while negotiations were under way.

Last Saturday, Mr. Hicks said, the union’s leaders asked members to vote to authorize a strike, and the vote will be finalized by Thanksgiving.

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