By Jason McLure
LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - The University of New Hampshire and its faculty reached an impasse in salary negotiations on Thursday for the second time in a year, as the school struggles to cope with a steep cut in state funding.
The university and a union representing its 630 tenured and tenure-track professors will now go to mediation in an effort to agree on a new four-year contract, officials said.
A previous one-year contract expired June 30, but faculty members have been working its terms during negotiations.
The school's administration has offered a 7.9 percent salary increase over four years and seeks higher faculty contributions to health insurance and retirement plans.
The union wants raises of 16 percent over four years. State law bars professors from striking.
Deanna Wood, a reference librarian and president of the faculty union, said many faculty members may opt not to accept the contract that has been offered.
"The higher benefit costs outstrip the rise in salary," she said.
Candace Corvey, the university's chief negotiator, blamed the union for the impasse, saying in a statement it was "extremely difficult to find any basis in fairness or economic reality to justify their position."
New Hampshire's Republican-controlled state legislature cut state funding to the school by nearly 50 percent, or $33 million, last year.
The state ranks 50th in the nation in per capita funding for state education, according to the university.
Faculty and the university are also at odds over a clause in the current contract that says professors may be fired for "moral delinquency of a grave order."
The administration attempted to use the clause to fire Edward Larkin, a professor of German who pleaded guilty to indecent exposure following an incident in a supermarket parking lot.
The union appealed on Larkin's behalf, and an arbitrator ruled the class B misdemeanor was not sufficiently "grave" to trigger his termination and instead decided Larkin should be suspended for a semester without pay.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)