the faculty strike at eastern michigan university

Classes started today at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), but they did so without faculty. Failing to come to terms with the administration, the 668 members of the EMU branch of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) continued their strike.

I’m not an expert on such things, but, having just read the union’s letter to President Fallon and Regent Valvo and talked with a few folks on the picket line, I’m inclined to say that I’m on the side of the strikers. I haven’t as of yet contacted the administration for their view, but I have read their public statements and I feel as though I have a pretty good handle on their position. Here, for those of you unfamiliar with the what’s going on, is the general situation as I understand it:

The faculty want raises that keep pace with inflation, and they don’t want to lose healthcare benefits. The University administrators, however, say they just don’t have the money to give them what they want.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The administrators aren’t saying that they can’t afford to keep pace with inflation. No, to hear them tell it, they’re being quite generous — offering 16% raises — and it’s just that the faculty are being unreasonable (and greedy).

The image presented here is taken from the front page of the EMU website. As you can see, it says, “EMU terminates negotiations as AAUP refuses ‘last, best offer’ of 16% compensation increase and retention of existing healthcare choices.” What they don’t tell you, however, is that the 16% is spread out over 5 years, and that, while healthcare choices won’t be cut, the faculty will be asked to begin paying for some of what had previously been covered out of their own pockets. I know I risk boring a lot of you, but what follows is an analysis of the administration’s deal that was done by the EMU President of the AAUP, who happens to be an accounting professor:

In the first year of the contract:

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  1. mark
    Posted September 6, 2006 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    If you have conflicting information, or see the facts differently, please leave a comment. I have friends on the faculty and friends with tenure, and I’m trying to keep an open mind about this.

    Also, if you’d like to send me strike photos, I’d be happy to post them with the article.

  2. erin
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I’m a grad student and grad assistant at Eastern, and my loyalties lie firmly with the strikers. Even though they’re on strike, both of my professors have contacted their students with info about their classes and assignments. One of them has even offered to be available to us during his normal class time while on the strike line.
    I chose to go back to Eastern for grad school (I also earned my bachelors degree there) because of the professors. They deserve to have a wage that at least keeps pace with the increase in the cost of living as opposed the the net decrease in pay that the university is offering them. From what I’ve read, their salaries average among the lowest in the state for public colleges, while the adminstrators’ salaries average among the highest. As a student, I’ve seen many professors go above and beyond to be available and approachable to give aid to their students than was strictly required. At the other university I attended during undergrad (U of M), this was not always the case.
    All of that said, it’s unfortunate that this situation has escalated to this point. It seems that while the union has remained available, the adminstration keeps walking away from negotiations.

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 8:58 am | Permalink


  4. Mark H.
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Hi — I’m a tenured prof in history at EMU, and I think, Mark, that you have the facts straight. And yes, the union has asked for binding arbitration, yet management has rejected that idea. In Michigan, biniding arbitration is permitted for public employers only if management agrees to it, so that kisses that civilized idea goodbye.

    As for Ol E Cross’s promanagement views: I don’t know the exact facts you refer to, but there are few or no profs at EMU making 100,000 for teaching two classes. Probably, if what you claim is about that one striker is correct, he is one of the former administrators who is now on the faculty and who was allowed to keep the high administrative pay.

    The truth is that our salaries at EMU are far lower than usual for faculty at comparable universities — which is partly made up by our very good health benefits. We’d like to keep the health benefits, for ourselves, and for the university’s ability in the future to recruit new faculty! The health benefits are the only real attraction we offer to faculty candidates with other offers: we have heavy teaching loads, weak research support, poor pay, but a great location, good students, and good health care. Recruiting and retaining tenure track faculty is in the best interest of the University.

    And no doubt there are many great part time lecturers at EMU. I know lots of ’em. But a university must have at its core faculty members who are recruited thru national searches — experts in our fields, able to run academic programs. It is no disparagement of the non-faculty instructors to say that EMU has been hurt, our ability to attract and retain students has been undermined, by management’s increasing the numbers of poorly paid instructors who lack academic freedom and the right to earn tenure.

    One last point for my fellow EMU worker Ol E Cross: How exactly do you think the faculty as a whole could have upheld the benefits of the clericals and other employee groups? Unions cannot bargain for one another. That’s the law. And the strongest group of employees at any place of business are inevitably…the strongest. In our last contract, signed in 2004, the faculty secured a raise for us that kicked in a “me too” provision in some of the other EMU employees’ unions’ contracts.

    Our interests are the same. Let’s avoid this “race to the bottom” logic — just because one group of worker are kicked around does not mean others should get kicked too. Management at EMU is pressing the faculty hard now in part because it wants to take more away from the other unions.

    No doubt some full profs are arrogant or unlikeable. I hope that’s not true of most of us, but it’s true of people in any group. Much of Ol’ E Cross’s criticisms seem to arise from such personal objections, rather than from a realistic analysis of higher education and its various labor markets. PhD full professors have more power than clericals or part time lecturers. Yes, that’s true. No surprise. Beating us all up equally will do none of us any good.

    And hey! The AAUP has tried to oppose outsourcing of various campus jobs and we have advocatd strongly for quality classrooms and fewer management perks.

    Sorry to go on so long. Thanks to everyone for their honkng horns and expressions of support. Back to the picket lines for me to talk to students. — Mark Higbee

  5. Ted Glass
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Here’s the administration’s response:

    Dear Colleagues:

    I believe it is important to share with you the most up-to-date information and to respond to key questions and concerns that have been raised in the course of negotiations with the EMU-AAUP. As always, the University

  6. ol' e cross
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 12:43 pm | Permalink


    At the risk of sounding more pro-management, EMU’s largest colleges are arts & sciences and education.

    Law and business school faculty, for example, generally make more than English profs. What I haven’t seen from either side is an apples-to-apples comparison of what profs teaching the same subjects make at peer institutions.

  7. Kathleen
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Having worked at UM-D for ten years and therefore knowing how things work at a Univ, that I have a tendency to believe the faculty over the administration.

  8. trusty getto
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    entitled “Report rips Michigan’s higher-ed conditions.”

    You get what you pay for. If EMU, or our public schools, or the City of Ypsilanti, or [fill in the blank with your favorite governmental entity] want to solve our fiscal problems by merely paying people less, the natural and probable consequences will be to further impair our ability to remain competitive, helping to keep our economic slump alive for years to come.

    Our politicians in Lansing have chosen to consider education a non-priority. Until they change their minds, all we can do is spin our wheels arguing and diverting attention from the real problem: A Legislature that wants to keep cutting taxes and underfunding localities while blaming local officials, workers, and unions for not getting the job done.

    This logjam is in large part why I’ll be voting for the K-16 Initiative,, which is on the ballot this November. It’s not a panacea, and it creates a whole different set of problems for the state and for localities. However, (somewhat like the Keep Ypsi Rolling Campaign), it appears that the only way to get elected officials to actually move on some of these problems is to threaten them with a loss of control. It’s a sad shame, but that’s apparently all we little people are left to do.

    Mark’s and Ole E Cross’s argument exemplifies the Republican strategy — keep us arguing with each other until we’re blue in the face, all the while failing to hold those responsible accountable for their inability to solve the problems they’ve been elected to solve.

    I’d like to see both Fallon and the union reps go on the offensive against Lansing. Equitable funding of higher education is Lansing’s job – not Fallon’s nor the union’s. We are not a poor state. There’s no reason to take giant steps backward with our public employees. It’s a simple matter of prioritization – one that our Legislature is loathe to confront.

  9. ol' e cross
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of further falling prey to the Republican strategy of engendering in fighting, I’m gonna respond a bit to Mark H and then pipe down…

    Mark H,

    I sympathize with your trying to avoid the lets “race to the bottom” logic. And you

  10. Citizen Blogger
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Mark H. and Ol’ E Cross together present a good case for One Big Union.

    Mark H. notes that the faculty union couldn’t bargain FOR the staff union. On the other hand, I’d certainly hope that the faculty would respect any picket line put up by the staff! (Especially while asking their students to respect theirs.)

    I support the faculty. I also support the staff. As Trusty says, let’s not let the university set up zero-sum hostilities between the two!

  11. Jim
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    A letter very similar to the letter quoted above was sent to students, although it was signed by a different administrator. I understand that this letter is the work of a PR firm retained by the university this week. For a partial response from the union, see:

    The university has been attempting to make all unions on campus accept new premiums for health care. When the full time lecturers negotiated their contract last summer, the AAUP encouraged them not to accept the university’s health care proposals; however, the lecturers were forced to give in, as have other unions on campus. The most effective thing that the AAUP can do to help other unions on campus in future negotations is to get the best deal possible on health care.

  12. maryd
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    As I passed the old college grounds and honked in solidarity, my amazing 14 year old daughter asked “What they raised the tuition and didn’t give the money to the teachers?!”
    She gets it. Teens can bring you great joy occasionally.
    Is it not the professors that do the work of the university?

  13. mark
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to thank Ol’ E.C. for joining in on this conversation. His take on this is one that, I’m ashamed to say, hadn’t even occurred to me, and it’s one that I doubt will ever come up in the press… And, I think that Trusty is right on the money when he suggests that, instead of attacking one another, we look to Lansing…..

    Some time ago, I suggested here that we, the citizens of Ypsilanti, should picket EMU on the first day of classes to bring attention to the fact that the state hasn’t paid us what they’re obligated to under current law for our hosting of the school. Someone else, I can’t remember who, suggested that, if we really wanted for it to be effective, we’d arrange for the several communities around the state that have public institutions of higher education to all do it at once. It was, I think, a great idea. Too bad I didn’t act on the idea when it came to me… Maybe we could do it next year though. And maybe we could broaden it at bit to encompass the funding of the institution.

  14. ol' e cross
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    That I am up past my bedtime, checking MM’s blog, indicates the degree to which the strike strikes a chord, as does, to slightly paraphrase the great poet of our age, Ken Mikolowski:

    Three Little Words


    A rising tide lifts all boats, but only if those boats are in the same water and not blocked by locks. EMU is the Erie Canal. (Yes, one big union, please.) I’ve often thought about posting when drunk and I won’t learn my lesson if I don’t say one thing I regret in the morning.

    In the interim, I’ve typed and deleted several things I would regret. Mean things; true things.

    I, apparently, am not drunk enough.

    Maybe tomorrow.

    I’m going, now, to shave my balls.

    I love you all. Very much.

  15. mark
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    It’s about time for another “confessions of ball shaver” piece.

  16. egpenet
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    We got the government (Lansing) we deserved … we voted for it. Smaller governemnt, tax cuts, “essential services,” etc. Sound familiar, Ypsilanti?

    The State owes us bigtime for the “essential services” we provide to EMU … lost tax base, fire protection, etc.

    And while an argument can be made that unions and salaried personnel prublic and private are accepting co-pays, etc. for health care … a city income tax on the educational staff isn’t going to make things any easier.

    We the people need a State government that truly serves the people. EMU is a fine university and deserves better. Ypsilanti is a great town that deserves better.

    Anytime is a good time to visit Lansing. Why wait? You think Dick DeVoss is going to satisfy our needs in Ypsilanti? Think again!

    A complete tax overhaul is needed … an essential part of which enhances those Michigan communities that host Michigan’s public colleges and universities. We are preparing Michigan’s future leaders, scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers and parents.
    We are also serving broader democratic goals by providing university opportunities for tens of thousands of foreign students … future citizens … future leaders of the developing world.
    EMU is a leader in that respect.

    Everyone in this city should support EMU AND thee faculty as they renegotiate … take sides if you must … but realize that the ultimate solution is in Lansing … which REALLY means, the voting booth and YOUR ballot.

    Alma’s officee on Pearl is a great place to drop a note of support. Let’s roll!

  17. Jim
    Posted September 8, 2006 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I would second everything egpenet writes. We need an overhaul of our tax system, including amelioration of the devastating effects of Proposal A. Property taxes are absurdly high for new homeowners in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, while homeowners protected by Proposal A pay far less than their fair share of taxes. We can find ways to help the elderly and the poor keep their homes while also making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. You can put up as many “cool city” banners as you want, but you won’t have a “cool city” if young people in creative fields can’t afford to live there.

    Even apart from the inequities created by Proposal A, a progressive income tax is much fairer than property tax, under which middle income homeowners typically pay a higher share of their income in taxes than do high income homeowners. I recognize that a city income tax would hurt low income workers, but under our current state laws it may be the least worst option for Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

  18. UBU
    Posted September 8, 2006 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Now that they know what side you’re on, Mark, I’m sure the administration will cave.

  19. mark
    Posted September 9, 2006 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I heard from a friend today that channel 7 in Detroit, on their evening newscast yesterday, said that the faculty at EMU were “turning down a 16% raise.” If it’s true, it’s inexcusable. They must have read it word for word from the administration

  20. UBU
    Posted September 11, 2006 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Yeah, if an EMU student thinks you’re cool, well, that’s pretty much the universal benchmark of coolness…

  21. ol' e cross
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    A cease fire has been called and the strike is over (at least for 24 hours.)

  22. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    So, what happened? Did the administration offer to come back to the table, and, as a show fo good faith, the faculty said they’d go back to work for a day?

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