EMU-AAUP contract negotiations and an eye on the future

By the way, this is a post I’m writing for both stevendkrause.com and for EMUTalk.org and it’s the kind of thing I’ll keep posting on stevendkrause.com once the sun that is EMUTalk.org sinks below the horizon for good in September or so.

The faculty union, the EMU-AAUP, is in the midst of contract negotiations this summer, and so far, so good. I have no detailed or inside knowledge about what’s going on, but I have chatted with a few colleagues who “know better,” and this is what has happened so far (at least according to the EMU-AAUP web site):

  • There is nothing particularly contentious on either side of the table right now. Probably the biggest fight is going to be over administration’s contribution to TIAA-CREF because the administration changed the way this works for new administrators coming to EMU so that it is a noticeably worse deal than it is right now. It’s more complicated than that, but I guess what it boils down to is the administration wants to pay less for retirement than they do right now, and the faculty obviously don’t like that idea.
  • Apparently, faculty at EMU have fallen behind our peers in terms of salaries and such, and given that the finances and enrollments at EMU are generally pretty solid, we will probably see a decent enough raise both in terms of a flat percentage and also in terms of the “bump” between assistant and associate and associate and full. Of course, the union continues to want to negotiate these raises as a flat percentage, which benefits the highest paid faculty at EMU. It is no wonder that the leadership of the EMU-AAUP has been dominated by faculty in the College of Business and the College of Technology, at least that’s pretty much been the case since I’ve been here.
  • There will almost certainly be some kind adjustment in health insurance, though that’s just an educated guess based on the fact that there has been some kind adjustment on health insurance with every contract I’ve seen.
  • The EMU-AAUP site has a blog of sorts where they have been posting updates to the contract negotiations so far, and things seem to be going smoothly. It’s early of course, and they always start with the less contentious stuff, but it looks like there will be some kind of new language/rules on student conduct, there are some changes to the way contracts work for tenure-seeking faculty that makes things a little easier, and there’s going to be some kind of “electronic dossier system” that will end the ridiculous stacks of binders and such that faculty submit for tenure and promotion and the like.

So while I wouldn’t want to predict too much, I’m not too worried about this contract cycle. I’m frankly a lot more worried about what happens next.

The next contract will be the first under Michigan’s change to a “right to work” state, which means that workers in a bargaining unit (in this case the faculty) have the right to “freeload:” that is, the union will continue to represent all faculty for the purposes of negotiations and for grievances, including faculty who decide to not pay their union dues. If enough faculty opt out of paying the dues, the union will be weaker and eventually it could go away.

Just to make matters worse (as reported in Inside Higher Ed here, “Threat to Faculty Unions”), there’s a case that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear next year that could further weaken public sector unions. I’m not sure it would make matters worse in Michigan or not because the IHE article makes it sound that if the court decides that a forced “fair share” fee to a union is unconstitutional, then all states would become “right to work” states.

Either way, the future is worrying. Up until this point, the union hasn’t really had to do much in the way of convincing faculty that the union was a “good idea” because everyone had to pay their dues regardless of how they felt about it. Now if the union doesn’t pay close enough attention to the faculty as a whole, they will risk losing members.

I don’t think there is going to be a bunch of faculty who abandon the union anytime soon, especially in the current unpredictable climate higher education is in, and, as I have said many times before, I am all for the union. At the same time, I think the EMU-AAUP has to make some subtle changes in how it does things.

First, it needs to continue to be responsive to the constituency generally and not just to those who are loudest. A really subtle example of what I mean: the EMU-AAUP opened contract negotiation season with this video that depicts the “battle” that as about to come as akin to one of good versus evil and with all of the drama and special effects of a summer blockbuster. Now, I get that this is a parody and it’s supposed to “fire up” the base and all of that. But a lot (most?) faculty don’t see the administration strictly as the “them” that the “us” is fighting, and the “we’re here to battle” is not exactly a tone to take at the start of what can hopefully become a mutually beneficial negotiating process.

And along these lines, I think the union has to be a little more careful in some of its communication and sometimes knee-jerk responses. A good example of this for me personally is the whole Yik Yak mess: if the EMU-AAUP had held on to its initial position of banning Yik Yak on campus (they seemed to have backed off on that), I probably would have opted out of union dues as a matter of public protest. It’s easy for me to imagine lots of other scenarios where the union leadership does something that ticks off enough people to cost them a lot in dues.

Second, I think the EMU-AAUP needs to do more to emphasize the positive, and there really is a lot of positive with the union. They need better PR and better communication. They’re starting to do that with the revamped web site (though I think there are a lot of clunky elements to the new design), but I think it needs to go further than that. Rather than assuming that all faculty see the obvious benefits to the union, the EMU-AAUP needs to sell itself a bit better than it has done in the past.

Like I said, I don’t think faculty are going to leave the union anytime soon. The one percent or so of salary that faculty pay in dues is definitely worth it to me (though one thing the EMU-AAUP might do– if this is possible– is to have more of a sliding scale on dues that is tied to salary and/or rank, which would make the incentive for lower paid faculty to skip out on dues even less– just a thought). At the same time, the future of the EMU-AAUP and of academic unions generally seems murky to me.

Quit Smoking at EMU!

If you’ve been on campus this summer, you have probably walked by one of these signs over the last month or two. Well, today is the day:  EMU is going Tobacco Free. I have two general thoughts about all this.

First, as a former smoker who gave it up over twenty years ago, I have gotten to the point where I now pretty much hate any whiff of cigarettes or cigars or whatever, so I am all for this ban. If anything, it seems to me like this tobacco ban should have been in place a long time ago. Just as points of comparison: U of M has been smoke-free since 2011, and Washtenaw Community College banned tobacco in 2005.

Second, we will see how this transition and the enforcement of this policy works out. I look forward to not having to walk through a cloud of smoke outside of Pray-Harrold Hall, but I think it will take a little time to really convince smokers that they aren’t supposed to be smoking there. And I’m not so sure EMU is ever really going to be able to ban smoking in parking lots and the like.

“EMU’s 7.8% tuition increase means $1M less in state aid, $10M revenue increase”

As mLive reports, “EMU’s 7.8% tuition increase means $1M less in state aid, $10M revenue increase.” Here’s a quote:

The Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents unanimously approved a 7.8 percent tuition increase for students for the 2015-16 school year.

The increase exceeds the state’s recommended cap of 2.8 percent. As a result, the school will forfeit $1 million of its state aid, but officials at the school said it will gain $10 million in revenue from the increase.

It will be interesting to see how this works out, but I have a theory about all this.

If you do a search of EMUTalk.org for the 0/0/0 campaign back in 2010 or so and reflect on what has happened as a result, I think it’s pretty easy to see it wasn’t all that effective. Keeping tuition super-duper low didn’t increase enrollment all that much– maybe a little, maybe not at all. Further, EMU hasn’t been rewarded by the state for keeping tuition down. And to top it all off, to the extent that Martin will take the blame for this, she’s retiring.

So really, what does EMU have to lose here? Other than millions of dollars if they were to hold to the state caps? Like I said, it will be interesting to see how this works out over the next year or so.

Faculty Contract Negotiations Begin This Week; What Do You Want?

EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller sent around an email about contract negotiations set to begin this week. Bargaining Council has been meeting since May 1 and has “around 30 proposals ready to take to the table” (more on that in a moment), there’s a “kick off picnic” on Tuesday, and negotiations proper begin on Thursday.

The “motto” for this year (I’m not sure this is a motto so much as it is an advertising tag line, but whatever) is “United We Stand– Divided We Beg,” and the EMU-AAUP has been making some modest efforts at branding, PR, and social media. Check out the Facebook group, for example.  Some of this I like quite a bit– for example, I like the idea of the interviews about why the EMU-AAUP. So far, I’ve only seen this one of Howard Bunsis:

On the other hand, I am not at all a fan of the motto, I suppose because while I am a firm believer and advocate of collective bargaining for faculty for all kinds of reasons, I don’t see the alternative of the union as “begging.” Rather than a message of “If you’re not with us, you’re screwed,” I’d prefer a message along the lines of “We are stronger with a union” or “Look what the union has done for you before.” Or something like that.

And I really don’t like this:

Ick.

But I digress: this bargaining season also reminds me that the end of EMUTalk is approaching in a couple of months– September at the latest, and, assuming a happy end to the negotiations this time around, maybe earlier. Long-time readers will undoubtably remember that EMUTalk.org started as the result of what I think everyone agrees was the absolute ugliest negotiations ever in 2006, when the administration’s team walked away from the table, when we were out on strike for about 12 or so days, and when the contract wasn’t decided until it went to a “fact finding” and arbitration process that wasn’t really settled until well into 2007.

After that mess, contract negotiations have been a lot more productive and quite frankly, the last contract we got– which, among other things, lead to more funding for research and a process for a raise and promotion after the full professor rank– was probably the best deal I’ve seen since I’ve been here. And while I have no inside knowledge at all– I just have heard some rumors– I’m cautiously optimistic about this go-around too.

The administration has pretty much the same negotiating team at the table as they had last time, the EMU-AAUP’s team is pretty similar, EMU’s finances and state support seem reasonably solid (at least as far as I can tell), and I think there are good reasons for both sides to make a fair deal and to make it quick and with as little controversy as possible. After all, EMU is also about to start a search for a new president, not to mention a new VP for the graduate school and a new dean for our largest college, Arts and Sciences. We want to attract the best candidates possible for these positions, and the last thing the administration needs at a time like now is some kind of ugly and protracted fight with its faculty. At the same time, the whole “right to work” bullshit puts the faculty union in sort of an awkward position too– or at least a less certain one. So in a way, there’s a sort of “mutually assured destruction” thing going on here. And I think that’s a good thing.

I don’t know what is included in the 30 or so proposals coming out of bargaining council (and if anyone does know, that’d be interesting to hear), but I’m pretty sure there is going to be something about the faculty harassment issues highlighted by the infamous Yik Yak incident. My guess is that there will be the usual suspects regarding a percentage wage increase and how much we pay for health insurance, and there might be something in the mix this time about TIAA-CREF. As I recall, administrators now don’t automatically get the institutional contribution of a 11% of base salary, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration wants this for faculty too.

Which gets me to the question part of things: what do you want? I have to say that other than the usual– more money, good insurance, good benefits, etc.– my needs are pretty modest.

  • I certainly don’t want any of the gains we made in the last contract to go away, and I’d be surprised if they did.
  • I’d like to see some clarification about summer teaching because the way that’s been handled in CAS for the last couple years has been kind of confusing and/or crazy.
  • One of the things in that nutty flying letter video that comes up is “academic freedom,” which I obviously think is important and maybe, given some of the craziness going on around the country right now, maybe there is space in the contract for some language regarding that.
  • I’d like to see us exit once and for all from the EAA nonsense, and I frankly think the administration would like that too. The problem is the Board of Regents on that one.
  • I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it would be nice if there was agreement that we have a 3-3 teaching load rather than a 12 credit teaching load, a disparity that makes for inconsistent practices across departments.

So, what do you want?

 

 

 

“Alabama Football Follies”

A loyal reader sent me a link to this op-ed piece in the New York Times by Joe Nocera, “Alabama Football Follies.” It’s about the move to do away with football at the University of Alabama at Birmingham followed by the outcry and the reinstatement of football. It’s of interest here since EMU is specifically mentioned as one of the poster children for spending too much money on athletics:

Schools in smaller conferences — Alabama-Birmingham is in Conference USA — have struggled to keep up, especially state schools whose budgets have been cut by their legislatures. (According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state spending per student in Alabama has declined over 36 percent since 2008.) USA Today does an annual ranking of university athletic department balance sheets, and you can clearly see this trend. Rutgers University had a $36 million deficit; the University of Connecticut, $27 million; the University of Massachusetts, $26 million; Eastern Michigan University, $25 million — and on the list goes.

But there is one other part of this story that is a bit of a silver-ish lining. The president who cancelled football at UAB, Ray Watts, insisted that the university would not pay more than $20 million for football and if the “various interests” in the community wanted more (and they wanted a lot more), they were going to have to find the money themselves. And they did: “By the end of May, the city’s corporate leaders had pledged to make up the additional $17.2 million subsidy, and had made a promising start on raising the $13 million or so needed for the practice facility.”

I agree with Nocera, that there are many better ways to spend the money than on football. But at least there was significant community “buy-in” to football at UAB. Could EMU’s football team come close to raising money like this?

A little EMUTalk.org news and reflection

First off, you might have noticed a change in the header images for the site. There were a couple of days where they were pretty messed up, and now they are limited to three of my favorite and/or readily available images on my computer. This is because of something I tried to do with the wordpress install that didn’t work, and I ended up erasing a bunch of stuff I shouldn’t have erased. Oh well. But I’m not going to work too hard at restoring some of those images because the end is near for EMUTalk.org anyway.

Second, I took a moment to glance through the archives of the site, and if you are a fan of EMUTalk.org from the old days, I’d encourage you to do the same. For example, June 2007 was when stuff about the Dickinson murder was back in the news following an investigation that showed that EMU’s top administrators at the time handled things quite poorly. It’s interesting to look back to see where we were versus where we are, right?

“Hurons logo, harassment prompt meeting at EMU”

From the Detroit News comes “Hurons logo, harassment prompt meeting at EMU.” Here’s the opening paragraphs:

U.S. Justice Department officials came to Eastern Michigan University this week to meet with president Susan Martin and a Native American campus group to discuss concerns over the continued use of the school’s Hurons logo after students allegedly harassed a Native American elder in April.

At the meeting Tuesday, Martin refused to remove the logo after being asked to by the EMU Native American Student Organization, according to Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for racial justice for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Fancher attended the meeting at the request of the student group.

Martin returned the Hurons logo, which depicts a Native American face with paint and feathers, to the EMU Marching Band uniform in 2012 to promote what she calls the university’s history and pride. It is hidden under a front flap.

“She takes the position the logo was retired. Its presence under the flap does not equate its return,” Fancher said. “Martin says it’s a part of the university’s history. My response to that is yes — it’s a disgraceful part of the history. It is causing harm to the students. It needs to go.”

The article goes on to recount the recent incident where students were dressed up as mock Indians and they yelled at and threw a beer at Ypsi local Nathaniel Phillips, who is Native American and who is always described in these articles as a “Elder.”

I don’t think it was a good idea to put EMU’s past logos– including this one– under a hidden flap on the band uniforms, and I also am pretty certain that there is no cause and effect relationship between these uniforms and these drunken college kids yelling “We’re fucking Hurons!” at this Native American man who happened to be walking around Ypsilanti one night. Rather, I think the cause of that unfortunate incident was the combination of the fact that EMU once was “The Hurons,” Phillips is himself Native American, and those dumb kids had too much beer.

And I suspect that the powers that be at EMU were attempting a PR move that would have satisfied the “once a Huron, always a Huron” alumni, and now it’s coming back to bite them. I am almost certain my colleagues in the EMU communications office are wishing they had a “do-over” on that one.

But on a slightly different note: I have to say that as a professor who studies and teaches about rhetoric, I am pretty fascinated about the power of this hidden symbol. Remember: this logo is on the uniform but out of sight. Members of the band would know it’s there of course because they’re putting on the uniforms, but if the fact that it was there had not be publicized, we would never know that it was there.

So symbols– even the idea of a symbol, not even its actual manifestation of its presence to an audience– are incredibly powerful, and not merely as a metaphor. They are powerful enough to cause a meeting between the DOJ, the ACLU, EMU officials and lawyers, and student groups. That group of people certainly spent some time debating the removal of an image that few people can actually see. That’s pretty fascinating to me.

 

 

More lazy summer days & “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me”

Pretty quiet around here at EMUTalk.org, which is typical (summer, after all) and good. I’m still planning on closing things down here early in the fall and I’m still encouraging all of you to join the EMUTalk facebook group! You’ll be glad you did!

Anyway, a loyal EMUTalk reader (and also a member of that Facebook group!) sent me a link to this piece by Edward “not his real name” Schlosser writing for Vox, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.”  It’s an interesting piece. I don’t think I completely agree with it, though I have to admit that as a) a tenured full professor who b) is a middle-aged white male (and thus I am less vulnerable to various attacks and critiques, generally), and who c) doesn’t really teach a whole lot that is too controversial politically or culturally, particularly at the undergraduate level, I have little reason to be “afraid” of students’ accusations about me, liberal or conservative or otherwise. And I’m not sure that the conditions now amongst students regarding “political correctness” are that much different now than they were back when I was in college.

What I do think is different now though is the powers and perils of social media and the internet generally. All the problems and backlash that Schlosser talks about here were possible back in the 80s or 90s or so, but they become that much more magnified now. And I do think he definitely has a point that it’s problematic to make make too many assumptions about ideas and views based first on identity rather than the argument itself. Anyway, definitely worth a closer read.

“EMU Football Helmet Part of College Football Hall of Fame”

Two alternative headlines/titles for this post I had in mind were “slow SLOW news around here” and “What?!?” But I decided to go with what they had at emueagles.com, “EMU Football Helmet Part of College Football Hall of Fame.”  Apparently, the new helmets with “the flat forest green metallic color, featuring a chrome diamond plate Block E logo on the side” (I blogged about them way back in October) are featured as one example (with about 50 others) of an exhibit called “The Alternate Helmet — Modern Styles.”

Besides wondering who exactly would go to the College Football Hall of Fame and why, my other two favorite things about this story are the corporate sponsorships. That is, it’s “The College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience” and the Emus helmet is featured in the “Specialty Exhibit Delivered by UPS.” Heh.

“Report: Stepdad of Julia Niswender headed to trial on child porn charges”

From mLive comes “Report: Stepdad of Julia Niswender headed to trial on child porn charges.” The first paragraph kind of sums it up:

James Turnquist, the 47-year-old Monroe man who is considered a person of interest in the murder of his stepdaughter and former Eastern Michigan University student Julia Niswender, is headed to trial on charges on possessing child pornography, the Monroe News reported.

I don’t know a whole lot about child pornography, but the story here makes it sound like those charges are kind of trumped up. I have to wonder how much of this is really about holding this guy while he remains a “person of interest” in the Niswender murder.