Sarah Rovang Interview

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Amidst the escalating stakes and complexity of the contract campaign —certainly our most important current collective endeavor — it’s important to remember that Lecturers are very often potent forces on an individual basis as well. We are accomplished academics, artists, industry professionals, innovators, and so forth. While classroom instruction is our primary explicit undertaking, many of us also provide crucial service and/or engage in significant research. 

I recently spoke with fellow LEO member Sarah Rovang, who I was excited to hear had recently received the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship, which comes with $50,000 funding for pursuing architectural matters at the global level. We’ll find out more in a moment.

Before we get started, just to clarify, some of this written interview was conducted via email, and while it’s intended to complement the video interview recorded and edited by Erik Marshall, it’s not an exact transcript of that session.

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Hi, Sarah! Thanks for this opportunity to interview you about your own impending opportunity.

Sure, John. It’s my pleasure. Thanks for coming all the way to North Campus.

What’s your current appointment at the University of Michigan? Are you able to work full-time?

I’m currently a Lec I teaching a 2/2 load, which in my department constitutes full time.

How did you become a U-M lecturer?

I was living in Ann Arbor finishing my dissertation remotely in 2016. My spouse got a postdoc in the physics department, and I moved out here to be with him. At the same time, I started a collaboration with a tenured faculty member here in the architecture department. Through that connection, I was able to walk into a full-time lectureship because four permanent architectural history faculty went on leave or sabbatical simultaneously. It was really fortuitous, and I was really honored to be hired full-time again this year even with some of those other faculty back and teaching again.

What are your particular academic and professional interests?

Broadly, I study the architecture of the United States in the twentieth century. My dissertation examined the architecture of the Rural Electrification Administration, a New Deal Program that brought electricity to farmers through cooperatives. They hired this European emigré architect to design pretty radically modern buildings for their offices and power plants in extremely rural parts of the United States. This interest in the intersection of industry, technology, rurality, and architecture is what led me to apply for the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship.

Congratulations on winning the 2017 award! Could you tell us something about the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship?

It’s sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians and provides a unique opportunity for an emerging scholar to travel for a year with very few obligations or restrictions. The expectation is that the fellow will produce a monthly blog post and upload some of their architectural photos to the society’s database, but otherwise it’s meant to be an opportunity for sustained reflection and engagement with different built environments and cultures.

Do you know how many other people were in consideration for this honor?

I have no idea. It’s a small field, but this is an international competition open to scholars across the world. This year’s winner is from Nigeria. But they only award one per year, and I will only be the fifth recipient.

How do you plan to use the fellowship? How much traveling will be involved?

I will be using my fellowship to study the Public History of World Industrial Heritage. I’m really interested in how different nations experienced modernization across varying architectural and cultural modalities. I will be traveling for a full year, starting in July. I plan to visit Japan, South Africa, Chile, Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the UK. My goal is to observe how industrial heritage sites are being interpreted for the public. What kind of infrastructure is in place, and how do digital and physical structures make those sites available to diverse publics?

Do you know where your intellectual and geographical explorations will lead you? Will you ever return? Then again, I guess not knowing what you’ll discover would be part of the fun.

I’m mostly curious to see how industrialization and modernization are presented differently in various global contexts. I think it’s hard to let go of believing that modernization follows a similar trajectory in different parts of the world, but I suspect that the diversity of cultural contexts and historical circumstances means that global modernization itself is as complex and poly-vocal as the modernist expression that responds to the conditions of modernity. And yes, I’m definitely coming back to the U.S. — there’s plenty of work to be done here too on this topic.

Switching gears a bit, how did you first hear about the Lecturers’ Employee Organization?

I heard about LEO at faculty orientation and immediately signed my card and became a member, but it took a little longer for me to get more involved.

What, if anything, prompted the deeper level of engagement?

There were two primary motivators for my involvement with LEO. The first was that I was already interested in labor history thanks to my dissertation work on the New Deal. I knew historically what unions have accomplished in terms of winning fair living wages and better working conditions for people across a wide variety of trades. I also knew that unions are often unfairly stigmatized. I felt strongly coming into this job that collective bargaining is one of the very few ways where workers in lower-paying jobs who have little job security can advocate for themselves.

Secondly, following the 2016 election, I was all colors of angry, terrified, and despondent. Becoming involved in LEO seemed like a very immediate and palpable way to become politically active and to feel like I was accomplishing something. LEO’s collaboration with other regional unions and involvement in bigger political issues is really inspirational.

I totally agree! Against this larger backdrop of national, even international neoliberalism, what are some of the particular issues most important to you as we bargain for a new LEO-UM contract?

First and foremost, salary. All things considered, the lecturers in my department are treated quite fairly. I was horrified to learn that lecturers in Flint and Dearborn are teaching 4/4 loads for $28 grand a year. That’s only a little more than what I made on a graduate-school stipend.

Yes, it’d be great for LEO to be able to tackle salary parity across the three campuses more vigorously down the road. But I’m sorry to interrupt!

You’re absolutely right. And the sad thing is, many other adjuncts across the nation, especially those without union support, are in a much worse position. I think LEO’s salary fight is therefore also important symbolically — hopefully we can show other institutions that there is another way. If I had to name a second top priority, though, I’d have to say child care subsidies and parental leave. I haven’t started a family yet, but when I do, I want a contract that acknowledges the legitimacy of teaching alongside raising a family.

In the spirit of Barbara Walters, let me ask: If LEO were a building or architectural style, what would it be?

LEO would be an extremely solid, brick Public Works Administration building from the 1930s. It would have with a lobby covered in a really grandiose mural series called something like “Triumph of the Lecturer.”

Something in the spirit of Diego Rivera or Thomas Hart Benton?

Precisely. A whole rainbow of lecturers teaching, researching, serving the community, and caring for their families.

What do you think non-architects understand least about architects?

I’m not technically an architect, so I might not be the person to answer this question, but I do think that architecture lecturers are unique in that many of them maintain their own professional design practices outside of teaching. This practice is, in essence, research, but it’s not research that is really recognized in the Lecturer I contract.

As both a Lec I and a poet myself, I find myself in similar circumstances, trying to be a working artist as well as an instructor. How much have you been able to pursue your own research aside from teaching? Have you had to defer it until the fellowship kicks in?

I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve had the opportunity to teach a number of graduate electives designed around my own research interests.  For instance, this semester I’m teaching a seminar on American architectural modernism, which is the underlying theme of my dissertation. Since I’m currently in the beginning stages of turning my dissertation into a book manuscript, this class has been a productive way to keep those ideas fresh, and my brilliant students are constantly giving me new things to think about. I’m also working with a very talented undergraduate student through UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program). Being accountable to my research mentee has helped me keep my new research project on track despite my teaching schedule.

What do you think your students understand least about lecturers?

I don’t think that my students understand that lecturer may have similar qualifications as tenure-track professors but have a very different pay scale and different benefits, and that this difference is a result of an academic system that cranks out people with graduate degrees such that they flood the academic system as supply outstrips demand. The two-tiered system of schools like UM that rely heavily on adjunct labor exploits that supply for profit. Lecturers create a significant revenue surplus and allow UM the curricular flexibility that students have come to expect.

Finally, what’s the one question no one ever asks you, but you wish they did?

One question that I’m tired of being asked is who my favorite architect is. When you’re an architectural historian, you almost know too much. In addition to knowing about the creative genius of an architect, you probably also know about the buildings that leaked or didn’t function like they were supposed to. You know about personal indiscretions or tyrannical office practices. I think a more interesting question might be, which historical architect would you most have liked to work for?

On that note, for which historical architect would you most liked to have worked, and why?

I’m a historian and not an architect for a good reason. But I would have worked for I.M. Pei. Unlike so many architects of the twentieth century who seem so driven by ego, Pei radiated kindness, humor, and curiosity about the built world. He was also a provocative and talented designer. And without necessarily intending to, I think he also did a lot to further the cause of diversity in architecture.

That makes a lot of sense. With all the discourse these days about bad people creating good art — if it can still be considered “good art” separately from its flawed creators — it’s encouraging to know that some figures can still be emulated for their personal conduct as well as their talent. But that’s probably a conversation for a completely different time.

It’s important to know, though, that many lecturers are still engaged in these sorts of big, international conversations, even on top of teaching and bargaining this year.

Sarah, thanks again for talking with us! And best of luck making use of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship! It’s fantastic to see non-tenure track faculty honored as the superlative academic professionals they are.

Thank you, John. It’s been great talking to you. Good luck to you and all of the other Lecs next year. I hope we win the contract we all deserve.

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“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Room.” -Chief Brody

Will this be it? The last bargaining session? If so, it’s time to rally, time to gather, time to come together and make one last, enormous show of support for a fairer, more equitable, and overall great contract for U-M lecturers!

I wrote a possibly lovely, arguably clever, yet certainly long-winded introduction to writing about the next regularly-scheduled bargaining session. But let’s not bury the lead too much: Next Friday, April 6, will mark the third and final OPEN bargaining session, running from about 10 AM until about 5 PM. It will NOT take place in Palmer Commons. Instead, bargaining will take place in the Michigan Room on the second floor of the Michigan League (911 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109. There’s also a MUCH-smaller Michigan Room in the Michigan Union on S. State St., but we’ll be at the Michigan LEAGUE.)

This may be the final bargaining session before LEO membership partakes in a major job action, so the agenda could be quite something! Events are speeding up!

Keep in mind that each open-bargaining session is a very big deal, perhaps most visibly on the University of Michigan’s biggest campus, in Ann Arbor. On open-bargaining days, more of us lecturers come. On open-bargaining days, we’re joined in the bargaining room by our allies who have “a direct interest in the working conditions of lecturers.”

We’re joined by our students who understand that we care deeply about teaching them, about being compensated enough to afford to keep teaching them here at U-M.

We’re joined by our tenure-track-faculty allies, our fellow educators.

We’re joined by our family members who rely on our hopefully-regular paychecks and benefits.

We’re joined by allies from fellow U-M unions, like the nurses’ union, which is also bargaining its new contract at this time.

On the last open-bargaining date, March 16, the number of attendees was around 250 — not a bad turnout! True, we had to order extra pizza to feed everyone. True, the fire code limited the number of chairs in the bargaining room and the number of people who could sit on each chair. True, also because of the fire code, a number of people had to stand or sit in the sixth-floor caucus room or the hall outside, at least until more chairs opened up in the fourth-floor bargaining room, Great Lakes Central* in Palmer Commons.

But ultimately, LEO truly generated a lot of visible, audible support on that day, just as it did in Dearborn on March 9, the first open bargaining day, and in Flint on March 23.

Again, open bargaining is a very big deal. So let’s take advantage of it! Invite your students! Invite your colleagues! Invite any U-M parents and/or alums that you know! This will probably be the last chance for many who care about the lecturers in their lives to watch history be made regarding the working conditions of U-M’s thousands of lecturers.

Let’s each fill a seat, get something to eat, and help support LEO to negotiate a contract that can’t be beat!

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* – According to the numbers I ran across, the Michigan Room in the Michigan League has a maximum capacity of 125, which is thirty-five fewer than Great Lakes Central. So don’t worry if you can’t stay all day. Plenty of people should be waiting outside to fill that seat! In fact, there’s a certain beauty to supporters coming and going in waves, like an ocean of well-wishing and witnessing, washing away at the shore…

Image: Kirsten Herold, captain of The LEO Bargaining Team, leads a caucus discussion during Ann Arbor’s first open bargaining session.

Two More Extra Bargaining Sessions

There will be two extra bargaining sessions next week, sessions which any U-M lecturer may attend. Both sessions will start at 4:30 PM and take place in Ann Arbor.

The first extra session next week will be on Tuesday, April 3, at the Administrative Services Building (home of Academic Human Resources), , on the southeast corner of Hoover. The meeting will probably take place in the South Room. (And if you attend, whatever you do, don’t touch the markers!)

The second extra session next week will be on Wednesday, April 4, on Central Campus somewhere — we’re hoping a place close enough for us to zip to and from the third Ann Arbor General Membership Meeting in the Ballroom of the Michigan League at 6:00 PM. Once again — go to extra bargaining at 4:30 somewhere, hustle to the League ballroom by 6, and then go back to the first place at 7ish to wrap up bargaining for the day. Keep your eyes peeled on social media (Facebook, Twitter, this blog) to discover the location of “somewhere,” once this location has been determined.

LEO members, we each still play an important role in demonstrating the frankly impressive levels of support and interest that have marked this bargaining campaign. Let’s keep coming to bargaining, even on these weird off days, especially insofar as they fit our schedules better than the regular Friday sessions. Let’s keep contributing to this collective endeavor, this perfect storm of opportunity! We can do it, together! Inch by inch. yard by yard, week by week, we ARE doing it!

A Wrinkle in Time: Now’s Your Chance to Attend!

As we head ever closer to the event horizon of the April 20 contract end date and its mighty gravitational pull, time simultaneously seems to shrink and dilate. Days that once held one meeting now squeeze in three or four meetings, maybe more, and feel much longer than before. And weeks formerly with one bargaining date now contain two or three bargaining dates. In short, the process of negotiating a complex contract by two parties representing very distinct interests both obeys and apparently transgresses the laws of physics.

But I teach in the English department and understand poetry better than space-time, so I could be wrong.

What remains undeniably true is that as we approach April and the prospect of a major job action, the schedule of important events fills up faster. Over the next few weeks, there really will be additional, ad-hoc bargaining sessions to resolve both non-economic and economic issues. Lecturers, we need to be at these sessions, too! Perhaps especially those who haven’t been able to attend Friday’s regular sessions can now support the LEO bargaining team and pay heed to the ongoing negotiations on one or more of these extra occasions. Allies, we continue to appreciate deeply your interest in our professional welfare, and hope to keep seeing you during the regular times (10ish to 5ish) on Fridays, usually in the caucus room but in the bargaining room itself on April 6!

The first extra bargaining session will occur VERY soon, TODAY, Wednesday, March 28, in the South Room of the Administrative Services Building (1009 Greene St., at Hoover). There’s metered parking in the lot across the street, and parking for those of us with U-M stickers in the two lots behind the football stadium. Bargaining will start at 3:30 PM and proceed until an undetermined time in the evening. The front doors should remain open till 5 PM.  As we enter, we’ll head right through the double doors and be directed by a receptionist if we see no LEO people to guide us. Let’s get some lecturers’ eyes and ears in that room! Why not yours?

Next week, extra bargaining is expected to occur on two days, Tuesday, April 3, and Wednesday, April 4, also in the late afternoons and evenings. Locations for both days TBD. Note that Wednesday’s session may occur both before and after the third, strikingly important General Membership Meeting in Ann Arbor (6:00-7:00 PM in the Ballroom (Floor 2) of the Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave.)!

tl:dr — Extra bargaining sessions kick off today at 3:30 PM at Academic HR and will continue next week on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

Bargaining Update 3/23: Some Movement on Non-Economics, but More Peanuts for Salary

For most people, peanuts are delicious. For most people, peanuts don’t trigger anaphylaxis. Most people can eat whole bags of them without gasping in shock.

Still, one cannot live on peanuts alone. And there was a lot of gasping in Flint last Friday because of them.

We began the day by delivering proposals on both of the packages management had delivered so far: Package A (a memorandum on articulating some sort of bridge between the I/II and III/IV tracks, as well as articles on appointments, layoff, recall, and performance evaluations) and Package B (agreements to help part-timers with appointments and benefits, plus articles on posting, benefits eligibility and plans, sick pay, modified duties, and unpaid leaves of absences). Our cover sheets often read, “We [LEO] accept your [management’s] language.” We accommodated and facilitated. We bargained in a spirit of compromise. And we made progress as management seemed to understand at least some of our concerns.

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The march and rally following the morning session rivaled the most recent Ann Arbor march in size and volume. People were fired up, and we learned to better appreciate how the situation of UM-Flint and its lecturers reflected the plight not only of lecturers on all three campuses, but also of the greater Flint-area community. We heard from a political candidate, fellow lecturers, and a representative from a sister union. The final speeches by Flint campus chair Stephanie Gelderloos and by Residential College lecturer Bob King particularly struck loud, resonant chords with the hundred-plus people gathered together.

In the afternoon, after another set of compelling testimonials from lecturers, management presented their long awaited second counter to our salary proposal, now packaged with provisions for professional development and DEI initiatives. They again figuratively tossed us peanuts, this time a double handful instead of a single one, but still not anything approximating a healthy diet of compensation for any LEO lion (or hardworking professional academic Wolverine).

More specifically, while management did agree to raise starting salaries for each new lecturer by $5500 over three years, it would be business as usual for current lecs on all three campuses, with annual raises tied to the tenure-track in Flint and Dearborn (usually between 2 and 3%) and 2.25% for Ann Arbor — just about keeping up with the projected 2018 inflation rate. There would be no additional raises for any current LIIs or IVs (and many LIs and IIIs). And they refused to even entertain the possibility of any kind of equity adjustment for long-time lecs. Management offered no cogent response when we openly asked, Why don’t you want us to make decent livings? Their rationale for the missing planks in their counterproposal was also somewhat less than compelling:

Admin: We believe the focus should still remain on annual increases and minimum salaries. That’s where the focus has been, and we feel it should remain there.

LEO: Why should it remain there?

Admin: I’ll have to get back to you. We feel that when we spend the money, that’s where the money should be.

LEO: We need to caucus.

And so we caucused. After taking a moment to gasp at the underwhelming provisions of the second counterproposal, those gathered in the bargaining room considered how to respond, eventually deciding to tweak a couple of packaged items while once again presenting our original salary proposal. We returned our slightly amended Package C to management once they returned to the room, giving them one more chance to do right by us.

But it’s not all up to management, far from it. It’s time for us — lecturers and allies alike — to ratchet up the pressure.

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So what do we do next?

  1. We need to display our strength in numbers at bargaining. In addition to the regular Friday sessions, there will be a number of extra ones (open to all U-M lecturers) squeezed in at odd places and times, since both management and we would like to wrap up negotiations before the spring/summer break. The first extra session will take place on Wednesday, March 28, starting at 3:30 PM, location tba. We are hoping to settle most of the remaining non-financial issues.  Keep checking social media (Facebook, Twitter, LEO Matters blog) for more up-to-date details about each upcoming extra session.
  2. On Thursday, March 29, beginning at 2:00 PM outside the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union, we will hold a grade-in to demonstrate our contributions to the university. Come join us! At 3:30, the Regents’ Meeting will take place inside the Anderson Room, where community voices will speak out, in favor of our ongoing campaign for a better, more equitable contract. Those who ultimately control the university’s pursestrings must see us and hear us!
  3. This coming Friday, March 30, the site of regular bargaining shifts back to Ann Arbor, back to Palmer Commons on the 4th and 6th floors, from roughly 10 AM to 5 PM. Although it won’t be an open session, so only lecturers will be allowed in the bargaining room (4th floor), allies are always welcome in the caucus rooms on the 6th floor, where we will meet, eat, and discuss proposals. This is another great opportunity to watch, listen, and otherwise bear witness to the truth! (Parents and guardians — there will be child care available!)

Let’s help shift a paradigm together! In short, let’s save the peanuts for the circus.

Yes, We Can! How Lecturers AND Allies Can Build Power

The time to act is now.

This is our best shot to get a #faircontract4lecs. We CAN build the power to do it – here’s how.

Even when you don’t feel brimming with time and energy, even when your personal bandwidth seems narrow and clogged, you can still help LEO to claim the compensation Lecturers have deserved, continue to deserve, and will keep deserving for decades.

We invite Lecturers and allies to check out our Power Building Toolkit. This toolkit contains materials and instructions for how you can spread the word about our fight for a fair contract and help us build power within the university and larger community. Our asks are simple but make a big difference.

Link to sign up for the LEO listserv? You’ve got it!

Brief but action-packed PowerPoint presentation? You’ve got it!

Pithy but potent flyer for students and similar potential allies? You’ve got it!

A letter template to customize and send to tenure-track faculty? You’ve got it!

Access to brilliantly eye-catching door signs for days? You’ve got it!

Although none of us can do it alone, we sure as hell can do it together.

-John F. Buckley

Wow! Did You Know…

…that if you click the “Follow” button in the right sidebar of this blog page, you can subscribe to LEO MATTERS? Holy foxes! It’s so easy! Never again will you hang out by the water cooler at the academics factory, listening to everyone else discuss the latest Lecturers’ Employee Organization blog post about exciting past events, ongoing negotiations, future hopes for an equitable contract, or other topics related to higher education, wishing you had known about the post earlier so that you could have shared your own penetrating insights on the matter at hand.

WordPress’s magical kobolds will even send you an email that says something like, “Congratulations, you are now subscribed to the site LEO MATTERS (https://leounion.wordpress.com) and will receive an email notification when a new post is made. ” What a bonus!

No, but really. Just click the “Follow” button and get clued in whenever new LEO blog content arrives. The process is almost elegant.

What I Did on My Fall Flint Vacation: Presenting Article XI

This Friday was a hoot. Looking at it from another direction, it takes a proverbial village to hoist me. But in Flint, once again, we had the villagers.

My classes having been placed for the day in the capable hands of EDWP (English Department Writing Program) Lecturer Mentor James Pinto, I was able to ride up to UM-Flint with LEO President Ian Robinson and newly-elected Ann Arbor Campus Co-Chair Phil Christman, Over the course of the day, I was able to spot about forty-five LEO members, other lecturers covered by the contract, tenure-track faculty allies, students, and staff organizers stopping by the bargaining room and/or the caucus room, a show of support that, given the Flint campus’s smaller size, was consistent with what we enjoyed last week at Ann Arbor’s Pierpont Commons. Kudos to all who managed to bring themselves to Michigan Rooms C & D at Harding Mott University Center (UCEN). You mattered, you counted, and your voices made a difference!

At the bargaining table, UM-Flint Philosophy Chair Stevens Wandmacher discussed our proposed changes to Article XIX, on performance evaluation. LEO Vice-President and bargaining-team manager Kirsten Herold covered Memoranda of Understanding #1 (“Special Provisions Covering Lecturer III and IV Major Reviews in LSA”) and the even more vital #2 (about offering full-time opportunities to Lecturers), as well as Article XXVII (on posting, hiring, and notification). But frankly, largely because I was the one who introduced it and presented our revisions to it (during my first, somewhat-daunting stint at any sort of bargaining table), I worried the most about Article XI, the article on appointments, the article some have said is the spine of the contract, since it spells out just what it means to be an Lec I, Lec II, Lec III, Lec IV, Adjunct Lecturer, or Intermittent Lecturer.

So here’s some of what I said:

  • As with other articles, many of the proposed changes to Article XI corroborate that University of Michigan lecturers are not merely academic day laborers hired from bookstore parking lots. Instead, we are highly skilled, highly educated, highly dedicated professional scholars and pedagogues who deserve the respect, the commitment, and the concomitant compensation due the faculty of one of the world’s foremost universities. Some seek this respect reflected in more prestigious job titles. Some seek this respect reflected in more, quicker, or earlier communication about opportunities for advancement, notices of appointments, and the results of reviews and reappointment decisions. Some more simply seek more, quicker, or earlier such opportunities, reappointments, and reviews. All lecturers seek the same level of commitment from the administration that we, the collective heart of the University of Michigan, continue to offer its administration. Whether freshly-minted Lecturer Is or Lecturer IVs who have devoted decades to educating our students, we seek full-time, more dependable, better-paid employment in exchange for our ongoing role as the University’s chief source of tuition revenue.
  • Some academic units are having more difficulty than they might at attracting the best candidates from private industry or other schools, because these candidates don’t want to be known merely as “Lecturers.” Offering the opportunity for the unit to assign a more prestigious working title, like “Teaching Professor,” addresses this concern.
  • We’d like a ban on units deliberately underestimating the appointment efforts for Lec Is and Lec IIs in order to avoid the late-layoff penalty. For example, if an academic unit keeps giving 2-2 offer letters to a Lecturer who, semester after semester, keeps winding up with a 4-4 load, then that academic unit needs to cut out that lowballing and stop jerking this Lec around because it doesn’t want to risk paying 17% of what they would have earned for teaching that class.
  • Some effective dates were changed from 2010 to 2018. Because, duh, it’s not about to be 2010. These “expired” dates happened because during the last contract negotiations, in 2013, the teams didn’t open up Article XI for discussion, so no one had a chance to update certain clauses and provisions.
  • When LEO’s leadership surveyed us earlier this year, many people wanted to know why there was no clear track from Lec II to Lec III. So one proposed change (to XI.A.8) would help make the process of moving from Lec II to Lec III more transparent. We’d also like to remove any policies preventing internal hires, especially if the goal is to encourage and cultivate long-term educators who are already committed members of the University community and who are willing to embrace new professional challenges. In other words, maybe we can evolve from a largely two-tier system (I/II & III/IV) toward a more intuitive I-II-III-IV ladder.
  • We added “continuing renewal review” to the series of items early in XI.A.9 to address the needs of those who have passed two major reviews. The changes to the sentence after that, basically changing “will not” to “may,” are to enable a review to happen during a layoff, if the Lecturer and the department are both willing to have that happen. For if it’s a temporary layoff, why not enable the Lecturer’s ‘off-season’ to be a bit more productive? Later changes similarly would enable Lecturers to have a review while they were on leave, if it were cool with both them and their departments.
  • Since School of Business classes often meet in the Spring or Summer half-term, it makes sense to add them to the short list of academic units that count Spring/Summer teaching as semesters toward review.
  • We need to move toward making Lec Is feel less like migrant laborers and more like solidly valued members of the University community. We need to enable Lec Is to spend more energy on teaching students, less energy on hunting for more stable employment. Promoting year-long appointments for Lec Is not only reassures them, not only frees up their psychic real estate for pedagogical purposes, but sends a signal that the Admissions and Registrar’s Offices are competently doing their jobs by correctly anticipating in a timely fashion how many students, how many classes, and how much work will be available in the coming semesters.
  • It would be useful to provide a time limit for documenting such a serious decision as a termination. Both the terminated Employee and the Union want to know and deserve to learn the cause for termination, in a timely manner and without the need for continual nagging by union grievance officers.
  • Changing fall appointment decision dates from April 30 to “prior to April 1” gives Employees more time to plan their lives. For example, Ann Arbor landlords often start asking by about February if tenants, in this scenario hardworking U-M Lecturers, want to sign additional year-long, August-to-August leases. In fact, my own property manager asked my wife and me on October 18 (!) if we wanted to sign a lease for 2018-2019. I mean, yes, we’re certainly wonderful, responsible tenants that they want to keep, but that sort of early request still presumes that I have future work. If U-M doesn’t offer it to me, or to any of us Lecturers, we need to know earlier rather than later so we can start looking for alternate employment. Again, wouldn’t the administration want us spending the end of the term focusing on teaching classes and turning in final grades, not job-hunting?
  • The most necessary change to provisions like XI.B.2.d.ii.c. is to establish that after an unsuccessful major review that leads to a remediation plan during a remediation period, the later review is a remediation review, not another major review, since we primarily want to make sure the Employee has made the necessary changes. As an analogy, it wouldn’t make sense for a student to perform poorly on an exam, receive extra instruction and support, take a make-up exam, and also retake the original exam on which they had fared poorly. In short, no more requiring a remediation review and another major review after remediation! At the end of the remediation period, assess whether the previously diagnosed problems have been solved, don’t go looking for a new set of problems. (Perhaps Stevens summed up the situation best when he repeated Cardinal Richelieu’s quote — “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” If a unit doesn’t like you, they can always find something with which to screw you. There’s no need to give the unit two swings at the target.)
  • The change in language in places like XI.B.2.f.i. and XI.B.2.f.ii.a is to help establish one and only one Continuing Renewal Review, one final flaming hoop through which to jump before a Lecturer, having worked for – what, at least twelve years by this point? – let’s say twelve years, can finally have the same negligible job security of a U-M staff member who has passed their six-month probationary period! After twelve or more years a Lecturer has been engaged in successful service to the University, the Employer should put a ring on it. The lasting commitment should be honored without future strenuous mind games to see how much the Lecturer still cares for the Employer.
  • A couple of Implementation clauses have the same rationale as the provisions listed in the last point, and are designed to fix and honor past long-term professional relationships as well as future.
  • We’d like to change the definition so that being a Lec III or Lec IV may involve any one of a variety of factors, not the whole combination of service, research, and wide-ranging instructional capabilities. Regularly being able to tackle all three legs of the tenure-track tripod is fine, but being able to teach well in addition to any one of those factors listed here or in Appendix A should suffice for an Lec III or Lec IV. No more calls for so-called “unicorns,” superhuman simultaneous supergeneralists and multiple superspecialists who do all things at all times.
  • We’d like to have the interim review earlier in Ann Arbor LSA so that the Lecturer has more time to reflect, amend the performance of their duties, and prepare for the major review. No more cases of having the major review two days after the interim review, which has actually happened before!
  • We want the major review timeline for Adjuncts to mirror that of other Lecturers so that they can get their lump-sum payout faster.
  • We want to acknowledge that Intermittent Lecturers don’t always teach exactly one semester per academic year. If an Intermittent Lecturer does a lot of teaching, they should get to their major review sooner.
  • If a unit fails to conduct someone’s review in a timely fashion, we want that person to get $500 per month missed and to be considered to have passed that particular review. This provision is intended to disincentivize not conducting an Employee’s review in a timely fashion. If people pass their reviews, they make more money. So if the unit hits an Employee in the wallet by blowing off a review, the Employee deserves some sort of financial compensation.
  • We’d like to bring the Continuing Renewal Review and remediation reviews in line with the two major reviews.
  • And finally, we’d like to delete XI.B.9.iv., an atavism left over from the first contract, from back in the days when people may not have been reviewed for twenty years. Now that performance reviews are much more regular phenomena, deleting this clause would help ensure each review prioritizes the period since the last review. For instance, if someone happened to get off to a rocky start over ten years ago, we don’t want that initial chapter in their relationship to the academic unit to haunt them in perpetuity.

The admin team had questions. I didn’t really have answers. Luckily, I didn’t need them. Especially after our team took breaks to consult and compile, Kirsten and Stevens, the respective grievance officers for the Ann Arbor and Flint campuses, were able to recall copious (anonymous) examples of Lecturers who had come to them with situations requiring the contractual solutions we’ve been offering.

A better, fairer, more equitable contract. We still want it. We’ll still fight for it. And we still need everyone’s support, whether inside or outside the bargaining unit. The admin bargaining team (the other folks) want next Friday off for a retreat. But then we’ll be at UM-Dearborn on November 17, in Kochoff Hall B. After that, it’s Thanksgiving weeeknd. But after that, on December 1, we’ll be back in Ann Arbor, this time on Central Campus, at Palmer Commons in Great Lakes North. Bring yourself! Bring your colleagues! Bring your friends! Pack a lunch! Bring some grading! We’ve all been honored by the level of visible support we’ve already displayed. But with 1660 people currently in the bargaining unit, this marathon relay-race can accommodate a lot more team members. So come on by and run with the rest of us. We are all LEO!

Momentum Matters, Flint Matters, You Matter

In the wake of the very well-attended (135+ members and allies, at last count) and highly successful bargaining kickoff at Pierpont Commons on U-M Ann Arbor’s North Campus, contract negotiations between LEO and the administration will move to Michigan Rooms C & D on the first floor of UM-Flint’s Harding Mott University Center (UCEN).

UM-Flint is where over half (56%) of all student credit-hours are taught by lecturers. They shape the educational journeys of vast numbers of students, especially in the first two years. This Friday, UM-Flint is the place to be.

LEO Lecturers are fighting for fair salaries, stronger job security, and expanded access to health care for all LEO Lecturers — almost 1700 of us. If each one of us shows up at even one negotiating session, even if only for an hour, then zowie! That’s going to make a tremendous impression. That’s going to prove that the handfuls of people at the bargaining table aren’t the only ones who care about making the changes we need and deserve. We need to keep the momentum going, to show that last week wasn’t a fluke. Once again — This Friday especially, it’s time for Flint to shine!

This particular session will initiate discussions on a wealth of topics:

  • performance evaluations (Article XIX);
  • appointments, major review, and renewal (Article XI);
  • full-time opportunities for lecturers (Memorandum of Understanding #2);
  • job posting, hiring, and notifications (Article XXVII);
  • and layoff, reduction in effort, and recall (Article XII).

If you have a copy of the current contract,  you can follow along! If you don’t yet have a copy, consider downloading a PDF from the link in the right sidebar.

What if you support LEO, but aren’t technically part of the bargaining unit? What if you’re an awesome ally but not a past or present U-M lecturer? True, during this year’s negotiations, non-lecturers will only be allowed in the actual bargaining room on three days, and I believe we’re still saving those special occasions for a bit later. But there’s always the caucus room, where you’re absolutely encouraged to sign the check-in sheet and get counted; to grab LEO swag like buttons and stickers; to check out the social-media, letter-writing, and selfie-portrait stations; to hear our bargaining team and their audience debrief about the proceedings; and to express your own feedback and support. We can’t do this alone!

We need your presence, your bodies, your hearts, your minds, your voices, your faces, your stories. We need you. And if you’re a U-M lecturer, too, then we are you. So let’s fight for us together.

Will you be at UM-Flint on Friday? Will you stand with the rest of us? Will you support us in our struggle? Especially if you work at UM-Flint, especially if you live in or near Flint, this is your principal opportunity this semester to show up and show that you matter, to show both sides of the table that you care about better, fairer working conditions for all U-M lecturers — full-time, part-time, intermittent, or adjunct.

Please RSVP your attendance on Friday to Bill Emory (Flint Campus Organizer) at bill@leounion.org. (This will help the staff know things like how much lunch to order, as well as help keep track of how much support we might have!)

Driving to Flint? Want a ride to Flint? Please go to https://goo.gl/forms/AGE8YW1VGFOJNfah1 by 12:00 noon on Thursday, November 2, to let folks know about carpooling availability and need.

MAP

 

LEO’s Opening Statement

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The following statement was delivered to the administrative negotiating team by LEO’s vice-president and bargaining-team manager, Kirsten Herold, at the start of negotiations on the morning of October 27, 2017, the first day of bargaining. It may be long, but it’s definitely very good.


Welcome All,

As you probably know, since you are the most diligent readers of our emails, we have been preparing for this round of bargaining for the past year or so. One thing we did is that last winter we send out a series of surveys to both members and nonmembers on a variety of topics. We had a lot of responses – and some of those folks you will be meeting as we go through this process – both as witnesses and as bargaining team members. It is clear that although lecturers love their work and are highly committed to their discipline and to their students, and are proud to be teaching here, there are some significant dissatisfactions with the “terms and conditions” under which we are employed. Almost all the proposals we will be presenting to you in the coming weeks – and there are a lot of them – eighty-two at the last count! – are attempts to address the various shortcomings identified by large groups of members.

The first and most obvious area of our members feeling disgruntled or less than gruntled is in the area of salary:

To paraphrase Jimmy McMillan, from the Rent is Too Damn High Party, our members are telling us, loud and clear that the pay is too damn low. Raising salaries across the board was identified as the most urgent issue for the union – about 66% of our members reported that they were personally struggling and 80% said that they could not make ends meet on their current salary. (The discrepancy might be that the second question was assuming there was no partner.) Some folks say very clearly – that if I didn’t have a partner who makes significantly more, I could never make ends meet on this pay.

The salary complaints fall in two major areas – starting pay, and salary stagnation from long-term lecs due to the poor annual raises and the lack of salary bumps later in their careers. I don’t want to take too much away from the salary presentations you will be hearing this afternoon, but I want to say a few things about both areas.

Re: starting pay, we all know that the starting pay is the most important – subsequent raises are based on where you began, so even a difference of a few thousand can make a big difference over the lifetime. And in spite of our best efforts at every round of bargaining, the progress has been minimal. In our first contract in 2004, when Provost Courant pled poverty, starting pay in AA went from $29,000 to $31,000 – it has now crept all the way to $34,500 – just 11% percent increase over 14 years. This is far less than inflation; i.e., lecturers are getting cheaper of the U. In Dearborn, the number in 2004 was $25,000, it is now $28,300, an increase of 13%. Remember, in Flint and Dearborn, this pay is for teaching four classes to get full-time pay, not three as is the case in most schools in AA. Finally, in Flint, the rock stars of the LEO class, salaries were $23,000 in 2004 and are now 27,300, an 18% increase. Not only that, before LEO was formed, we had members in Flint and Dearborn being paid between $14,000 and $16,000 a year to teach full-time at the University. We had an Excel sheet of everyone’s salary. (Now it is released as a pdf, which makes it much harder to work with.) When we sorted it from lowest to high, 287 of the 300 names on page 1 – i.e., the lowest-paid employees at the University – were lecturers. That hasn’t changed, not nearly enough. And most, not all, but most of our members – especially in the LI -II line, which is the majority – start at those minimums.

So before I move on to talk about what the salary situation looks like after multiple years of employment, I want to quote from a few testimonials we received on this topic:

Here is a pretty eloquent statement from an LI in Ann Arbor on what it is like to live in Ann Arbor on approximately $35,000 a year:

We can currently avoid adding to our debt so long as we never go out to eat, celebrate holidays, take vacations, or have any “surprise” bills like car repairs. But pretending that we’re middle-class, despite our five degrees, is digging us deeper into a financial hole each year. I worry about not having enough money on which to retire. I seriously assume I’ll be living off cat food and instant ramen in my seventies. And I wish we could afford a house, some patch of private property where we could someday starve in peace.

One thing this statement speaks to is how easy it is to upset the apple cart: with careful budgeting, it is just possible to squeak by on the current salary. But any change – car repair, loss of a class, health care bills (even with good insurance, there are bills) – can upend the status quo. Those of us who were there won’t forget for a long time the testimonial given in 2010 from an LII who had lost one winter class. He and his wife had to skip lunch in order to feed their children. This is completely unacceptable way to treat long-term employees, yet this is the experience of too many of our members.

Here is another testimonial, speaking about two fellow lecs in the same department:

[A & B], the current and former assistant director of the English Department Writing Program, work tirelessly in this position mentoring the younger lecturers and overseeing the review process for a Lec II salary[*]. They respond to e-mails immediately, are available seven days a week, run teaching circles, are friendly, always in a good mood, always looking out for lecturers. A wrote a textbook to help lecturers better teach the freshmen writing courses. They have to be the pleasant liaison between the tenured Director and the disgruntled lecturers as we are going through our reviews.

B came to do my classroom observation last year at 8:30 am, wrote a ton of helpful and insightful notes for my observation and for my interim review, reviewed all of my materials, and does this all year for the review process for $20k less than the admins in our office who take care of the copy machines! And they do this work all year, even though they are only paid for eight or nine months.

[* – Clarifications: It has been brought to my (John’s) attention that only the current assistant director recently went above and beyond for a Lec II salary; he now goes above and beyond for a Lec III salary, and the former associate director went above and beyond for a Lec IV salary. Also, during the periods they function as assistant or associate directors of EDWP, these lecturers are not parts of the bargaining unit, although AFT records indicate both have otherwise remained members of LEO since 2004.]

Finally a statement from a member on the Flint campus:

I am in my fourth year of teaching here at the UM-Flint. I teach [various science classes and labs]. I have also filled department needs by teaching [other classes and labs]. I teach full time, at least 12 contacts, and most semesters I teach a few more than this. My full-time rate of pay as a lecturer this year is $29,261 per year.

I grew up locally and am a UM-Flint alumnus, so I have great pride in both the University of Michigan and the Flint community. I really love teaching here. Our students are inspiring. They work so hard for their success, often commuting and working multiple jobs or raising a family while taking classes. I love to see them succeed. There is nothing like the feeling you get as a teacher when you explain something and a student finally gets it, and you can see their face light up in comprehension.

However, my low wages make it hard for me to do this work that I love. I was a first generation college student myself, and I have over $100,000 in student loans. I have a six-month-old daughter at home, and it’s hard to justify the cost of day-care with the amount of money I make. I can’t even consider having a second child on my salary. If not for my husband’s job I quite literally could not afford to work here.

As we will show in more detail in our salary presentations this afternoon, we think the U is an extremely wealthy institution. Many tenure-track and staff make well above $100,000 a year and get decent raises every year. We also know that our work brings in a huge surplus in tuition dollars, and that overall financial situation is very healthy. Given that, there is no good reason for our members who are doing the central job of this place – providing students with an education – to be paid so little. We think paying people with Master’s degrees and Ph.Ds. $30,000 or so, give or take a few thousand, is shameful, especially considering that in community colleges and area high schools they start at twice that. This needs to stop.

The other major problem on the salary front is that after eight years, our already pitiful salaries level off. In the early years of employment, there are two 7% raises (on top of the annual raises), which our members certainly enjoy receiving. In a good year, you may get close to a 10% raise. However, after year eight, there is nothing except for the annual raises, and those have been anemic – on average between 2% and 3%. Moreover, most departments, not all, have been adamant that lecturers by definition cannot be eligible for merit raises, no matter how amazing they may be or what kinds of accolades come their way. What this means is that with the increased costs of living, and the increased cost of benefits, which is a given, people are getting farther and farther behind every year. In other words, there is no incentive to stick around. Thus, improved annual raises for all, and longevity raises for long-term lecs, were identified as equally important a goal as raising the minimums.

Finally, many of our members are not even making these full-time rates, which assume you teach full-time every Fall and Winter term. If you want to make $27,300 in Flint, you need to teach eight courses. Looking at Fall 2017 – 40% (662) of our members are at full-time, another 20% (330) were between 50 and 75%, and about 40% of were below 50% (again 662). So they are living on $20,000 a year – this is criminal. Of course, some part-time lecs are not interested in additional work, and that’s fine. But more than 60% of the people who currently work less than full-time indicated that they would be interested in full-time work, and a full 80% felt that they would be better teachers if they were full-time. I do want to be clear that this is not across the board. Some departments do a good job hiring at 100% except for very exceptional situations, but in other departments, lecs are deliberately kept at part-time appointments so the department has a stable of lecs to choose from – like twenty lecs for the equivalent of ten full-time positions. In this way, they can play lecs against each other and keep everyone, even those who have worked here for 20+ years, in a state of constant anxiety, which is exactly the point.

Another related theme from the surveys is anxiety about losing benefits coverage. This happens when someone drops below 75% for a term – either to go to 50%, which means more expensive benefits paid out of a lower salary, or below 50%, which means losing them all together. If someone goes from 100% in the fall to 50% in the winter, they lose income, but at least we have the very good MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] #3, which averages appointments to maintain full-time benefits rates for those who have benefits both terms. But too many members are only covered for four or six months of the year, and take their chances and go without benefits the rest of the time. This is unacceptable. On our salaries, very few can afford to Cobra for six to eight months, and with the current uncertainties in DC around the health insurance issue, and the possible/likely gutting of the ACA, there is no help there. So we really need our employer to take responsibility for its employees – many of whom have worked here for years. For sure we can’t count on the federal or state government to do so – we can probably agree on that. We will be presenting a number of proposals designed to help people keep their benefits: strengthening MoU #2 (which mandates moving part-timers into full-time work), the posting article, layoff and recall, all to favor existing employees, and also finding a way to expand the number of people eligible for health insurance. We think this is a very good topic for some interest-based bargaining – and we look forward to hearing your ideas on how to address this very serious problem.

Finally, some groups struggle especially hard to get by. One group, a very large one, is LIs – our single biggest constituency. Hired from term to term, liable to lose their classes as late as December 19th for winter semester, with no compensation, able to be let go for no reason whatsoever, their situation is highly precarious. We have talked with you before about the need for full-year (Fall-Winter appointments), and we will be talking about it again. We have talked with you before about moving the notice dates earlier for layoff and reappointment before, and we will be talking about it again. And we have talked with you before about all the multitudes of ways in which the reviews become an unnecessary and anxiety-producing burden, and we will be talking about that again.

In all ranks, reviews are another area of concern that we have spent a lot of time talking about in past negotiations. Our members are being asked to put enormous amounts of time into reviews that, yes, will give them what in percent sounds like a nice raise (until you convert it into dollars), yet the reviews keep coming even when the raises don’t. We will be proposing a modest raise associated with the continuing renewal review (CRR), and an automatic longevity raise every five years after the first CRR. But we also think that four reviews should be enough – one interim, two major, one CRR. No other employee group works with “appointment end dates” except assistant professors (who are either tenured or terminated) and temps. Lecturers are not temps. Under the current contract, the first CRR takes place in Year 12 of work and then every five to seven years thereafter. People are still being reviewed the year before they retire! That is ridiculous!! We think twelve years should be long enough for any department to decide whether they think the lecturer is worth keeping. After twelve years, we are demanding no more reviews and appointments with no end dates. There will a lot of focus on money in this negotiation, but, make no mistake, we are really serious about this.

Another vulnerable group, no matter what their rank, is parents of young children who incur huge expenses. As we know, the United States is the only Western country without a federal childcare policy. Consequently, childcare is very expensive, and the poorest members pay the price. One member explained that she makes $28,000 a year for her 3-2 load in Ann Arbor (which comes to something like $12 per hour, by the way), and the rates at the local day care centers are $22,000 a year – I don’t think I have to explain how that’s not feasible. We know our fellow GEO members get financial support with their daycare costs; we will be presenting a proposal for a LEO childcare subsidy.

So why, if the University is so wealthy, are lecturers so exploited/unpaid?

We would like to offer a few explanations that frequently come our way, and then show why they are not good enough.

One is a series of what I have come to call “comfortable fictions,” and there are two or three major ones:

One is that these jobs are temporary. We hear a lot of comments around that: “These were never meant to be long-term jobs,” “Why are you still here?” or our personal favorite, “We don’t like to exploit people on a long-term basis.” There is some truth in that statement, in the sense that there is a lot of turnover – especially in the LI cohort. Some of that is “employer-generated” in the sense of layoffs or non-renewal due to poor performance. It is also true that a particular person may leave because they got a tenure-track job elsewhere or went back to school, or their partner got a job in Arizona, etc. That is, the normal kind of life changes. But it is also clear from our surveys that many LIs leave simply because they cannot afford to live on the salary they are being paid – especially in the case of two-lec families. In fact, I venture to suggest that the vast majority of the long-term lecs at the University have better-paid spouses – with exceptions of course in certain schools, especially in Engineering, Ross, and the Medical School. This is exploitation, and it is gendered exploitation. Although, of course, there are male lecs who are exploited too, in its origins, these jobs were conceived of as second incomes; i.e., women’s work. No one says anymore what one chair said decades ago when a lec in his department asked for a raise – “Can’t your husband support you?” But the same system is still in place.

A second “convenient fiction” is that lecs are mostly professionals from the community who are just teaching a class now and then because of the fun of it. In other words, teaching is not their livelihood or profession, but a fun thing they can use to boost their resume and because they like to be around young people. Again, this may describe a few of our members, especially in the professional schools – Education, Law, Architecture. But again, it simply does not cover the vast majority of our members, and frankly, it is insulting because it diminishes our members’ life-long commitment to teaching. The truth is that 60% of our members work at 50% or more – teach more than one course. (Some of those who are part-time also have staff jobs at the U, making them full-time in total.) And although there is much turnover, many do stay and make a career of this.

The final fiction is that lecs are the failures of the profession who don’t deserve better, who couldn’t hack it in the grown-up reality of the tenure-track world. This was a view articulated by some of our tenure-track colleagues, most notably the former Dean of LSA who referred to lecs as “the C students of the university” – and by many others, although rarely as brazenly as he did. We trust that no one at this table will repeat this kind of defamation because it is simply not true. Another, less benighted ex-Dean of LSA said, “We have great lecturers, most of whom could have gotten tenure at most universities, but for a variety of reasons they chose to stay here, and we are better for it.” I might add to his very good point that there are lecturers who get tenure here. So there is no bright line. Moreover, the argument would be more compelling if in fact there were tenure-track positions to be gotten – maybe in 1960 when there were more tenure-track jobs than people to fill them. The fact is that nationwide tenure-track jobs are vanishing and being replaced by lecturers – one figure I read was that 70% of student credit hours (SCHs) (not counting the for-profits) are now being taught by instructors not on the tenure track – thus basically looking like Flint, where 65% of the SCHs are taught by lecturers. Put differently, there are 365 lecs in Flint, and only 211 tenure-track faculty.

This lack of respect for the work we do is also communicated in less brazen ways. We have all heard phrases like – “faculty and lecturers” – or “faculty and LEOs,” or, “We only do that for faculty.” These kinds of microaggressions are so common that many of us don’t even notice anymore. We will not repeat a proposal from a few bargaining cycles ago where we proposed a fine payable to the union every time this was said. However, we do have some proposals that speak to this issue and seeks to have us treated like the faculty members we are. For example, when we present the Appointments article, we propose a discretionary honorific title of “teaching professor” – some units have told us they simply cannot hire the best people for the jobs, not just because of pay (which can, after all, be raised) but because they don’t want to be called “lecturers.” In Professional Development, we propose lecturer access to some additional professional development opportunities, including pay for DEI [Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion] course development. And we have a proposal on extended governance rights for lecs. We are here, we do a ton of the work, and we are not going anyway – the numbers of lecs have gone up every year since we formed. So why not give us governance rights and have us participate as equal partners in the work of this institution?

Finally, we want to address an argument that we are pretty confident we will hear at this table: the market. You will no doubt tell us that you are paying these abysmal wages because the market can bear it. We don’t buy it. We think that the market argument is a way for the haves to justify giving themselves more and give the have-nots less – once again, I am reminded of that same former Dean of LSA who was very comfortable on his salary of $460,000+ at the same time he continued to give lecs annual 2% raises, took away eligibility for merit, and insisted on hiring at the mins. Even if it is true that some other institutions treat lecs equally badly, that is hardly an argument to do it here.

So while it may true that you can able to hire at the current wages, whether you can keep people is less certain. The refusal to give retention raises to match offers from elsewhere hurts the institution and the students when top people get recruited elsewhere and leave. Constant turnover, mostly due to the poor pay, means more hiring, more searches, and worse educational outcomes for students, who won’t be able to get a letter of recommendation for an instructor who is no longer here. And anyone who has taught knows that it takes two or three tries to get a class right, so the quality of instruction suffers.

What strikes us is that this University (and no doubt others) only invokes the market when it suits you. The market is not an inviolable law like the law of gravity – it is a highly selective construct. For example, we know it costs much less to graduate an English major than a physics major, yet that difference is nowhere reflected in the tuition charged. One could also charge tuition based on the popularity of majors – so a degree in Latin would cost less than a degree in international studies. But we don’t do that here, because we don’t want to apply the market in this way. According to Paul Courant, the Spanish-language program alone pays for two science departments – I think he said Physics and Geology. I don’t think Spanish lecs (or tenured faculty) feel like they are being awarded for that astonishing productivity. And, not that you should take this personally, but many of you at the table are very well paid – we calculated the ratio of your average salaries to ours is about 3:1. Yet we are reasonably confident that many of you could be replaced by other employees willing and able to do your jobs for less. Again, no mention of the market when administrators award themselves $10,000 in raises.

In other words, citing the market as justification for keeping people in poverty is nothing more than justifying the race to the bottom. As long as you can find a freshly minted Ph.D. desperate to believe their degree has some value, you can pay them the bare minimum. In other words, the academic labor market is rigged because universities control both the supply of faculty (through production of Master’s and Ph.D.s) and the demand for tenure-track labor. This is especially true in the humanities and some of the social sciences, where there are few employment opportunities outside academia. By pumping up Ph.D. production (so the highly valued tenure-track has bright grad students to teach and don’t have to sully their hands with undergrads), universities collectively push the price of lecturer labor far below their worth.

In higher-ed circles, this used to be called the Dirty Little Secret of Academia – but the secret has been out for more than a decade now, and everyone is wringing their hands talking about what’s to be done – except when we come to the bargaining table, when suddenly nothing can be done. When my former chair (who, shall we say, did not respond positively to the union) became president of the MLA, she informed me in all seriousness that the “profession” really needed to address the exploitation of lecturers. Every professor we talk to has a story of a brilliant grad student who was unable to get a “real” – i.e., tenure-track job. Our own President Schlissel recently stated that the exploitation of adjunct faculty is the biggest problem facing higher education today. So the secret is out there. But still, when higher-ed workers unionize and come to the collective bargaining table – which is the one mechanism where something might actually change – suddenly it is a very, very bad time for lecturers to ask for a raise.

Finally, we also need to point out to you the contributions of our members. Here are some figures from the CRAS [College Resources Analysis System] data (which contains all the classes and who teaches them). In Ann Arbor, lecs teach 33% of the total SCHs [student credit-hours], 38% of undergrad SCHs, and 45% of the first- and second-year SCHs. By contrast, tenure-track faculty teaches 49% of the total SCHs, 41% of the undergrad SCHs, and 31% of the first- and second-year SCHs (2016-17). The rest are GSIs and clinical faculty.

Flint and Dearborn are substantially similar, with Flint having a slightly higher reliance on lecs – here are the numbers for 2015-16 (we still don’t have 2016-17 numbers for Dearborn: lecs teach 52% of all SCHs, 58% of the undergrad SCHs, and 67% of the 1st and 2nd yr SCHs. There are very few clinicals and GSIs on the two campuses, so essentially tenure-track faculty do the rest of the teaching. Lecs bring in a total about $460M in tuition, and our total compensation (salary plus benefits) sits around $83M, leading to a surplus of $377M. In case anyone had any doubts, these figures make it clear that we are an integral part of this institution and deserve to be treated accordingly.

But we think the numbers are only part of the story. Another way to talk about how integral we are to the mission of this great institution, which I am proud to serve every day, is to talk about the contributions of individual and groups of lecturers. As a lec from the humanities (I have a Ph.D. in English) from another country (Denmark), I will talk about something first that is near to my own heart: the fact that in Ann Arbor, we offer sixty-seven different languages – I counted a few years ago – I don’t know why more people aren’t incredibly excited by that. Examples are everything from the classic Western tradition: ancient Greek, Latin, spoken Latin (in case someone wants to do a junior year in the Vatican), Old English (sadly, no Old Icelandic); to modern European languages like French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, Serbo-Croat, Czech, Russian; to languages outside the European canon – Japanese, Chinese, ancient and modern Hebrew, Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi; to less frequently taught languages: ASL, Ojibwa, Tibetan, Yiddish, Thai, Filipino, Quechua.

This wealth is arguably one of the things that make us a first-rate institution – many universities offer fewer than ten languages. This could not be done without lecturers – most tenure-track faculty do not have the training or inclination to teach beginner and intermediary language classes. And offering all those languages does not mean just a lot of different options for students – for students it may mean that they can get in touch with their family heritage or get a taste of a completely unfamiliar culture where they then may spend a semester, a potentially life-changing experience. It also provides an unbelievable richness of cultural programming, events, and opportunities for exposure for everyone in the larger university and Ann Arbor community. Thus we have programming like the Wallenberg Lecture, the woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Arab Spring; there are musical performances, dance events, readings, films, and talks practically every single day.

Other examples: Kate Mendeloff in the Residential College, who directs the Shakespeare in the Arb productions every summer, which gives pleasure to thousands of UM and AA folks. There are dozens of published creative writers and accomplished artists. I could talk about community engagement of various programs, largely run by lecturers. There are entire Academic Program staffed entirely or almost entirely by lecturers: the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, Sweetland Center for Writing, the English Language Institute, and the RC, in LSA alone. Lecturers who have been chairs of Departments: in Flint, there have been at least three, including Stevens Wandmacher, who is sitting at this table.

All this goes to show is that there is no bright line between tenure-track and non-tenure-track. When tenure-track faculty go on sabbatical, guess who teach their courses? Lecturers do. When tenure-track don’t want to serve on committees, who gets asked? Lecturers. Who designed many of the new minors? Lecturers.

Finally, we will just add that asking for better treatment is what a union is for. We didn’t form a union because we were satisfied with the status quo. We don’t have seventy-some-percent membership because our members are happy. We think we deserve better. Just because workers at Walmart don’t get fair wages doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve fair wages. Most progress in the American workplace has been due to unions: health and safety, decent benefits and retirement, the forty-hour work week, no child labor, weekends. So we think that as a top-ranked public university with a very healthy bank balance – the endowment went from $9.7B to $10.9B this year and the annual surplus is between $300M and $500Mhas the power and responsibility to lead by example and set a new market standard that accurately reflects our worth. That is what it means to be “the Leaders and the Best.”


The fun has only started! Please check out at least some of the next bargaining session, which will take place from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM up at UM-Flint, in Michigan Rooms C&D on the first floor of the University Center (UCEN)! We hope you can make it!

Driving to Flint? Want a ride to Flint? Please go to https://goo.gl/forms/AGE8YW1VGFOJNfah1 to let folks know about carpooling availability and need.

Map: https://www.google.com/maps/dir//43.01933,-83.6881842/@43.019275,-83.7583663,12z/