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.
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 $500M – has 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.