Heather Ann Thompson’s Pre-Regents’ Meeting Press Conference Remarks, February 15th, 2018

Hello, I’m Heather Ann Thompson. I am a professor at the University of Michigan, with appointments in the Department of History, the Department of Afro-American and African Studies and the Residential College.

  • This semester, I am a visiting scholar at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University.
  • I’m very glad to be here in Ann Arbor today to speak to the Board of Regents about the tremendous contribution my colleagues in LEO make to this university.
  • The University of Michigan is a large and wonderful institution, which houses a wide variety of activities.
  • I’m going to tell the Regents, however, that we should never lose sight of our core mission: teaching students
  • Along with many of my colleagues in the tenure-track faculty, I know that lecturers are indispensable to carrying out that mission.
  • Ian has already gone over the numbers, in terms of the teaching load carried by our lecturers: A third of credit hours on the Ann Arbor campus, and more than 50% in Flint and Dearborn.
  • We can’t carry out our mission and teach our students without our lecturers. And if the University continues to underpay them, despite their valuable contributions, it will have an impact on the quality of teaching and scholarship here.
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Heather Ann Thompson, 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner & Professor in UM Departments of History, Afro-American and African Studies, and RC. Photo Credit: Catherine Shaffer

It’s time to change priorities

  • I think one of the things you’ll hear from the University administration is that “we are paying what the market will bear.”
  • That is, we should hire lecturers at the lowest price we can get away with, and treat them as a casual – and replaceable – academic labor force.
  • In my opinion, that’s no way to run a great university.
  • If you aspire to be “the leaders and the best,” then you don’t follow the market – you create the market.

The University of Michigan can set a new standard

  • This is a unique opportunity to work with LEO and set a new standard of excellence when it comes to compensating the lecturers who contribute so much to our students.
  • I grew up in Detroit. And if you’re from Michigan, the University of Michigan is the place you think of as setting the highest standard for scholarship and academic achievement.
  • This is one of the great public universities in the nation – and in the world, thanks to decades of investment by Michigan taxpayers and by donors to the university

As a historian, I can tell you: Just because you’ve been great in the past doesn’t mean you’ll be great in the future.

  • There is constant competition in the academic world, for which colleges and universities are going to attract the best faculty, the best graduate students – and yes, the best lecturers.
  • If we continue to underpay our lecturers – at barely above minimum wage, at a level that forces them to work two or three jobs – that is not a path to greatness.
  • That’s not a path to providing the best possible education for our students, who spend many, many hours in classes taught by lecturers
  • It’s not a path to attracting top faculty and graduate students.
  • It’s not a path to staying on top as one of the world’s great public universities.

We’ve got the money. It’s a question of how we spend it.

  • This university has a $10.9 billion endowment.
  • This university collects, as Ian said, $462 million in tuition from classes taught by lecturers, while spending far less on salaries and benefits.
  • You can’t say with a straight face that the University of Michigan can’t afford better pay for lecturers.
  • It’s a question of priorities: Where does the University choose to put its money?
  • I’m going to tell the Regents about my priorities, as a Michigan citizen, a University of Michigan alumnus and as a member of the faculty.
  • My priority is to invest in our core mission: teaching our students. We can’t teach our students without our lecturers.
  • It’s time to Respect the Lecs. That means raising pay for our lecturers so we can provide the best possible education for our students.

That’s what I’ll tell the Regents. Thanks for joining us.