Recent Graduate Neala Berkowski’s Remarks to Administration on Friday, February 16

My name is Neala and I’m a recent grad of UM working in the Residential College here.

The most meaningful work I’ve done as an undergrad at U of M has been under the guidance and care of lecturers.  As a student in the Semester in Detroit program in the Residential College, for example, my lecturers were the ones who taught me about the importance of reflection and self-awareness, how to enter communities with respect, and how to build relationships and trust.  Lecturers have literally invited me into their homes multiple times for meals and have formed close enough relationships with me that they trust me to take care of their children.

Lecturers are one of the only reasons I’ve learned anything while being a student here and why I still somewhat believe in this University’s ability to teach and support students. Lecturers are some of the most important members of our community.  Without them, this would not be a University, merely a financial institution.

Any student here that has had a Lecturer could tell you a story like this.  They could tell you about the ways Lecturers have helped them navigate this campus or get through difficult times.  They could also probably tell you about a Lecturer they’ve had who openly talked about the financial difficulties they’ve experience because of badly they are paid by you.  I’ve had lecturers who have been very open about not being able to go on vacation, afford essential items for their families, or who have talked about the other jobs they work to support themselves and their families.

Why is the minimum salary for full-time lecturers at U of M Ann Arbor only $34,500? And under 30,000 at Flint and Dearborn?  These are people with advanced degrees, and often a lot of debt.   Why did only 7% of last year’s $1.2 billion tuition revenue go to lecturers, when they were responsible for almost 40% of that revenue?   Lecturers bend over backwards for their students and you literally give them scraps.  Why don’t you listen when lecturers tell you they’re struggling, and that they need better pay, job security, and benefits?

Last week people were shocked by the Detroit Free Press’ investigative report on UM’s endowment.  Before reading, few students realized that although our endowment is huge, less and less of its money it going to University operations: things like financial aid or paying our instructors.  Soon after that article came out, students started buzzing about your contract negotiations with LEO, after it was revealed that you were proposing 1,000 dollar salary increases. A 1,000 dollar salary increase is a joke.  You should be embarrassed that in the past 14 years, Lecturers have seen a 11% overall raise in minimum salary. In that same time period, tuition has increased roughly 90%.  

How can you take credit for the success of this university without fairly compensating everyone who had a part in that success?   I ask that you re-evaluate what you want your impact to be at U of M, not just for lecturers but for students as well.  Teachers working conditions are students learning conditions.  The harder you make things for lecturers, the harder you’re making things for students as well.  Don’t say you care about this university, supporting students, or our community if you’re not going to act on it. I urge you to give lecturers the fair contract they deserve.

Students and the UM community know what’s happening, we’re angry, and we’re prepared to take action to support Lecturers, because we care about this University and know that we cannot all succeed unless Lecturers are fairly compensated for the work they do to make this University everything that it is.

A petition written by myself, Hoai An, and others only 2 days ago in solidarity with Lecturers is already approaching 400 signatures.  People are looking for ways to support Lecturers and are willing to do what it takes to ensure Lecturers receive the fair contract they deserve. Are you paying attention?