Published December 2, 2004
The Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the University administration have recently locked horns over a number of issues, including the controversial layoffs or terminations of nine unionized lecturers at the University’s Ann Arbor campus. The issues surrounding the dispute are complex and the facts elusive; however, LEO has raised a number of serious concerns. If the facts support these assertions — and there is evidence suggesting they do — then the University has clearly acted inappropriately and in violation of its new contract with LEO.
Assuming the lecturers were merely laid off, they can be rehired, but they cannot be rehired if the University did indeed terminate them. The University says the lecturers were laid off, blaming budget shortfalls and enrollment problems. According to LEO, however, the University terminated the lecturers, claiming poor performance. University spokeswoman Julie Peterson suggests that performance concerns were not a predominating factor: “Although a couple of the cases in dispute were instructors who were not rehired because of performance concerns, most of them occurred because of these normal changes in staffing flow.”
One key provision in the new contract states that qualified lecturers should be rehired on the basis of their seniority. This was an important provision to the union because it provides a great deal of job security to experienced lecturers. Previously, even well-seasoned lecturers had semester-to-semester contracts, and contract renewal for future semesters was never assured. At the core of this contract was an agreement by the University not to treat lecturers as seasonal, interim employees. LEO president Bonnie Halloran has accused the administration of treating its lecturers as “temporary workers,” and the University’s contract renewal policy does little to refute this accusation.
The University has not merely refused to rehire current lecturers; it has hired new graduates from doctorate programs as replacements. The English department recently replaced three lecturers with fresh graduates. Peterson has asserted that “it has been a long-standing practice of many academic departments, including the English department, to offer teaching positions to their graduate students after completion of their graduate degrees as a means of advancing their professional development.” Ordinarily, this would be a highly commendable policy. But considering that the University is refusing to rehire unionized lecturers, it is suspicious that the University is actively hiring new instructors. The administration should not be hiring new graduates as a cheap short-term alternative to experienced lecturers.
And if what the University is saying publicly — that budget and enrollment issues led to layoffs, not terminations — is true, then it presumably would not be hiring new instructors who recently completed graduate school. This inconsistency makes it seem as if the University is attempting to subvert the contract and hire less experienced and less expensive younger instructors.
LEO has also accused the School of Social Work of giving its lecturers new job titles and thus rendering them unable to join the union. If this is indeed true, it is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to bypass the rights and protections that LEO won in last year’s bargaining round.
Lecturers are an integral part of the University, and they are a fundamental determinant of educational quality. The contract between LEO and the University was explicitly designed to ensure lecturers the compensation and job security that such highly qualified, dedicated individuals deserve. The University must, in good faith, honor the contract it agreed to.