On Thursday afternoon, the University of Michigan Board of Regents met for the first meeting of the semester, with many representatives of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and Stop Spencer voicing their concerns during public comments. Topics discussed included increasing wages and benefits for lecturers, #StopSpencer, allocation of funds to several investments and renovations, and actions currently being taken by the Interfraternity Council to create a safer Greek life community.
During University President Mark Schlissel’s opening statements, he offered his sympathies to the victims of the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Before we get started, I’d like to acknowledge in great sadness the events in Florida and extend the sympathies of the entire University of Michigan community to the families and survivors of yet another terrible mass shooting at one of our nation’s schools,” Schlissel said. “If we really can’t figure out how to keep our children safe, then there really isn’t much else that matters.”
Schlissel also spoke on the recent wave of sexual assault and harassment conversations in higher education, Hollywood and the general public, an issue that has generated great publicity surrounding the trials of Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University and USA Olympics doctor. In addition to Nassar’s charges, former Michigan Medicine doctor Mark Hoeltzel was recently arrested for child pornography and is under investigation for sexual relations with a patient. Schlissel said the University will be taking active measures, such as the hiring of an outside expert, to improve the reporting processes for survivors as well as the handling of cases reported to the University.
Regent Denise Ilitch (D) echoed Schlissel’s sentiments and urged those who have experienced assault and harassment not to be afraid to speak out against perpetrators.
“I really want to speak to the UM community and say: Report, report, report,” Ilitch said.
LEO bargaining efforts
Members and supporters of LEO took up a large majority of the seats in the meeting, with several lecturers, staff and representatives speaking on behalf of the organization. LEO was founded in 2003, and it currently represents approximately 1,700 non-tenure faculty across the three University campuses. The main goals of the organization include increased pay, greater benefits and the improvement of job security for lecturers at the University.
Currently, full-time lecturers receive a minimum salary of $34,500 at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, $28,30 at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and $27,300 at the University of Michigan-Flint.
Frustrated with low salaries and pay rates for lecturers across the University’s campuses, LEO has continued to meet with University officials since October demanding a new contract before their current contract ends April 20. During Thursday’s meeting, representatives called on the University administration to meet the demands of lecturers who fall at or below the poverty line.
Tony Hessenthaler, a Lecturer I in the Spanish Department, told The Daily prior to the meeting that he’s currently a father of three, and while he enjoys teaching, he doesn’t know if his current salary will be able to support his family, now with a newborn diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“For eight months out of the year, we are just right above the poverty line, which is shameful for University of Michigan full-time teaching position,” Hessenthaler said. “We have a newborn, she’s about five months old, and she has Down syndrome, which was a surprise when she was born. Luckily she’s in relatively good health, but now thinking long term I don’t know if I can make this a career. I would like it to be, but I don’t know if I can make this a long-term career and possibly find a way to help support her. I’ll be supporting her well into adulthood.”
Hessenthaler explained over 80 percent of Lecturer I’s across all three campuses earn less than $50,000 a year. According to Hessenthaler, many departments pay new Lecturer I’s the minimum salary, giving small yearly increases. In regard to decisions from the regents, Hessenthaler said LEO wants action, not words.
“We don’t want their pity and we don’t want lip service, but we would really like their support in helping us talk to administration to make a big market adjustment for what lecturers should be making,” Hessenthaler said.
During the current bargaining session, Hessenthaler highlighted demands from LEO including salary increases, the ability for departments to use the title Teaching Professor instead of Lecturer, and a longevity bonus for career lecturers who have held their positions for extended periods and who might remain restricted by current contract wages.
“I really hope that with the regents’ support, lecturer support, tenure-track faculty support and student support that we can get these wages up to where they should be,” Hessenthaler said. “We’re not asking for golden parachute pension plans and health care that covers massages in chiropractors, we don’t need that stuff. We just need a living wage to get by, especially in Ann Arbor where the cost of living is relatively high to everywhere else in the area.”
As reported previously in The Daily, the median rent in Ann Arbor increased 14 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and currently sits at approximately $1,075 per month.
Katie Oppenheim, chair of the University Professional Nurse Council, also spoke on behalf of increasing wages and benefits for faculty. Oppenheim claimed as tuition rates rise, salaries have not risen at the same rate.
“Only through the power we get from collective bargaining can we counteract the markets built-in tendency to undervalue us in our work,” Oppenheim said. “And I will also add the University’s tendency to undervalue us in our work.”
Central Student Government President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, addressed the regents during her CSG update. She presented the support of student governments across the three University campuses, highlighting all three bodies have passed resolutions in support of LEO and higher wages for lecturers.
“Student Government recognizes the vital role that lecturers play at the University, and call for higher wages, more job security, and healthcare coverage as conditions in the next contract for lecturer employees,” the U-M Dearborn Student Government Regents Report reads.
The topic of the University’s potential visit from white supremacist Richard Spencer was mentioned consistently throughout the remaining portion of the meeting by various students. Though the possible visit has been delayed until potentially spring or summer semester, students were concerned for the safety of minority students as well as frustrated with the administration’s overall lack of support for those targeted by Spencer’s messages.
LSA senior Darian Razdar is currently a member of the Stop Spencer Coalition on campus. Razdar began by refusing to refer to the University leaders as such, and instead accused them of complicity in allowing discussions with Spencer and his legal team to continue.
“Today I refuse to address you as administrators and regents of the University of Michigan, but as oligarchs of the state, as fascist enablers, as individuals who soon may be complicit in the deaths of students like me at the hands of Richard Spencer,” Razdar said.
Razdar also expressed his frustration with the lack of representation that both students and community members have in contributing to campus-wide decisions.
“After months of negotiating with the infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer, you have all shown your cowardice and total lack of concern for this campus and city,” Razdar said. “Today I am mourning the loss of the democratically-governed University that we’ve never had: one where students and faculty have a voice and not the ultra-elite that I see before me today.”
Razdar ended by questioning the administration’s decision to remain neutral in regard to Spencer, and pointed out that action has consistently been successful over inaction.
“When has history shown us that complacency beats action?” Razdar said.
LSA senior Hoai An Pham is also a member of the Stop Spencer Coalition, and she echoed many of Razdar’s sentiments regarding the administration’s decision-making process.
“In Stop Spencer, we have fought to combat the white supremacy that exists on this campus and continues to be propagated every day by your complacency,” Pham said. “Your only stance against Spencer is saying that his ideologies of a white ethno-state are ones you don’t agree with.”
Pham also proceeded to detail instances of Nazi presence on campus from over 30 years ago, and the consequences that resulted.
“From 1982 to 1998, Neo-Nazis staged a rally here nearly every single year,” Pham said. “During that time, we had a plethora of systemic issues in Ann Arbor, including low enrollment rates of Black students that led to BAMN. At no point during those years did the administration or city council ever tie the root causes of these issues to the same white supremacist ideals of the Nazis.”
In regard to the current campus climate, Pham pointed out the various racist incidents that have taken place and the low enrollment of minority students. According to the 2017 incoming student profile, 65 percent of enrolled freshmen are white, 15 percent are Asian American and only 5 percent are Black.
“Now to 2018, we’ve had numerous hate crimes on this campus in which not one perpetrator has been caught,” Pham said. “We are
at a school that is over 70 percent white with less than 4 percent Black students, and our University refuses to give our lecturers fair wages and
benefits when these disparities of job insecurity have been statistically shown to have higher impacts on marginalized people.”
The University has previously defended their reasoning for allowing a potential visit from Spencer on the grounds of promoting free speech. However, Pham saw the argument as flawed since many minority students and faculty do not have a voice on campus.
“How can you not argue how free speech is a fallacy when we live in a white, patriarchal-dominated system that silences the voices of marginalized people by taking away our fundamental human rights?”
The regents passed a number of financial investment proposals, including funding allocations for the Art and Architecture building work commons, Camp Davis Rocky Mountain Field Station student cabin and support facilities replacement, and a Detroit Observatory classroom with accessibility addition.
The project to improve the School of Art & Design studio space within the Art and Architecture Building was approved. The University will renovate 6,500 square feet to include studios, collaborative workshops and seminar rooms. The estimated cost of the project is $3.4 million and construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.
The investments in Camp Davis, a Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences field station located near Jackson, Wyoming, which promotes experiential learning for University students, are estimated to total $6.5 million and will include demolition of the current student cabins and bathhouses to make room for the creation of 300 square feet modular cabins. In addition, the Johnston Hall recreational facility, destroyed by a tree during a winter storm, will be replaced with a new facility that will contain open recreational space, restrooms and a laundry room.
Other renovations include improvement to the electrical, water and septic systems. It is estimated the project will conclude in the summer of 2019.
Schlissel offered personal praise of Camp Davis, stating the programs offered for students at its location are beneficial across a wide array of academic and social endeavors.
“It’s really quite a spectacular resource in the wilds of Wyoming,” Schlissel said.
A third notable investment approval concerned the Detroit Observatory, the second-oldest building on campus and the first scientific research laboratory dedicated by the University.
The regents communication action request explained the historical significance of the Observatory, but notes current conditions restrict accessibility to important classroom spaces which link University history to current studies of science.
The renovations are expected to cost $10 million and will include the construction of a 6,000 square foot below-ground addition for program and support space, as well as accessibility and connectivity improvements. Groundwork and foundations will also be renovated in order to protect the building, below-ground additions, and current landscape.
Interfraternity Council President Samuel Finn, a Public Policy junior, also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Earlier this year, the IFC placed a ban on all social activities due to allegations of hazing, sexual assault and other issues of misconduct. Finn addressed the administration with an update on new IFC policies he hopes will make Greek life safer and more inclusive.
“Our leadership was put to the test this past November when IFC chapter presidents, myself included, unanimously acted in principled self-governance,” Finn said. “Our decision reflected several years of student leadership committed to community reflection and reform.”
Finn claimed the IFC had implemented a ban on hard alcohol at all IFC sanctioned events since January — which expanded on the 2014 decision to remove hard alcohol from large-scale events — increased the number of sober monitors at events, updated the chapter event registration system, decreased the amount of weekly events, among more reforms.
“After the IFC board reviewed and identified community challenges each chapter designed an action plan to specify areas of improvement,” Finn said. “With support from national organizations, the Office of Greek Life and the Dean of Students’ Office, chapters continue to pursue improvement focused on membership recruitment, hazing prevention and social event management.”
Regents Denise Ilitch, D, and Andrew Richner, R, praised the IFC’s decision for the self-imposed ban, which was the first and only time any of the administrators responded to public comment speakers at the meeting.
“First of all, I want to applaud you for all the work that you’re doing along with other students to provide a safer environment in our fraternities and sororities,” Ilitch said. “I can’t tell you how many of the headlines that we read across the country where students are harmed and unfortunately, it’s tragic. Some students have died over hazing and drinking. It’s a real issue on campus.”
Richner also commended Finn and the IFC for their self-regulation efforts.
“I also want to applaud you for your efforts, it’s well appreciated, and you’re doing the right thing focusing on these issues,” Richner said.
Finn emphasized above all, the IFC’s main goal is improving the safety of all members of the community.
“As an overarching theme of our community, our number one priority is always the safety of not only IFC members but all members of our community,” Finn said. “The focus in taking that act of self-governance was to ensure the overall safety whether it be in social situations, new-member education systems and recruitment situations.”