Around 50 members of the University of Michigan Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) and their supporters met in front of University President Mark Schlissel’s residence in Ann Arbor on Wednesday to protest inequity across U-M campuses.
The protest was organized as part of the organization’s Bargaining Day — where the public is allowed to watch LEO members and administration bargain LEO’s proposals over Zoom. The event comes after Schlissel’s recent survey question regarding financial equity across all three U-M campuses sent out to Ann Arbor faculty.
“UM-Ann Arbor should provide funding for students at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn to benefit from the Go Blue Guarantee even if it means sacrificing academic excellence or lower salary growth on the Ann Arbor campus,” Schlissel said in his annual survey discussion with faculty.
After the backlash concerning the survey question, Schlissel apologized for the wording of the question and said the survey results will not be used but still expressed his worries with potentially expanding the Go Blue Guarantee.
UM-Dearborn lecturer Nancy Kursman was among the protestors from LEO eager to express her frustration with Schlissel. Kursman said the protest was an opportunity she felt she could not pass up.
“President Schlissel, we will not back down!” Kursman yelled, turning away from the crowd of protestors to speak directly at Schlissel’s home. “We demand equity, fairness, parity — you don’t know what it’s like to teach students that are suffering, that are working, struggling to stay in school, and we will not back down for them. We have their backs.”
In the past, LEO has called out the salary disparities among lecturers at the different campuses. According to 2002-2020 Salary Disclosure Reports, conducted by University departments such as the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Budget Planning, among others, the median salary for faculty at U-M Ann Arbor is $145,794 – more than twice those at U-M Dearborn and U-M Flint.
“We are here because we teach a majority of first- and second-year students,” Kursman said. “We teach the lion’s share of them, and we are grossly underpaid. It is abominable.”
Before and after the protesting, members of LEO participated in a Zoom call with members of the University administration open to public viewing at LEO’s canopy stationed at Ingalls Mall. The two parties bargained two separate parts of LEO’s bargaining platform: one proposal for lecturers to receive the title of “teaching professor,” and another for felony disclosure. LEO and the administration did not reach an agreement on these issues.
“LEO condemns (felony disclosure) and any policy that relies on the violence of the carceral system,” said U-M lecturer Nora Krinitsky. “We are hoping to achieve significant protections for the rights of our members and meaningful resources that will actually augment safety on campus.”
LEO passed the proposal for the “Teaching Professor” title across the table, which the administration was against. Then, the administration declined LEO’s felony disclosure proposal. They accepted some of LEO’s concerns and agreed the felony disclosure should be implemented in the fall of 2022 but refused to relax the definition of a felony.
During a lunch break, members and allies of LEO marched from their canopy at Ingalls Mall to Schlissel’s house, carrying banners and signs, and chanting, “Extend Go Blue, Support 1U!” and “What do we want? A fair contract. When do we want it? Now!”
Once the protestors arrived at Schlissel’s residence, a few speakers expressed their frustrations and concerns with Schlissel via megaphones. Cindee Giffen, a Comprehensive Studies lecturer at UM-Ann Arbor, was one of the chant leaders at the protest. Less than two weeks before the Board of Regents meeting where the University’s next annual budget is expected to be approved, Giffen said this Bargaining Day protest is vital to LEO’s progress for their bargaining trajectory and strengthening the bond between lecturers of different campuses.
“We’re now sort of at a point where it’s more safe to gather together,” Giffen said. “One of the things I think we all really missed about bargaining with COVID is the inability to get together. LEO is a place where I’ve met a lot of colleagues but also people that I never would have met otherwise, so we can share a lot of those commonalities among lecturers at the different campuses if we’re able to get together like this.”
Craig Regester, Residential College adjunct lecturer at UM-Ann Arbor, said in an interview with The Michigan Daily that the protest was necessary for LEO’s contract negotiations and working conditions, but it also benefits the student population as a whole.
“We’re here because we want the whole University to know that what we’re fighting for in our contract is about our conditions of work, but it’s also about everybody’s learning conditions,” Regester said. “And frankly, how this University thinks of itself as a public institution for the state of Michigan.”
“Whatever LEO can build and gain through this bargaining, we’re 100% going to support them, especially parity with Flint and Dearborn because that’s something I think we forget about a lot in GEO,” Yeager said. “A lot of our members are in Ann Arbor, so this is a fantastic lead for us to follow them (LEO) into this fight in particular, and help them build power on it with the One University Campaign.”
Daniel Birchok, UM-Flint assistant professor and co-founder of the One University Campaign (1U), participated in the protest alongside his children, aged eight and 11 years old, to support LEO and advocate on behalf of UM-Flint in response to Schlissel’s survey question.
“The survey question was just disgraceful, and the apology wasn’t enough,” Birchok said. “If he wants to show us that he cares about our students, he respects the work that I and my colleagues do, — which frankly I don’t think he does and, I don’t think many of my colleagues think that he does — then he needs to pony-up the funds to support the vital work that we do. I hope he has a change of heart, and we start to build a more progressive institution.”
Regester also said he thought Schlissel and the University administration are attempting to use a “divide and conquer tactic” to address the survey question.
“That’s what Schlissel was actually doing — he was intentionally trying to suggest that if we make Dearborn and Flint more robust campuses for their students, that if we offer the Go Blue Guarantee, that we’re going to lower the academic excellence,” Regester said. “That’s a horrible statement. And he apologized, but that’s divide and conquer. That’s saying, if you want this over here, you can’t have that over there, and that’s a false dichotomy.”
Kursman described the Go Blue Guarante’s exclusion of UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint students — whom she said are mostly working class — as “morally reprehensible.”
“We (lecturers) talk with them. We know how they’re struggling,” Kursman said. “They drop out sometimes because they’re working full-time — I have student interns right now that are working full-time, as well as their unpaid internship, and I know that budget and financial needs are constantly stressing them out. So, is it too much for this wealthy university to extend the same courtesy to all our campuses? No.”
Schlissel has told The Daily that the choice to expand the Go Blue Guarantee is up to the leadership of the Flint and Dearborn campuses
In light of these issues and LEO’s protests and bargaining that will continue on, Regester urges the University community to recognize LEO’s part in a “broader social movement.”
“Unions are not just for the members of the unions — unions are really a part of society more broadly, and students, faculty, employees need to understand that movements have a much broader inclusive approach when they’re at their best,” Regester said. “That’s what we call social movement unionism, and that’s what LEO is doing. This is a part of a broader movement and we want people to see that it’s not just about our own membership.”
When asked about whether the University condones or supports the protests that occurred, the University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said “protests are an expression of free speech.” The Office also said the University will still continue to bargain with LEO.
“More collective bargaining sessions are scheduled with LEO and we continue to make progress toward a new contract agreement,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily. “The university and LEO have reached tentative agreement on 16 individual proposals and will continue to bargain as often as needed to reach agreement on a new contract.”
Staff Reporter Martha Lewand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.