Non-tenure faculty across campuses bargain for higher wages and upgraded benefits

Sunday, October 29, 2017 - 7:04pm

The University of Michigan Lecturers’ Employee Organization gathered Friday morning in Pierpont Commons on North Campus to bargain for higher wages, improved benefits and fairer performance evaluations. LEO organizers, lecturers and allies of the union also held a rally outside to promote awareness of these issues.

LEO is a member-run organization for non-tenure-track instructional faculty at the University of Michigan across all three campuses: Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint. The union, founded in 2003, serves as a bargaining agent for 1,500 lecturers.

LEO not only unites lecturers across all three campuses but also serves to protect their members from injustice. LEO Flint Chair Stephanie Vidaillet Gelderloos, lecturer III in English, teaches on the Flint campus and has been a member of LEO since 2013.

“The Union to me is like a security blanket. Something that I know will protect me and take care of me if I need it.”

Unlike tenure-tracked faculty, lecturers must renew their fixed-term employment contracts whenever they expire. Lecturers at the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses teach a third and half of all available student credit hours, respectively.

Shelley Manis, LEO Ann Arbor co-chair and lecturer IV in the Sweetland Center, was part of a team that started the minor in writing program with other lecturers and has been working at the Ann Arbor campus for seven years.

“We are not necessarily any different from tenure-track faculty and yet we are on a lower rung on the hierarchy and we think it’s time for that to stop,” Manis said.

Ashley Lucas, associate professor of Theatre & Drama, is an ally for LEO and spoke at the rally. According to Lucas, lecturers have more in-person contact with students on a daily basis and are an integral part to her own work as director of the Prison Creative Arts Project.

“I think you all deserve the salaries, job security and all the benefits that are equal to tenure-track folks,” Lucas said. “We need to keep fighting together. One faculty, one University.”

Manis has worked with LEO organizers over the past year to put together a platform bargaining for salary and benefits such as increased pay, reliable health care and minimum year-term contracts. LEO surveyed members to inquire what they wanted most out of the bargaining session. According to Manis, members overwhelmingly wanted increased wages.

According to Bill Emory, campus organizer for Flint and Ann Arbor North Campus, each University campus has different minimum wage salaries with a 40 percent wage gap — $27,300 for Flint, $28,300 for Dearborn and $34,500 for Ann Arbor.

As a Flint lecturer, Gelderloos emphasized not only the need for increased wages for all lecturers but also for closing the wage gap among all three campuses.

“I think we feel pretty united as a union. We do teach more and we are paid less, but I think the union does work for all of us,” Gelderloos said. “I am not envious that (Ann Arbor lecturers) are paid more than us, but if we are all one union and all one school with students getting the Michigan experience, I think the pay should be more equitable across campuses.”

Some lecturers rely on benefits from the state due to their low salaries. With many living below the poverty line, Manis explained that these burdens affect teaching in the classroom.

“We want lecturers to be able to afford to spend their time on their teaching rather than constantly spending their time trying to prove that they’re good enough teachers to keep their jobs,” Manis said. “We love what we do and we just want to be recognized more financially so that we can afford to live here and afford to keep doing these jobs.”

In terms of healthcare, Emory explains in order for a lecturer to receive healthcare from the University, the number of credit points they teach must be within a 50 percent, half-credit load, and 75 percent, 3-credit load, range. Rather than lecturers’ healthcare fluctuating depending on their number of credits taught each semester, LEO is bargaining for the University to average their credit points over the semesters for lecturers to have a more reliable healthcare source.

The union is also fighting for more health care subsidies for parents with young children and for single parents, whose low salaries put a burden on child care costs.

“One woman was being paid $28,000 per year and child care costs $22,000 per year,” Manis said.

The lecturer review process is more extensive compared to the tenure-track reviews. Manis explains the University holds interim reviews for the first three or four semesters and later conducts two major reviews. Lecturers must go through this process every three years with the first three reviews tied to renewal of their contracts.

“We feel like they should know after twelve years if we’re good enough to stay,” Manis said. “Our review packets are roughly the size and the rigor of tenured review packets but the tenure-track faculty goes through that process once.”

Through this bargaining campaign, LEO wants more guaranteed renewals and fairer performance evaluations. The union believes this can be done by simplifying the system and eliminating redundancy.

The lecturer tier system plays a large role in how lecturers are treated in the review and renewal process. There are two separate tracks — lecturer I/II which include solely teaching appointments, and lecturer III/IV which include additional service responsibilities. Lecturer III/IV have stronger job security, since they have passed major reviews. According to Manis, some lecturer Is are hired on a semester basis and will not know until December if they will be teaching next term.

“Lecturer I’s are in a really precarious situation because (the University) can lay them off or bring them back at will. That not only means that they can’t prep appropriately, but that also means that they can’t budget,” Manis said. “They don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from.”

However, lecturer IVs also hit a wage-earning ceiling. Manis highlighted lecturer IVs will never have a significant increase after reaching this level and can only achieve salary increases with these bargaining sessions.

“I am 42 years old, my earning potential will top out after my major review session this January,” Manis said.

According to Manis, due to the rigorous nature of the review process, lecturers are unable to teach to the best of their abilities in the classroom.

“Because our review process is one that makes our jobs not as secure and stable, it oftentimes means that lecturers aren’t going to take risks as much in the classroom to try new things because there isn’t as much room to fail splendidly,” Manis said.

The main issue of lecturer salary also plays into the student experience. Gelderloos highlighted that when lecturers are working several jobs, they do not have the time or energy to put effort into quality teaching.

“It’s in the University’s best interest to have faculty who are good at what they do and our students deserve someone who doesn’t just teach part-time here and there to make ends meet but deserve people who have been teaching for while, who are good at what they do,” Gelderloos said. “I think the students get a better education from more seasoned and less overworked professors.”

Although many elements factor into the review and renewal of a lecturer’s contract, the review committee takes teacher evaluations into significant consideration. What many students do not realize is their lecturers’ jobs depend on the evaluations.

“It always takes two or three times when a new course starts to get it to really work exactly the way you want it to and because student evaluations are so important, that can sometimes put a chilling effect on innovation,” Manis said.

In spite of this, Manis still encourages students to be honest in their evaluations and emphasizes that the review results are never at the fault of the student.

Academia-bound graduate students’ futures also depend on LEO’s work. Rackham student Rachel Miller, president of Graduate Employees’ Organization, spoke about the implications of these bargaining sessions.

“You are our future. You are where we are heading,” Miller said. “And only 17 percent of the current faculty teaching in higher education are in tenured-track, so your fight is our fight and your fight today is our fight in the future.”

Due to the wide range of concerns, LEO will hold bargaining sessions every Friday until contracts terminate in April 2018, according to Emory.

“You’re spending so much time putting together materials to prove that you’re an excellent, rigorous, present teacher, that it's harder to be an excellent, rigorous, present teacher in the classroom because your mind is divided,” Manis said.

Correction: Manis helped start the minor with a team of lecturers.