Lecturer's union holds community forum to discuss the launch of the One University Campaign

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 10:34pm

Spanish Lecturer Erin Levin facilitates the Lecturers' Employee Organization discussion on financial equity across Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses LEO offices on E Liberty Wednesday night.

Spanish Lecturer Erin Levin facilitates the Lecturers' Employee Organization discussion on financial equity across Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses LEO offices on E Liberty Wednesday night. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

On Wednesday evening, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization held its first of several Ann Arbor community forums to discuss the launch of the One University Campaign, which strives to make all three University of Michigan campuses more equitable learning institutions.

Despite the fact that the LEO's tumultuous contract bargaining process last semester resulted in significant budget increases for lecturers, the lecturers point out gains were not distributed equally across all three University campuses. LEO at U-M Dearborn and the U-M Flint has held parallel community forums to work toward parity. About 25 students, graduate student instructors and lecturers across all three campuses attended the Ann Arbor forum.

“Although we made real substantial progress last time around … that did not reduce the gap between Flint and Dearborn,” LEO President Ian Robinson, a sociology professor on the Ann Arbor campus, said. In fact, he explained despite the 50 percent increases in minimum wages on all three campuses, professors at U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn earn, on average, $10,000 less per year than the typical Ann Arbor professor.

Not only are the professors at U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn paid less in comparison to their Ann Arbor peers, but they work significantly more hours.

“In Flint and Dearborn, (lecturers must) teach an extra course to be considered full-time,” Robinson explained in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “Instead of teaching three courses a term (like Ann Arbor lecturers do), they teach four.”

A flyer handed out at the forum alleged faculty at U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn are paid 21 to 51 percent less to work 30 to 50 percent more hours.

Law student Julia Deutsch stated she did not know much about the unjust disparities between the three University campuses. However, after attending the forum, Deutsch had a new perspective.

“I was just blown away by the numbers,” she said. However, Deutsch said people likely are not aware of the issue.

The disparity stems partly from the fact that the University, unlike some other public university systems, separates funds between its three campuses so that each branch has its own endowment and budget. U-M Ann Arbor has a $10.9 billion endowment and is ranked No. 8 wealthiest university in the world, whereas U-M Flint has an endowment of $96 million. During bargaining last year, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said administators prioritize “a contract that is economically fair to the lecturers and fiscally responsible for the University, does not impinge on the academic mission of the university, and allows the university to recruit and retain the best possible educators for this portion of our instructional faculty.”

“If people were aware of that, they would care,” Deutsch said. “There are a lot of socially-minded people.”

A greater workload may force Flint and Dearborn lecturers to find additional employment opportunities to support their families. In effect, this limits the number of hours outside of the classroom that lecturers are able to dedicate to their students.

Speakers at the forum said Flint and Dearborn students may need this type of additional support more than their Ann Arbor peers do for a variety of reasons. According to a flyer handed out at the forum, Flint and Dearborn students “come from families whose median income is less than 1/2 of Ann Arbor students’ families.” Additionally, Flint and Dearborn students “have higher student debt loans than Ann Arbor students.”

Despite the additional support Flint and Dearborn student bodies require, Darine Bailey, an organizer with the Graduate Employee Organization claims the University administration prioritizes Ann Arbor students. Funds set aside for diversity, equity and inclusion iniatitves and raised through the Victors for Michigan campaign are overwhelmingly distributed on the Ann Arbor campus. 

Jason Kosnoski, a political science professor at U-M Flint, said putting aside the lack of financial support for U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn, many Flint and Dearborn students are not provided with many of the fundamental needs a college student should have.

“It’s not just that our students don’t have the enriching transformative experiences that are so important (such as) arts, study abroad, things like that, they don’t even have the basics,” he said.  

In addition, attendees alleged U-M Flint plans to eliminate the number of paid lecturers because it cannot afford to pay the LEO bargained salary increases. Fitzsimons explained this will require students to complete several more semesters until they can get into the classes they need to graduate.

Part of the forum was dedicated to strategizing the ways in which LEO, GEO, students and student organizations across all three University campuses can work toward ending the inequity.

Some of the suggestions included using various educational programs, social media and student organizations to educate U-M Ann Arbor community members on the lack of parity,

LSA sophomore Aidan Sova, a policy adviser on the executive board of Central Student Government, explained CSG hopes to contribute toward achieving the goal of the One University Campaign.

“(We are) looking forward to the opportunity to work together with other community leaders within Ann Arbor to make the University of Michigan more equitable and affordable to all,” he said.  

However, Robinson said many details of One University have not yet been solidified. But, he explained, the very reason for why this forum was called and why these forums will continue to occur is to involve the community in creating those details.

“A lot of the detail (regarding specific improvement) is yet to come,” Robinson said. “So that we can try to formulate a set of short-term and longer-term demands that are informed by the spirit of one university and formed by the idea that everyone, (as a) part of our mission as a public university, that everyone has an equal opportunity to have a high-quality education.”

The University was not available to comment on the campaign at the time of publication.