LEO accuses SMTD of cutting courses for lecturers after union won pay raises

Monday, April 22, 2019 - 7:39pm

Ian Robinson, president of the Lecturers' Employee Organization, greets SMTD Dance Lecturer Jean-Claude Biza before the Congolese Dance Class Showing at the Betty Pease Studio Theater Saturday.

Ian Robinson, president of the Lecturers' Employee Organization, greets SMTD Dance Lecturer Jean-Claude Biza before the Congolese Dance Class Showing at the Betty Pease Studio Theater Saturday. Buy this photo
Max Kuang/Daily

The Lecturers’ Employee Organization has accused the School of Music, Theatre & Dance of moving to reduce course loads for two lecturers following LEO’s successful bargaining campaign last year.

According to LEO, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance is trying to shift classes taught by lecturers Missy Beck and Jean-Claude Biza to tenure-track faculty in order to avoid paying lecturers more under the contract the union ratified over the summer.

Beck, who has taught at the University for more than 15 years, said she was told her course load would be reduced after she emailed Anita Gonzalez, interim chair of the Department of Dance, in February asking about scheduling sections of a ballet course.

“That’s where she replied that she didn’t even know if I’m going to be teaching next year,” Beck said. “So I wrote back to say, ‘What’s going on, if it’s me, if it’s my performance, I would love to talk to you about that. This was my mission, teaching students and teaching people, so if there is something I could be doing better, please let me know.’”

Beck said she was told SMTD intended to have tenure-track faculty take over the classes she had previously taught.

“It was a bit condescending,” Beck said. “At one point when they said, ‘You’ve been helping us out, you’ve been so generous to take those classes, but now we need to give them back to the people who they belong to.’”

Following a months-long bargaining campaign, LEO ratified a new contract with the University in July that included salary increases and improved health benefits and job security for nearly 1,700 non-tenure track faculty across the University’s three campuses. Under the agreement, the minimum salary for lecturers in Ann Arbor saw a 47.8 percent increase, going from $34,500 to $51,000 by September 2020. Starting salaries in Flint and Dearborn were both set to reach $41,000 by then, a 50.2 percent and a 44.9 percent increase respectively.

LEO says it is because of these raises the Music, Theatre & Dance School moved to cut the dance lecturers’ course loads. According to an email provided to The Daily by LEO, Gonzalez said in February SMTD’s administration was looking to shift as many courses taught by lecturers as possible to tenure-track faculty.

“Because of the large increase in LEO salaries the administration would like to move as many LEO courses as possible to tenure track faculty,” Gonzalez wrote.

In an email to The Daily, Gonzalez denied the email existed and said she was “amazed at how many invented facts are circulating.”

Gonzalez said LEO’s information was “not accurate,” referring press inquiries to David Gier, dean of SMTD.

Speaking on behalf of Gier, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote, in an email interview with The Daily, only the dean could represent the SMTD.

“The dean has been absolutely clear that SMTD has not and will not make personnel decisions as a result of LEO’s success at the bargaining table,” Fitzgerald wrote. “SMTD is, however, conducting a review of its entire instructional workforce, including all tenured, tenure-track and clinical faculty, lecturers and graduate student instructors. This review will include an examination of teaching loads and course enrollment.”

Fitzgerald explained this review was “a normal part of what any school and college on our campus does on a regular basis,” adding SMTD and the University would follow the process outlined in the LEO contract if any workload changes would impact lecturers.

According to LEO, Biza, a lecturer who has taught Congolese dance at the University for more than 30 years, would be facing a two-thirds reduction in his course load. Both Beck and Biza are “long-serving” lecturers, a category defined by the 2018 contract as someone who has been a lecturer for at least 12 years.

LEO Vice President Kirsten Herold said despite Beck and Biza’s seniority, the union could not do much to fight any personnel decisions made by SMTD.

“We can’t tell the employer, you know, who teaches what classes,” Herold said. “If they decide they want to give a class that a lecturer has taught to a graduate student, they can do it. If they want to give it to a tenure-track faculty member, they can do it.”

At a performance put on by students in Biza’s class at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance on Saturday, about a dozen LEO members distributed fliers protesting the alleged cuts to Beck’s and Biza’s teaching assignments.

LSA senior Zi Yang performed at a showcase. She said the class was appreciative of Biza and his teaching.

“He’s been a really great lecturer and we really appreciated his class,” Yang said. “We hope that he can teach for as long as he wants to because he’s in his sixties, but he has so much energy. Everyone thinks he’s 40.”

Biza said SMTD had not informed him of reductions to his scheduled course load, but that Beck told him. He said that while he had not heard anything from the Music, Theatre & Dance School in regard to the reductions, he was still concerned.

“This is the only job I have,” Biza said. “I’m a part-time teacher and I don’t get those many hours, so if they cut that, that means I have to look for some other job, I have to look for some other job or do something to support my family.”

Beck said she had not been given official word from SMTD. She said the school would have to inform her of its decision by April 30 — the day her contract ends.

Herold said she was doubtful of claims from SMTD that the school had not yet reached a final decision. She said if there was misinformation, it was because SMTD “has given us different information every time we talked to them.”

“Basically they haven’t given us any answers about why it’s her and not less senior, less highly paid people, none of that,” Herold said. “They’re just stonewalling, so that’s why we’re just extremely frustrated at this point. I really think, you know, we were told they haven’t made up the real final decision yet. I don’t know anybody in the school believes that … They’re just trying to wait until students are gone and then to make the suddenly miraculously make the final decision to lay them off.”

Biza said he had not reached out to SMTD about the course load reduction, but added he did not feel the responsibility was on him to do so.

“If you have a boss, they will tell you what’s going on usually in a professional way — you call a meeting and you explain in detail what’s going on,” Biza said. “(Then) I can express myself, we can have a conversation … This is a big thing happening, so you can’t just send an email to somebody. You need to come sit down and give (an) explanation.”