LEO holds informational picket at SMTD graduation opposing cuts to lecturers’ pay, course load

Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 9:13am

On Friday afternoon, about 15 members and supporters of the University of Michigan Lecturers’ Employee Organization gathered at Hill Auditorium for an informational picket.

On Friday afternoon, about 15 members and supporters of the University of Michigan Lecturers’ Employee Organization gathered at Hill Auditorium for an informational picket. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

On Friday afternoon, about 15 members and supporters of the University of Michigan Lecturers’ Employee Organization gathered at Hill Auditorium for an informational picket. They claimed the University’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance administration was trying to drastically cut the course loads and salaries of two SMTD lecturers in violation of their union contracts. LEO picketers, carrying signs stating “#RespectTheLecs,” handed out informational flyers to graduates and families arriving for SMTD graduation.

According to LEO, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance is giving classes taught by lecturers Missy Beck and Jean-Claude Biza to tenure-track faculty in order to avoid paying Beck and Biza higher wages won under the contract LEO ratified last year.

Beck and Biza are “two of the longest-serving Lecturer faculty members in the Dance Department,” LEO explained. Beck, a Lecturer II who has taught in SMTD for 18 years and full-time for the last 15, will have her annual salary cut almost in half, from $57,500 to $29,468, according to LEO. Biza, who has taught in SMTD for 32 years, will lose almost two-thirds of his annual salary, from $23,025 to $7,866.

In July 2018, after months of collective bargaining, LEO and the University ratified a new contract, which enacted salary increases and bolstered health benefits and job security for non-tenure track faculty at all three University campuses. Per the new contract’s terms, by September 2020, starting salaries for lecturers in Ann Arbor are to receive a 47.8 percent increase, while Flint and Dearborn faculty should see 50.2 percent and 44.9 percent increases respectively.

In an interview with The Daily, Beck said she has an email from Interim Chair of Dance Anita Gonzalez stating decisions to cut Beck’s and Biza’s course loads and pay were made following LEO bargaining for wage increases.

“Biza and I got the largest raises in that contract agreement, and we’ve been the only two that’ve been targeted,” Beck said. “So, that speaks for itself in my mind.”

In an email to The Daily, Gonzalez said there is not an email from her attributing SMTD cuts to LEO’s bargaining success.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald provided an email statement on behalf of SMTD Dean David Gier, emphasizing that Gier has expressed “SMTD will not make personnel decisions based on LEO’s success at the bargaining table.”

“This review will include an examination of teaching loads and course enrollment,” Fitzgerald wrote. “It is a normal part of what any school and college on our campus does on a regular basis, particularly as new deans are selected. SMTD and the university will carefully follow the process outlined in the LEO contract, should there be any workload changes that affect lecturers.”

Beck defended her qualifications and discussed the success of her students, some of whom have sent letters and video testimonials to Beck’s teaching.

“I’m the one who’s actually in the classroom,” Beck said. “I’m the one who has working alum in the top of the field saying, ‘She taught us this.’ I have dozens of alum writing letters and sending videos — many of them working in Broadway, the first Black Elsa in ‘Frozen,’ a casting agent, people who are now professors of dance in universities, people who’ve won Oscars, Tony’s — saying it was my influence that helped them. Administration doesn’t listen to its alum, and that’s worrisome. (To the administration), it’s not about education, it’s about money.”

LEO President Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the Residential College, expressed he feels Beck and Biza’s pay shouldn’t be cut to save money within SMTD.

“They’re not hurting for that money,” Robinson said. “I don’t believe that amount of money means a damn to a school the size of this one. Furthermore, if this really did matter … impose it on the administrators ... (who are) getting paid what is probably too much to begin with, if I’m frank. But (SMTD administration) get raises and claw back money from lecturers by taking away their livelihood after they’ve been excellent teachers. How can that possibly be right?”

Beck said she believes SMTD administration has made cuts to her and Biza’s pay in order to limit the number of lecturer positions in favor of tenure-track positions. Beck said the Administration made the pay cuts to “get rid of lecturers.”

“They want to cut me down to half-time so they can control me, take away my full-time position, and then they can do whatever they want with that position and not have to pay me,” Beck said. “There’s this image that (lecturers) are lesser  that we’re filler — when it’s not true.”

According to Robinson, lecturers teach on average one third of undergraduate credit hours at the Ann Arbor campus and over half of student credit hours at the Flint and Dearborn campuses. Robinson expressed the importance of lecturers to undergraduate education, especially in a student’s first and second year.

“Because the lecturers are primarily focused on teaching, we are the ones who tend to get to know the students better and work more closely with them,” Robinson said. “We are an essential part of the undergraduate experience on this campus and even more so in Flint and Dearborn.”

Juliette Moutinou, a Lecturer II of foreign language for 22 years at the University, helped hand out flyers at the LEO picket. Moutinou expressed she feels there can be a more equitable way to distribute money within SMTD.

“To me, it’s an injustice,” Moutinou said. “I insist on the fact that the University does have money, and because it has money, there has to be another way to distribute the money it has … I hope the administration sees where we’re coming from, and that this issue does not drag. And if it does, then I’ll be here again, to say loudly, ‘This is not OK.’”

Community activist Michelle Deatrick helped LEO distribute flyers at the picket. Deatrick said she has been a lecturer at a community college and understands what it is like to be underpaid while wanting to deliver quality education.

Additionally, Deatrick voiced disappointment with the University, expressing she hopes to see greater support for non-tenure-track faculty in the arts.

“As a community, we need to support the arts and the teachers who nurture the arts,” Deatrick said. “I’m really disappointed that the University would do this to faculty who have contributed so much and continue to do so. I hope that, just as we find money for our fantastic new buildings and infrastructure, we will find money to support the people who are actually carrying out the mission of the University.”

Robinson expressed he was pleased with the general response to LEO’s picketing efforts.

“Some rushed in and took the piece of paper, but I believe they’ll have time to be curious and probably take a look,” Robinson said. “And others who we did manage to stop for a minute, they listened and I think they heard.”

Beck shared she hopes organizing on behalf of her situation will prevent other lecturers from facing similar layoffs.

“I’m not here just for me, I’m here for every lecturer that’s on campus,” Beck said. “I don’t want another person like me finding out they cannot pay their rent.”