Magdalena Mihaylova: #RespecttheLecs
My friends always complain that I know my teachers by first name. They scoff when I wave to my Spanish instructor in the hall. They complain about their own professors, nameless bodies who occupy a lecture hall for an hour and then disappear into space, their purpose fulfilled.
As a student in the University of Michigan’s Residential College, I have an advantage in creating close relationships with my teachers: Class sizes are smaller, meaning more one-on-one interaction. Additionally, RC faculty plans an overwhelming number of extracurricular events to help students, such as language lunch tables and community engagement classes. In other words, they go above and beyond.
It wasn’t until halfway through my first semester that one of those above-and-beyond mentors, Katherine Mendeloff, my first-year writing requirement instructor, mentioned the Lecturers' Employee Organization to my class. She described how the majority of RC faculty do not serve as tenured staff, but as non-tenure track faculty called lecturers. I thought about my own instructors, and how every one of my passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers has been a lecturer. As I researched more into the labor union, and the work they do, I became increasingly irritated. How could the University disrespect such a large, impactful and necessary population of their staff, one that had eased and enhanced my transition to college?
LEO is a labor union of lecturers on all three University of Michigan campuses. As stated previously, lecturers are non-tenure track instructional faculty; this means that, unlike their tenured colleagues, they don’t possess guaranteed job stability, decent wages or other benefits. For example, whereas the average University full professor makes about $149,000 per academic year, the minimum salary for a full-time Lecturer is about $35,000 in Ann Arbor, $28,000 in Dearborn and $27,000 in Flint. This translates to a $15 per hour pay, which is below a living wage for a single parent with children, or a two-parent household with more than one child. Many of these struggling lecturers turn to other part-time occupations, such as driving for Uber or other jobs that add to their workweek. Additionally, Lecturers are benefits-insecure; due to administration policies, part-time lecturers cannot obtain consistent health care coverage. This inequality has pushed LEO lecturers to fight for an improved contract for years.
These are not greedy, unsupported demands. As I described, my own experience has proven lecturers are qualified instructors who go beyond what is expected to create a stimulating and constructive learning environment. Each coffee hour I attended for Spanish was organized, helpful and fun. Every extracurricular event I visited brought me closer to my teachers, classmates and coursework. In addition, there is statistical evidence that lecturers are a crucial force in our University; they generate a massive surplus of tuition revenue. In the 2016-2017 academic year, lecturers induced a $377 million surplus tuition, and yet only 4 percent of this contribution was diverted to lecturer pay and benefits. Many argue that the reason for this is that the University cannot afford to raise lecturer salary without raising student tuition. This is false and simply an excuse, as last academic year, the University generated $513 million in unrestricted excess cash flow. This reflects how the University can afford to better pay lecturers. Our administration just chooses not to.
Due to this constant exploitation, this year, the fight for respect swelled. LEO lecturers began bargaining with University administration for a new contract to secure fair and consistent rights. Members are pushing for increased wages, reliable health care, job security, recognition for inclusive teaching and improved disability accommodations. In a meeting on Feb. 12, University administration finally introduced a counterproposal — one that served as a slap in the face. The University responded with an offer of a $1,000 starting salary increase; this solely demonstrates that the University wants to move on, not actually solve a problem. $1,000 is not a sufficient raise by any measure; even with this increase, lecturers will struggle and suffer.
If this injustice does not morally motivate change within the student body, we should note that it does affect us as students as well. Student tuition is already very substantial and creeping higher and higher. Why isn’t our money being invested back into our education? Lecturers often teach introductory or undergraduate courses, so their motivation, attention and dedication are important to our development in academia. If a lecturer has to split time between teaching and driving Uber, they obviously cannot give their 100 percent in the classroom. Therefore, everyone suffers and the highly paid administration turns a blind eye.
This is a difficult and often hidden fight. Many students don’t know about the struggles their own teachers face. Therefore, my call to action is advocacy and presence. The University cannot function without lecturers — they teach a third of student credit hours in Ann Arbor — and we cannot receive a good education without them. I urge my peers to sport a #RespectTheLecs pin, attend Board of Regents meetings and create discourse among our student body. Any noise can be impactful in showing support for lecturers. It is easy to overlook your first teachers in college, or to take crucial introductory classes for granted. However, these teachers, who often fly under the radar in their importance, cannot be pushed aside in their vitality. We do need to #RespectTheLecs, but we also need to be active in our fight for them.
ATTEND OPEN BARGAINING: Friday, March 16th, 10:00 a.m.; 4th Floor Palmer Commons
(Here, allies observe bargaining. Having a room filled with supportive students sends a strong message)
Maggie Mihaylova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org