Contract negotiations between the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the University began last week, and both organizations have the opportunity to reach a settlement before the critical month of April, traditionally the season of threats to withhold grades or picket graduation. Although the contract won’t expire until July, both parties – and students – stand to benefit from an agreement reached well before then. The University administration should agree to a contract with LEO that acknowledges the vital roles that lecturers play at the University.
Union negotiations have had a strident showing in the legacy of a campus dedicated to student activism, but the contentious nature of lecturer walkouts and strikes can pit loyal students against their own academic interests in the name of solidarity.
LEO’s demands target practices that relegate lecturers to a position of inferiority. The landmark 2004 contract raised base salaries, extended health benefits through the summer and improved job security. But the past two years have made clear that the contract, though significant, was far from perfect. LEO and the University continue to clash over job misclassifications, and lecturers still do not receive the benefits their qualifications and roles merit.
Members have long complained that the public designation of four classes of lecturer only works to further the festering aura of lecturers as “second-class citizens” on campus. Although the internal structure of the four-tiered hierarchy of lecturers may help organize the University, the public nature of the classification exacerbates a stigma that already divides University faculty. Reevaluating the current system of lecturer classifications could help avoid conflicts under the next contract.
The jarring disparity in salaries for lecturers at the University in Ann Arbor and its satellite campuses has created an even less excusable division of educators who have labored for years – and have invested the corresponding amount of money – to become committed and competent educators. At $31,000, minimum salaries are low at the Ann Arbor campus – but they’re even lower at Dearborn and Flint. Contractual limitations on the number and nature of second jobs that LEO members can work – primarily other teaching positions to supplement their income -piles insult on top of injury.
The University may not have spare cash to throw at its lecturers, but it must also recognize the integral role its lecturers play in educating students. These coming months will be crucial to consider LEO’s demands and put together a plan acceptable to both sides.
Most students do not intend to get an education in labor relations when they enter the University. However, we owe a certain amount of respect and empathy to those instructors who make less in a year than many out-of-state students pay to be here. Lecturers teach nearly a third of undergraduate courses on Ann Arbor’s campus, and students have a vested interest in seeing the demands of LEO met by the University. If that doesn’t come down to solidarity at strike time, it certainly should come in the form of support during these early months of negotiation.