As yellow balloons bearing the lion crest of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization blew in the air, about 100 supporters stood in solidarity with the lecturers union outside the Fleming Administration Building yesterday.
The rally comes while the union is currently in contract negotiations with the University and one week after University officials decided not to reappoint Kirsten Herold, the vice-president of LEO.
Standing on top of a cement platform, Marc Ammerlaan, co-chair of LEO and a biology lecturer, kicked off the rally by equating the skills and quality of lecturers — who are not on a tenure track — with tenured professors.
“We are just as credentialed and just as qualified and just as gray and just as pot-bellied as the tenured track faculty members,” Ammerlaan said.
Elizabeth Axelson, lead negotiator of LEO and lecturer in the University’s English Language Institute, told the crowd that LEO demands that lecturers be paid the same salary as a University professor, excluding any monetary gains professors get for research. The University turned down this proposal, which includes an eight-year implementation plan, earlier this year, she said.
Also present at the rally was a Band-Aid-clad poster signed by LEO supporters, signifying the lecturers’ opposition to the University’s possible decision to cut more lecturer positions, Axelson said.
Axelson told the crowd that organizing rallies such as this to garner support is essential for the success of LEO’s negotiations.
“You can’t sit in a little room with management and get a contract on your own,” she said. “You have to have the strength of your members and your members’ supporters.”
In an interview last month, University Provost Teresa Sullivan said officials in her office have no plans to lay off lecturers.
“Right now our plans don’t include — from this office — they don’t include layoffs,” Sullivan said at the time. “But we’re a very decentralized place, and what we end up doing is giving each unit a budget, and they have to live within that budget.”
Though Sullivan couldn’t guarantee that no lecturers would be laid off due to the decentralized nature of the University, she said officials would look for other options for cutting costs before laying off lecturers.
“I would say that we are a human capital organization, and the reason we don’t look at layoffs first is that when we lay people off we don’t just cut costs, we cut assets,” Sullivan said at the time. “That’s not something that we want to do, but there aren’t a lot of places to cut in many programs.”
In an interview, Joe Walls, adjunct associate professor, who acts as spokesperson for LEO, said the purpose of the rally was to make the group’s struggles known to the public. The rally’s location merited special attention from the administration, he said.
“I’m sure they’re watching,” Walls said. “I’m sure they’re paying attention to what’s happening.”
Walls also said undergraduates should attend the rally and support the lecturers, as “what happens to lecturers impacts the classes they take and who teaches them and whether the classes are offered at all.”
LSA junior Jody Schechter, who is also a member of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, said she came to the rally not only because she believes in the cause, but also because she realizes how she is impacted by the struggles of the lecturers.
“I’m here because I believe that my lecturers deserve fair pay and because I realize how important they are to my education,” Schechter said.
Despite the fact that the lecturers were earlier urged not to discuss the rally in their classes, some lecturers brought students from their classes.
In an article published in the University Record on Wednesday, University officials said discussing the contract negotiations in class is a violation of state law and the union’s agreement with the University.
“We believe it is damaging to our students to divert class time away from the curriculum and to this labor dispute less than two weeks before the end of classes,” Associate Vice Provost Jeff Frumkin, senior director of Academic Human Resources, said in the article.
Sullivan echoed in the article his sentiments, saying lecturers should not engage in this “impermissible action” and instead “continue to devote their class time to providing outstanding instruction to their students during this busy time.”
In a speech at the rally, Rackham student Lauren Squires, grievance officer of the Graduate Employees Organization, said her group stands behind the goals of LEO, just as they have done in the past.
The rally also included speeches by supporters from Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the Huron Valley Central Labor Council and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Though contract negotiations were at the forefront of the rally, attendees also discussed Herold’s non-reappointment. According to University officials, the decision not to reappoint Herold was due to performance issues that were found in the midst of her remediation process.
In an interview after the rally, University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the University acted appropriately and in accordance with the contract they have with LEO and that the timing of the non-reappointment was also in line with the contract.
“The personnel action has nothing to do with the current negotiations,” Cunningham said.
Fred Veigel, president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, spoke to the crowd and said his group can help LEO by putting pressure on the University’s Board of Regents to re-hire Herold.
“We’re going to push these regents that we helped elect and we’re going to get to them to do the right thing and reinstate this person that they fired for no reason,” Veigel said.
LSA senior Joel Berger said Harold’s non-reappointment was one of the main reasons he attended the rally.
“I think the fact that the University fired the VP of LEO during contract negotiations is a little shady,” Berger said.
Near the end of the rally, Herold stood above the cheering crowd and said she won’t accept her firing without protest.
“I am going to get angry and I am going to fight it,” Herold said. “What they did was wrong and they need to feel that a lot of people think it’s wrong.”
The crowd then marched to the English Department office on the third floor of Angell Hall, yelling slogans as they went.
Though today’s march was unplanned, Axelson said it may have been more effective than the march staged last Friday, as no one was present in the office at last week’s demonstration.
“It seemed worthwhile to come back when people might be present to hear what we had to say,” she said.
As the yelling quieted down and people began to leave, Herold said she is touched by the amount of concern people showed for her at the rally.
“This wasn’t just about me, but it’s great to see all of the people and get this support,” she said.