“EMU Police working aggressively to solve incidents of racist vandalism that took place last fall”

From EMU’s PR/Media folks comes “Eastern Michigan University Police working aggressively to solve incidents of racist vandalism that took place last fall.”  It’s a press release that details the various things that the EMU Police have been doing to try to track down the people who did the racist graffiti in the fall 2016 semester.

I suspect that the EMU Police and other authorities are in kind of a tough spot in trying to find who did this stuff because they are certainly under a lot of pressure to find who is responsible, but there probably aren’t a lot of good ways of finding out. They’re trying their best, but that still isn’t going to satisfy everyone.

Incidentally, the one thing that I’ve noticed as a very visible thing on campus that might or might not be related to this incident, I’m not sure: for some time now, there has been a sidewalk under construction that runs between the back of King Hall and the south side of the Marshall Building. The first major graffiti was on the wall of King in this out of the way courtyard that opens on to Marshall– that is, on the side of the building where this sidewalk is going in. Now, for all I know, this sidewalk has been in the plans for years. Still, it’s interesting that it is going in now.

President Smith Listening (or “Listening?”)

I went to the latest of EMU President James Smith’s “Listening Sessions” on Friday, probably the only one I’m going to be able to go to because my January schedule is going to get pretty crazy busy pretty soon. This was the third one of these sessions, and there are three more to come. And for what it’s worth, here’s the schedule:

Session 4: January 17, 2017 2:00 p.m. 217 Porter

Session 5: January 18, 2017 10:00 a.m. 114 Owen

Session 6: February 3, 2017 10:00 a.m. Student Center Auditorium

So what happened? Well, if you saw this video I posted here back in December, then pretty much the same thing as that. Most (though not all) of the questions/comments from the people there were about the debacle of punishing student protesters for sitting around the student center for too long. My colleague Rob Halpern read from a letter he had recently sent to President Smith, one that is along the same lines as to what he wrote for RAW recently.  Rob sent me this latest letter and I’m posting it in its entirety in a separate post on the site. I think it’s fair to say that he captured in that letter the sentiments held by most people in the room. Honestly, Smith et al’s lack of willingness to do the humane thing and dismiss all disciplinary actions against these students for conducting a peaceful sit-in continues to perplex me and pretty much everyone I talk to about this.

And I think you have to say “listening” in scare-quotes because I really didn’t see a lot of that– or maybe a slightly better/different way of putting it is maybe Smith heard what people were saying, but I’m not seeing any evidence that there is any sort of corresponding action. These are more “listening” sessions, as in “let’s let people say stuff, say ‘I hear you,’ say something general back, and then pretty much ignore this and just keep doing what we’re doing.”

One obvious example the administration’s stubbornness on not forgiving these student protesters in the name of “rules are rules.” But I think another example that came up at this session is Smith’s take on football.

During Friday’s session, I had the chance to ask Smith about an interview he did with WEMU back in the late summer about the out of whack athletic department budget. Back then, Smith said something along the lines of “we need to find a different way to pay for football.” I asked him about that, and basically his response “we’re working on it.” Then some other people asked about some other things that need to be done on campus– facility upgrades, a potential new center for media studies facility, and so forth. Smith was interestingly more specific about this, arguing that because we’re not likely to be getting a lot of funding from the state for this sort of thing, we’re going to have to find some outside donors to contribute. So I said something along the lines of “Why don’t we just stop playing football? And what I think you’re saying here is while we’re going to need to get some outside donors to pay for things like a new media studies facility, we’re still going to spend tuition money on football.” His answer was “yes.”

So not listening, “listening.” And frankly, not leadership, but “leadership.”

 

Prof. Rob Halpern’s Latest Letter to EMU President James Smith

Dear President Smith ~

I hope this finds you well in the New Year.

I think we can agree—judging by responses across the University and elsewhere—that the current mode of adjudicating and reprimanding the Black students who have been sanctioned in the wake of a nonviolent Student Center sit-in is not working in accord with the community’s desire for high ethical standards, nor does it respond to the need to protect student and community wellbeing. By failing to acknowledge this, the Office of the President at EMU continues to compromise its integrity, while further diminishing the community’s good faith in your Strategic Plan when it comes to “Diversity and Inclusion.” Moreover, the actions of the University’s administration have attracted intense criticism across multiple communities, locally and nationally. Indeed, EMU’s reputation as a hospitable university for people of color has been significantly damaged under your watch, and not only by racist vandals, but by the action and inaction of your administration.

Students continue to struggle under hostile conditions to preserve a sense of their own wellbeing—emotionally and physically, socially and psychologically—in the face of an administration that many perceive has failed to protect it. To reprimand these students even minimally only serves to agitate the hostile conditions they are struggling to address. This is unacceptable. Any sanction—even the most symbolic—constitutes a form of punishment and is objectionable in the context of recent events and an affront to community standards and ethics. This is why so many faculty members at your recent listening sessions have spoken out against any form of sanction while insisting—in sync with your own apparent willingness to admit the possibility that the system might be flawed—that you temporarily suspend the disciplinary process currently in place until the community has found a way to assess the adequacy of the Student Code of Conduct as it is currently being administered under these circumstances. Given the situation, this is a perfectly reasonable request, and we are asking that you respond to it as such.

To make matters worse, we’ve learned that the students’ appeals are now not only resulting in the administration upholding these illegitimate sanctions, but these same students are being denied a hearing—that is, they are being denied a voice in this process—on the grounds that the charges are “not serious enough”. EMU seems to want it both ways: to punish students while simultaneously insisting that they are not being punished! The charges are apparently serious enough to warrant an aggressive process of routing out students by way of video technologies; serious enough to disrupt their final weeks of the semester with traumatizing reprimands and sanctions letters, several of which initially threatened suspension; serious enough to warrant hour long meetings (15 of them) with staff from the conduct office; serious enough for faculty to have organized support for these students, often serving as their advocates in their meetings with conduct officers; serious enough for faculty to write letters to families of sanctioned students explaining the embarrassing circumstances that have resulted in their son or daughter being dragged into a draconian process for acting conscionably and exigently in the spirit of Martin Luther King to combat racism on campus, only to be met with the heavy hand of an institutionally racist disciplinary order; serious enough to generate thousands of signatures demanding that sanctions be dropped; serious enough to attract the attention of the ACLU; but somehow not serious enough to warrant a hearing for students who continue to insist—as many of us here do—that the sanctions being administered and upheld are unjust and that even the most minor reprimand constitutes a violation of these students’ Civil Rights.

During that last listening session, you questioned your own power as President to intervene in this process; you also by turns questioned the “wisdom” of any such an intervention, perhaps because you don’t want to disrupt the smooth functioning of bureaucratically administered disciplinary process. It was absolutely clear, however, from the vocally unanimous faculty present at that session that you would have a mandate to intervene right now, and that the specificity of these cases—in the context both of our historical moment and the recent events here on campus—not only warrants, but demands that you intervene. Is it possible that you are beholden to supersensible forces and higher powers? Or, is the administration afraid of certain legal implications, as if honoring these students’ legitimate appeals might open a hypothetical floodgate for less legitimate appeals in some imagined future? If the latter fear has somehow contributed to our current impasse, then it is evermore clear that the Student Code of Conduct needs to be thoroughly re-examined to ensure against any potential confusion between peaceful, nonviolent protest whose goals and methods are in accord with community standards, standards that reflect a history of Civil Rights, and its opposite. Your hypothetical example at today’s session to the effect of “What if Pray Harrold were occupied by student protesters with whom we disagree?” is simply a red herring and misguided, and it needs to be addressed as such. Please don’t make the error of taking this analogy seriously. One approach to correcting this error—while pre-empting whatever fears and bad comparisons—would be for the administration to recognize these cases properly within a Civil Rights context. Thus we are asking you to act in accord with the standards of the community you are here to serve and address this in its proper context. In order to address this adequately and responsibly, the current process—whose integrity has already been impugned—together with its judgments, must be temporarily suspended.

It may be worth rehearsing the egregiousness of the University’s decision to reprimand students in the first place. These students expressed a genuine need to organize their voice, assert their presence, and secure for themselves a safe space inside a building on EMU campus, all in the wake of execrable racist tagging insisting that Black students “leave.” These students’ collective assertion was at once symbolic and material. Their collective action was also implicitly critical of the EMU administration’s response to the campus crisis, and it drew important attention to what many believe to be the inadequacy of that response.

The University’s directive that these students “leave” the Student Center echoes—quite literally—the racists’ demand that Black students leave campus. We all need to hear this echo! It is real; it is material; and failure to listen to it is consequential. Regardless of whatever official rule that bans students from the Student Center after hours, EMU’s decision to echo that racist demand by directing Black students to “leave” is reprehensible. Indeed, it is this directive that ought to be seriously scrutinized, apologized for, and corrected; and yet, it is because of students’ “failure to comply” with this inappropriate directive to “leave” that they are being sanctioned. The irony here is rather grotesque. While this echo might sound insubstantial irrelevant to the administration’s ears, it is loud and clear to the community. You have organized a series of “listening sessions”; now please offer the EMU community a model of careful listening!

These students deserve to have been responded to compassionately and supportively, imaginatively and collaboratively, by administration, DPS, the Office of Student Conduct (Community Standards and Wellbeing), and your office alike, not with directives to vacate a space and told that they are “free to continue their protest outside”: Their protest was precisely about being inside.

As long as the University continues to insist on punishing Black students for their protest, there can be no effective and honest way to move forward with a priority plank in your Strategic Plan. Another way of putting this might be: Without an adequate examination of how conditions of institutional racism are structurally reproduced under the sign of “colorblindness” here at EMU, your plan’s keywords “diversity and Inclusion” will only continue to hemorrhage, and reveal themselves to be empty fetishes.

Many of us continue to hope that you will recognize and make publically clear that the directive to vacate the Student Center ought never to have been issued. Moreover, for administrators and DPS to then devote hours pouring over video footage in an aggressive effort to identify a handful of Black student protesters—students who committed no crime, participated in no violence, damaged no property—as if DPS were seeking the vandals responsible for the racist tagging itself, is not only embarrassing and incomprehensible, it’s a waste of precious community resource.

Under these circumstances, any sanctions whatsoever amount to an unnecessary injury added to the injury of racist violence. To act as if this were simply an issue of “conduct” reveals EMU’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious: We are dealing here with highly volatile issues of race, in response to which the University has acted against the grain of its own pronouncements to foster a hospitable environment intolerant to racism. Insofar as the sit-in took place in response to traumatic racist events on campus, this is first and foremost a race issue and cannot be sanitized by allowing “conduct” to eclipse the context and the stakes.

You might say: What does race matter? The Student Code is colorblind. But if you genuinely believe this, then you, too, are blind. I don’t mean this disrespectfully, I am simply stating the obvious: The EMU administration has failed to acknowledge how its “colorblind” procedures are reproducing conditions of racism on campus. To fetishize “rules” and “process” under current circumstances is to abdicate discretion and resign the process to a “business as usual” logic that is failing the entire University community.

Before I conclude, I want briefly to draw attention and respond to several specific things that came up during your last listening session on 12/8:

— Please don’t trivialize the gravity of even the most minimal of “hand-slapping” reprimands. Students have genuinely been traumatized by the sanctions they’ve received from the Office of Student Conduct. I am often afraid that you can only see the gravity of these sanctions from within an administrative bubble that has sadly become inured to the wellbeing of its own student body.

— Please understand that any resulting antagonisms between students and administration (including DPS) is an effect of structural contradictions that must be addressed at their foundation.

— While you have made it clear that you are responding to the Back Students’ 10-Point Plan, the administration’s failure to take ethical responsibility and suspend all sanctions undermines the integrity of that response in its totality.

In short, to deal only with the super-structural effects of institutional racism is to address the problem superficially. Some of us are demanding that the disciplinary process be suspended until these contradictions can be addressed and responded to; otherwise, these antagonisms will only become increasingly volatile.

Again, EMU’s determination to obscure issues of race as if they were merely issues of discipline is a manifestation of structural racism at EMU. Failure to address it as such places the whole administrative structure on the wrong side of contemporary history. As one of my colleagues eloquently said to you at the last listening session when you were supporting a business as usual approach to discipline, “This moment is different.” In other words, hewing to a conduct code as if its application were colorblind and without acknowledging the implications of context, circumstance, history and situation, can only fail to nourish conditions for wellbeing and social justice at our university, and such a failure will mean a failure of your Strategic Plan.

Given that some of these students have already exhausted the appeals process—which is not only failing to yield a reversal of the sanctions but is insultingly preventing these same students who reject these condescending judgements from moving their appeal to a hearing stage—the decision to move toward correcting this damage is yours and your alone.

As President of this University, you have the power, the discretion, and responsibility to be a model of humility here. Please choose to respond responsibly to this situation. Please find your ethical and historical compass and act accordingly: Suspend this disciplinary process and dismiss these sanctions; apologize for the university’s mishandling of this situation under your watch and correct the course.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this letter. I have copied others who might be interested in it.

Sincerely and respectfully yours,

Rob Halpern

Associate Professor of Creative Writing

Department of English

From RAW, “Letter to the Office of Student Conduct”

From the website Radical Washtenaw (or RAW) comes “Letter to the Office of Student Conduct,” which was written by my colleague in the English Department Rob Halpern. I think it fairly accurately expresses the sentiments of a lot of faculty around the punishment of a group of students for hanging around the EMU Student Center too long in protest to the university about the mishandling of racists incidents on campus. A quote from this I certainly agree with:

To act as if this were simply an issue of “conduct” reveals EMU’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious: We are dealing here with highly volatile issues of race, in response to which the university has acted irresponsibly. As such, the administration’s response to this situation can only be adequately addressed in a Civil Rights context as it continues to reproduce the dynamics of institutional racism that the community is struggling to combat.

 

Powerful video from the EMU chapter of the NAACP

I wish I could share the video here, but it looks like it is only on Facebook right now, so I have to send you to a couple of book of face links– here is to the EMUTalk Facebook group, and here’s to the NAACP EMU group. It’s a simple but powerful video, just faces of students of color at EMU and a voice-over and urgent reading of why these students are so frustrated with the EMU administration and why they feel so ignored. I sure hope someone in Welch Hall takes 5 minutes to watch this, and if I can figure out how to embed it here, I will.

Two Updates:

Here’s a link to the NAACP EMU video:

Second, there’s an article in the FREEP about all this, “Black students ‘disgusted,’ vow to keep protesting at EMU.”

Responding to “Setting the Record Straight From Susan Moeller, Outgoing EMU-AAUP”

Happy 2017, everybody!

I was at home minding my own business on New Year’s Eve when (like other members of the EMU-AAUP), I received an intriguingly angry, bitter, and kind of crazy email from outgoing EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller. After I skimmed through it, I posted this on Facebook:

After getting a screed of an email from Susan Moeller on New Year’s Eve, I am even more thankful that she got voted out of office. Much of what she says is flat-out wrong, all of it is sour grapes, and I’ll put together a very detailed post for EMYoutalk.org in the next day or two. Stay tuned.

I have to say that when it comes to the EMU-AAUP, I want to be in the mode of moving on from the election and letting bygones be bygones– and as a slight tangent, Howard Bunsis sent an email more or less in this tone a week or two ago, so good for him. But the more I read Moeller’s email, the more it pissed me off. So, perhaps against what might be better judgement, here’s that promised very detailed post.

Sorry for the length, and if you just want the email Moeller sent without my commentary, click here or scroll to the very end of this post and after the read more part. And as a bit of a primer/context of this (for those of you who didn’t follow the EMU-AAUP Executive Committee elections), you could read a long post I had about this on my own blog back in November.

Moeller starts off by talking about “right to work,” which was a challenge for the old union leadership and will be for the next. I actually don’t disagree with much of what she has to say here, though I would argue that the best way to keep faculty in the union is to listen to the membership and try to engage new voices (instead of cling to power for over a decade). And you certainly do not want to foster divisiveness within the union by singling out one department as the problem.

Then she gets to the equivalency fiasco.

To start, my own general take on teaching loads and equivalences:

I have always thought that at a regional university like EMU– one where we have graduate programs and where faculty are expected to maintain a modest research agenda along with teaching– a 3-3 teaching load (or its equivalent) is reasonable across the board/across all departments, and I think there are good reasons why all departments can make the argument that we’re doing the equivalent of a 12-hour a semester contractual amount of work while teaching 3-3. We are not (and shouldn’t be) a major research-focused university like Michigan or Michigan State where the teaching load in a field like mine is more typically 2-2 or 2-1. But we are also not (and certainly shouldn’t be) a community college like Washtenaw CC where the teaching load in my field is 4-4 or 5-5.

I have also always thought that individual departments/disciplines ought to be able to make the argument about what they believe are equivalences in their department/discipline, as long as they can make reasonable arguments based on agreed upon evidence (for example, based on past practices and what similar universities do). Who am I to say what should count as an equivalency for Music or CMTA or Nursing or whatever? I don’t  know what is involved in the day to day for teaching in any of those disciplines. Why this has been so hard to work out for the EMU-AAUP over the last decades is unclear to me.

Anyway, this is where I have to parse out a lot of what Moeller wrote because she is so fundamentally wrong. Moeller’s words are the block quote part. She wrote:

The English department believed that a 1976 arbitration protected their 9/9 load.  The EMU Administration and the EMU-AAUP attorney do not agree.

First off, Moeller came to an English Department meeting in Fall 2015 and told us that the 1976 arbitration protected our 3-3 load and that both the administration and the EMU-AAUP agreed this was settled law. Moeller is lying here, full stop. This was NOT some sort of whimsical fantasy from a bunch of “lazy” English professors; this was what we were told by our union president just over a year ago.

Second, we don’t really know what the EMU-AAUP attorney said because there was no written explanation of the change of legal interpretation in Summer 2016, and the EMU-AAUP leadership refused to provide any explanation to faculty in the English department when asked to do so. Frankly, we have no idea what the legal thinking is here other than “oh, we don’t want to do that anymore.”

First, because the arbitration award was to allow a department head to give equivalencies for freshmen composition classes and because few, if any, of the current English faculty teach freshmen composition ( most are taught by GAs), their 9/9 load was not protected under the arbitration.

This is wrong in two important ways. First, the 1976 arbitration (here’s a link to a PDF of it) does not limit equivalences to freshman courses. The arbitration does not name any specific course; the closest it comes to this (according to my reading at least) is on page 3 where it says “Those faculty members teaching one composition class– whether freshman or advanced— were assigned two other literature courses for a total of nine student contact hours each week.” (emphasis mine)

Interestingly, the arbitration is oddly specific as to the reasons for the equivalency: teaching writing is a lot of work, and the arbitration even goes into the detail of how many words students write, about how much time it takes to grade these writings, about the time it takes to work with students individually on revisions, and so forth. Not surprisingly, a lot has changed about the specifics of what and how we teach writing in the last 40 years; but the basics of the workload described in the arbitration are still accurate.

Second, most of the sections of WRTG 120 and WRTG 121 are actually taught by part-time instructors and full-time lecturers, NOT  graduate assistants. And here’s the thing that is so galling to me about this: I know that Moeller was told this by me and others in several different meetings. So when she writes here most sections of first year writing are taught by GAs, she is either lying or she completely ignored what faculty told her multiple times.

In addition, the arbitration only was in effect if the contract it was awarded under did not change, and since the contract has changed many times, the 9/9 load was being given as a deal to the English faculty.  Many CAS faculty approached the union about the unfairness of this arrangement.

The idea that the arbitration was only in effect for the contract in which it was enacted doesn’t make sense. We’ve been referencing this arbitration for 40 years, and the provision of the contract that the arbitration references of the “supervision of special learning activities” is still a part of the contract.

But the real meat here is Moeller singling out the English faculty as getting a “special deal” and how “other faculty” in the College of Arts and Sciences didn’t like it. In other words, Moeller is confirming that much of this equivalency nonsense was specifically aimed at faculty in the English department. We had a president of the EMU-AAUP actively working against members of the union in a particular department because of some sort of long-simmering feelings about “unfairness.”

But wait, was Moeller saying that English is the only department where faculty were teaching three classes a semester? Apparently not:

At the table in 2012, the EMU Administration agreed to work with the faculty on collecting the equivalency data on the Joint Workload Committee.  The data resulted in faculty and the administration discovering that the ‘real’ teaching load at EMU was on average 9- credit hours a semester, with a range of 5 to 12-credit hours.  So it appears that the EMU Administration was now in a position to force all faculty to 12 hours a semester loads.

What Moeller is saying here is most faculty at EMU were already teaching a 3-3 load. So other than a clear goal to “go after” faculty in the English department, why not make the argument that most faculty at EMU were already teaching a 3-3 load? I don’t know the answer to this, but what I’m seeing here is Moeller saying that faculty in the English department don’t teach enough because they teach a 3-3 load even though the average teaching load across the university is 3-3– and by the way, lower than 3-3 in some departments and colleges, like (surprise surprise!) the College of Business.

Moeller goes on:

As the EMU Administration was moving to enforce a 12 hour load for all faculty, the EMU-AAUP team negotiated that equivalencies would be placed in the DIDs so that they become contractual.  Without this protection, I believe that the EMU Administration could require all faculty to teach a 12/12 load and is very willing to do so for budget reasons.

So while I understand that the new equivalency system requires an accounting of equivalencies toward teaching loads that is new for some faculty,  it does allow for all faculty to participate in a system of banking work load credits also.  As it was discovered that some faculty in the past were given release for banking hours and others were not – again unfair treatment.

Many universities have policies that define teaching load equivalencies, however few have them in their union contracts.  With only a policy this then allows management the right to, at any time, enforce a 12/12 load.  I believe that in the long run if one truly believes the union’s mission to make sure all faculty are treated, this contract provision will be one of the best achievements of the EMU-AAUP.

I don’t know enough about what the EMU Administration could or couldn’t do to force everyone to teach 4-4, and I certainly don’t understand why the changes in right to work would somehow give the administration a magic wand to change the teaching loads that have been in place for decades. I do have a sneaking suspicion though Moeller thought if she threw the English department under the bus and get their teaching load increased, then maybe that would protect the low teaching loads in places like the College of Business.

In any event, the system that Moeller et al have created– including this “banking” system– is unworkable in my department, and, as I understand it, many other departments. I’m not going to go into it now (this is already way too long), but if the current equivalency scheme does indeed go into effect in Fall 2017, there are going to be hundreds of grievances filed about unfair treatment because of not equal individual teaching loads. The EMU administration and the EMU-AAUP have agreed to a train-wreck. Stay tuned.

Three last things. Moeller wrote:

The final issue from the election is the accusation that the old union leadership was running a business union.  Even though I am a member of the faculty of the College of Business, as is Howard Bunsis, we have never favored one group of faculty over another.  Our record shows that in the last five contracts we have negotiated a contract that helps all faculty and have gotten good raises and kept benefit costs down.

The main problem I’ve always had with the EMU-AAUP when it comes to negotiating for salary increases is the union almost always seeks an across the board percentage raise. This means that the highest paid faculty end up getting the biggest raises, and guess which college has the highest paid faculty?

As for benefits: in this last contract, the union negotiated away insurance coverage for spouses who could get insurance someplace else. Maybe there was no way to prevent this, I have no idea, but I do know that this has cost a lot of my colleagues a lot of out of pocket money for health insurance.

In terms of “Academic Partnerships,” Moeller wrote:

Finally, the new leadership recently in an email to you stated that the old leadership is responsible for a marketing contract with a company that promotes on line programs.  While This just happened and no faculty had complained to us about the contract, there has been no contract violation as the five departments receiving the help gave input on it and do not have to use the company.  However, the new leadership needs to realize that some faculty may want their programs marketed and that the unions job is to protect the contract and it processes.  There can not be a grievance if there is no contract violation and no grievant faculty member.

I am sure there will be more about this in the coming weeks, but I have already heard from a faculty person in one of these five departments about how this decision to get into bed with Academic Partnerships happened without faculty input and how this is likely to be grieved. Moeller’s comment here almost suggests that there was some kind of not exactly in the open negotiations going on between the administration and the old EMU-AAUP regime.

Finally:

We have always worked for the best interests of all faculty at EMU.  I am disappointed that the entire past leadership is no longer on the Executive Committee as their experience would have been valuable in the union’s workings with the EMU Administration.  We built a strong union over the last 12 years with your support and many faculty have benefited from that work.   Hopefully the new leadership will not just support special groups of faculty and realize all faculty are to be supported whether they are members or not.

Susan, thank you for your service. I’m not entirely sure why the past leadership who were re-elected in the most recent election decided to resign after you lost, but that is what it is and I’m sure that will be a topic of discussion in the new year. But 12 years on the Executive Committee is too long, and it’s time to loosen the grip and let others continue the hard work. And I am confident that the new leadership will not have the agendas against faculty and departments that has been made nakedly clear with this email.

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