A few more thoughts about the contract negotiations between the EMU administration and the EMUFT union

Here we are, almost at the end of the academic year, and just to complicate matters further, the EMU Federation of Teachers (the union that represents lecturers and part-time lecturers at EMU) and the administration are off to what sounds like a rocky start for contract negotiations. As noted here on the EMUFT’s web site, in this Michigan Radio story, and in this WEMU story, the administration’s “opening bid” in these negotiations is a 25% pay cut for new part-timers. So folks newly hired at EMU to teach part-time would earn $900 a credit hour instead of the current rate of $1200.

Now, I don’t know a whole lot about what the lecturers and part-timers are negotiating for with this round. Frankly, since they just got done negotiating a contract last year, I’m surprised they are at the bargaining table at all. That said, I think there are a few things worth mentioning:

  • I don’t care how you slice it (as in “the administration isn’t serious about this” or “that’s just an opening tactic” or whatever), for the administration to begin negotiations by proposing a 25% cut is I believe what is technically known as a “dick move.”
  • For folks who don’t understand this: lecturers generally but part-time instructors in particular are where a place like EMU makes back a lot of the money it spends on dumb stuff like overpaid administrators and coaches. A really simple example I know well from my experience/work with the first year writing program: classes taught by part-timers rake in a lot of tuition money.  Undergrads pay about $1000 per course at EMU once you figure out all the fees and stuff. The capacity for a section of first year writing is 25, so (assuming that everyone is paying in-state tuition) it’s pretty easy to ballpark the revenue of each section of first year writing is about $25,000. Even if you knock off some of that for paying the bills/keeping the lights on, that’s still a pretty healthy return on investment when that class is taught by someone only making $3600.
  • Higher education’s relationship with part-time labor generally has been problematic for decades. EMU is far from unique in this regard. Personally, I have a lot of mixed feelings about what to do with the adjunct problem, as I’ve blogged about before (here’s an example of a “modest proposal” to reduce the number of adjuncts with MOOCs, and here’s my review/reaction to a movie about adjunct labor called “Con Job”). I think higher ed has an “addiction” to cheap labor when it comes to teaching (particularly in gen ed sorts of classes). But I also think that part-time instructors should be just that, part-time. Too many folks have been trying make their part-time work look like a full-time job by teaching at multiple places and for too long.
  • As it is, we are increasingly having some “staffing challenges” when it comes to hiring people who are qualified and willing to teach at the current part-time rate. This is a relatively recent change, at least in my field. Based on my completely unscientific recollection, there were more people applying for part teaching ten years ago in my program than there are now. So this move by the administration– even if it is just a bargaining tactic– could make things even worse, which of course ultimately impacts students. It might also inspire some current part-timers to realize that with an improving economy and job market, there are other options out there.

By the way, if anyone involved in the negotiations wants to post something more here at EMYoutalk, let me know. I extend this opportunity to the administration too, though I don’t think they’ll take me up on it.

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