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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“Eastern Michigan Football: Giving Meaning to a Meaningless Bowl Game”

My life being what it is right now, I’m unlikely to watch today’s “big” game in the Bahamas that I assume includes a halftime show/Popeye’s chicken eating contest between the two teams. (Okay, maybe not, but you have to admit that would be an awesome addition to the event). But I did read what I thought was a pretty good commentary about it all, “Eastern Michigan Football: Giving Meaning to a Meaningless Bowl Game” by Matt Pelc. I think Pelc does a pretty good job of capturing my own mixed feelings about the whole thing. It is clearly a meaningless game, but even I can understand why the players and at least a few fans are excited about the first bowl appearance for the Emus since the Reagan Administration.

Still, as Pelc points out, this does not mean everything with Emu football is now just hunky-dory:

Make no mistake, these thorny issues will not evaporate from the Ypsilanti air because of one bowl appearance in three decades. The dollars and cents of raising tuition while funding an unpopular football program is still an issue which should be revisited.

While attendance is up, and the program is receiving a lot of love nationally for its pseudo-Cinderella story of never going to a bowl game in the age of bowl games, will they slide back into oblivion in 2017?

That first link from Pelc is from a Freep.com article, “Despite winning season, future of EMU football questioned.” In the nutshell, that article rehashes old arguments: football is fun and it’s great that the team did well this year (Though that’s relative, isn’t it?  If Michigan had gone 7-5 this year, they probably would have fired St. Harbaugh), but students are paying 80% of the team’s operating expenses with their tuition, and a lot of that money comes from Pell grants and student loans.

Back in July when James Smith started his job as President of EMU, he gave an interview to WEMU. In responding to critics of EMU’s athletic spending, Smith said (among other things) “I think leaving the Mid-American Conference would be very difficult, if not tragic for a school like Eastern. Mostly we’ll look at new revenue sources, how we strengthen those revenue sources, and what we can do in some creative ways.” It’ll be interesting to see what those creative revenue sources turn out to be.

Anyway, congrats to the team, I hope that dozens of fans who made the trip to the game have fun, and I hope the Emus defeat the powerhouse team that is Old Dominion. And I hope there is a bunch of free chicken .

“EMU is expanding online degree programs” with the help of “Academic Partnerships”

I was actually out and about today when I heard this story on Michigan Public Radio, “EMU is expanding online degree programs.” A quote:

Eastern Michigan University has entered into a 5 year agreement with Academic Partnerships, a private company, to offer four fully online degree programs.

According to Kevin Kuchera, EMU’s Vice President for Enrollment Management, the programs will increase educational opportunities for non-traditional students while generating revenue for the University.

The four programs are RN2BSN (Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing), Master’s in Educational Leadership, Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and Bachelor of General Studies (degree completion).

It is “interesting” to say the least that a) this is coming out at the very end of the semester, hours before the beginning of the Christmas break, and b) there was nothing about this from EMU about this; rather, the story broke from Michigan Public Radio. Anyway, a couple of thoughts and then I hope others have comments and such:

  • Personally, I have no problem with online programs/online courses in principle as long as they are done well. I’ve been teaching online for about ten years and I think it can be a legitimate way to learn and educate– with lots of caveats that I won’t get into right now. However, I worry a lot about the partnership that EMU has entered into with Academic Partnerships, which strikes me as the worst kind of “Edu-preneur,” interested in trying to suck as much money out of the education sector as possible. The Atlantic had a pretty good article about this, “How Companies Profit Off Education at Nonprofit Schools.” The short version is this is a sketchy arrangement, one where Academic Partnerships is likely to profit a lot more out of this deal than EMU, and also a deal where students generally are the losers/pawns.
  • I had heard some rumors about this coming about, but it sounds like these programs went through with pretty minimal faculty input. That’s kinda bad.
  • I’m not sure I worry much about the nursing program or the graduate programs in Education, but the Bachelor of General Studies degree has lots of potential for problems. This was actually something I wrote about on the old EMUTalk back here, which is when this “General Studies” degree was first floated. Back then I pointed out we already have a program in “Individualized Studies” at EMU, so I don’t know what this degree is supposed to be about. In any event, I’ve had students in the current “Individualized Studies” program– particularly in some of my online classes– and I have to say these students tend to be kind of misfit toys with a ton of credits (usually from three or four different community colleges and universities) who are trying to figure out a way to be a college graduate. I guess it’s good that we should try to help them out, but I’m not sure making this a degree program with lots of students in it.
  • My current work/book project is on Massive Online Open Courses, and I’ve done a fair amount of research looking back at the history of previous movements in distance education. Long-story short: higher education has been trying to come up with a way to bring education to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to college for a long time, and simultaneously to increase revenue. There were correspondence programs in the late 19th/early 20th century, courses by radio and television in the middle of the 20th century, and of course “traditional” online courses starting around the early 1990s. Sometimes, these delivery methods just became “normal” (correspondence and online courses), and sometimes these methods morphed into something else (courses by radio and TV became public radio and public TV).  But one thing has proven to be consistent with these earlier movements and with things like MOOCs: they didn’t “transform” education as we know it and they ended up not being nearly as profitable as the edu-preneurs promised and/or hoped.

Video of President Smith’s first “Listening Session”

Via the Book of Face Faculty Senate page comes this video, “EMU Listening Session, Dec 9, 2016.” This was the second of these sessions, with four more scheduled for winter 2017.

I skipped around in the video because it’s kind of long and it’s a busy time of the year, but I’ll mention two things for now:

  • It seemed like what Smith wanted to do is what all administrator-types want to do: he wanted to talk about his strategic plan. What everyone at the event wanted to talk about was the dumb way EMU has handled the racist graffiti incidents on campus and the dumb way EMU has punished students for sitting around in the student center. I get the impression Smith wasn’t exactly prepared for that.
  • One issue that came up several times was about hiring diverse faculty and about training for search committees for this– that is, the administration says that faculty are being trained for this when they really aren’t. I think it’s complicated.

    I chaired a search last year, and there was a “training” of a sort in the sense that all the chairs and department heads for various searches were called to a meeting and they Academic HR gave us a slide show that I would describe as common sense. As a member of a committee this year, there’s been no training for the likes of me.But there are two things here that make this sort of targeted hiring for diversity difficult– not to mention the fact that Michigan passed an amendment to its state constitution in 2006 outlawing “preferential treatment” in hiring and lots of other things. First, the people on the search committee don’t know the race or ethnicity of applicants when we’re looking at their file– and by the way, that’s a good thing because not knowing makes it less likely for the committee to discriminate. Second, most people who go to graduate school and earn a PhD in my field are white, meaning that the first thing we really need to do to increase the diversity of faculty is to increase the diversity of graduate studies. That’s a long-term plan.

EMU on the radar of right wing (fake news?) site “The Daily Caller” over Black Student 10 point plan

Funny what comes up in my Google feed about “Eastern Michigan University.” A site called The Daily Caller— which is web site that has  right wing leanings and which walks the line of what is or isn’t fake news– published  “This Taxpayer-Funded University Is Scheming To Make EVERY MAJOR Teach ‘Black Studies.’” According to the article, this “scheme” is going to “compel every department on campus to inject a “black studies” course into “the curriculum of every major.” Ugh.

Oh, and apparently another right-wing/vaguely fake news site, Campus Reform, also published a similar story with the headline “EMU to require ‘black studies’ course in ALL majors.”

More helpfully, The Daily Caller article links to a press release from EMU about the Black Student ten point plan, which tries to explain what EMU is attempting to do in relation to these goals.

What’s interesting to me here is the way these two different web sites presume this is a bad thing. I mean, setting aside some of the logistical problems with the Black Student ten point plan for a second: what’s so wrong about trying to increase diversity and awareness of the African American experience?

Tiran Burrell’s Open Letter to President Smith About the Bad Handling of Things by Student Conduct

Just the other day, I also received this letter from EMU alum Tiran Burrell about the mess with the student reprimands/suspensions/whatever is going on with the sit-in actions in the student center. I learned about Burrell’s letter from an email from Michael Wood the other day, and now that I have permission, I’ll share Burrell’s email here (and again, if anyone has something they want to share here, send it in!):

Dear Eastern Michigan University Regents & Administration:

As a Eastern Michigan University Alum, current graduate student, and African American male, I am disappointed and disgusted with the manner in which you all have handled the situations around the hateful graffiti on campus. You all have been seemingly adverse in your actions to, first of all, make your students feel safe and wanted at this university. You all have failed to send further correspondence on behalf of the University since our previous meeting with myself and other student leaders. You have failed to provide any further updates for your students on the investigation of the racist graffiti incidents. You have failed to do anything to show students any glimmer of hope that you all actually care about the concerns of the general population of African American students.

More after the jump:

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Michael Wood’s Open Letter on the Student Code of Conduct

Back in early November, Michael Wood– the acting president of the EMU Black Student Union and one of the students who was initially charged in the whole student center sit-in situation– wrote an open letter addressed to EMU President William Smith regarding about his role/punishment here. Way back when, he sent me a copy of the letter. Now that EMYoutalk.org has started, it seems like this is a good time and place to publish that letter.

Dear President Smith:

I am a Secondary Education: Language, Literature, & Writing major here at Eastern Michigan University from Flint, Michigan. Flint is still enduring a water crisis and is one of the most poverty stricken and violent cities in America. I say this to infer: where I come from it is not enough to be smart, you have to have heart. My time at EMU is supposed to be a pathway to a better life and an environment where I do not have to live under intimidation, oppression, and intolerance. This has not been the case and while I endure many micro aggressions everyday on campus the blatant and repetitive hate speech and terrorist actions have exposed EMU to have a race problem. This has been a traumatic experience which has affected me emotionally, physically, and mentally. While I have “heart”, this semester is weighing heavily upon me and others.

(the rest after the jump).

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A few random thoughts to share on the new EMYoutalk.org

The new version of this site is still taking shape, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how I think things will be different (hopefully) with the new site versus the old one. 

  • It’s going to take some discipline on my part, but I want to try to limit my own posting/managing of the site to the evenings while I’m watching TV and while I’m otherwise not doing something else. Besides my usual day job of teaching and the like, I really do have a book to write. As a slight tangent: y’all are liable to see some posts here from me about Massive Online Open Courses, the subject of my book project.
  • Part of what I am planning on doing with the EMUTalk Facebook group is to solicit contributors. This has to be a group effort, folks. So if you have things you want to post, please email me and let me know.
  • I’m still working on the details of this, but one of the reasons why I decided to give this site another go was some reassurance from one of my colleagues that they’d help out. You know who you are!  Beyond this person, if there are others out there who want to be a part, let me know.
  • Funny story about why this is EMYoutalk.org rather than EMUTalk.org. I let the domain name registration elapse because I thought I was done with all of this. When I floated the idea of restarting the site, I saw that the domain EMUTalk.org was for sale for $25– not outrageous, but still more than a domain name usually costs. After I brought this up on the Facebook group, the cost for the domain jumped to $500. So, um, EMYoutalk it is.