Central Michigan University Faculty Fight for Quality Education

All across the country,  professors  and faculty unions are fighting to preserve the right to fair collective bargaining and quality learning conditions.  Although we are bargaining for new contracts under seriously tough economic circumstances, there have  been some modest wins, most recently at  New York City’s  Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus.   In his comment below, Prof. Jeffrey Weinstock of Central Michigan University (CMU) reports on the status of bargaining at his institution, where we see once again the same patterns of administrative duplicity: an administration privileging itself while cutting faculty salaries and benefits; claiming it has no funds while sitting on a surplus or denying that tuition increases can be used for faculty salaries.  Prof Howard Bunsis ( Eastern Michigan University), an expert on the financial analysis of universities,  has some cogent comments on this pattern of manufactured budget crisis.

Central Michigan University Faculty  Fight for Quality Education

Prof. Jeffrey A Weinstock

On August 15th, as a result of unfair bargaining on the part of the administration, 97% of the tenure and tenure-track faculty voted to authorize our bargaining team to call for a job action, which they did.  We staged a work stoppage on Monday August 22nd and the CMU administration immediately went to court and got an injunction ordering us back to work and restricting our freedoms to assemble and protest.  Those rights were restored in a court hearing on Friday August 26th, but the restraining order preventing a work stoppage remains in place until 20 days after the fact finder’s report is issued.

We are currently in the fact finding stage.   In the meantime, faculty are working without a contract (and thus absorbing 100% of increases in health care costs).  In addition, Michigan legislation known as Prop 54 is being used to deny faculty who went up for promotion at the end of last semester their earned salary increases and will prevent any retroactive compensation when a new contract is in place.

In one of the supreme ironies in recent memory, the university president made “civility” the central focus of his address to the university on Wednesday, Sept. 7.  The letter below authored by me and two other CMU faculty members helps to explain why we find this so ironic.

“An Open Letter to President Ross”
Appearing in CM-Life on Wednesday September 7th

Dear President Ross,

As you prepare your remarks for your September 7th address to the university, we write to ask that you consider our grave concerns about the direction of Central Michigan University. We are concerned that: teaching and scholarship are taking a back seat to buildings and administration; priorities increasingly answer more to special institutional interests than to CMU’s core mission; and, urgently, that the way CMU is treating the members of its academic community will drive people away and erode the quality of the institution.

Our concern about these trends has been sharpened by recent events. In particular:

  •   CMU provided false information in a Michigan court of law by claiming in its injunction request that all classes had been canceled on Monday August 22nd. This falsehood has made national news, as has the wholly reprehensible comparison of a work stoppage to the disastrous aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
  • That same injunction request submitted by the CMU administration stripped CMU faculty of their Constitutional rights to assemble and protest.
  • There have been recent instances in which you have appeared publicly condescending towards students—even going so far as to suggest they ask their parents for help with math—despite the fact that their tuition dollars support the salaries of everyone working at CMU.
  • The administration for the first time ever refused a good faith extension of the existing contract to the Faculty Association during bargaining. In response to the administration’s “surface bargaining” and other unfair labor practices, 97% of the Faculty Association voted to authorize the bargaining team to call for a job action—also a first for CMU.
  • Without evidence, you, President Ross, publicly accused the President of the Faculty Association of being dishonest. This divisive statement undermines not just the faculty, but the entire university in the eyes of both the public and the students.
  • The administration has repeatedly issued misleading and factually incorrect statements. For example, you have used cuts in state appropriations as an excuse for cuts in faculty compensation without mentioning that the hike in tuition rates combined with letting the “CMU Promise” expire more than offsets these state cuts. Another example: The administration stated that the work stoppage would irreparably harm CMU athletes, a claim that is entirely false.
  • In your Monday August 22nd press conference, you preached the necessity of “shared sacrifice,” but you have not lead by example. Your $350,000 compensation package remains intact, as does your nearly $140,000 compensation package with Furniture Brands International, Inc.
  • In that same press conference, you sowed animosity within the CMU community by incorrectly stating that, “the nine other employee groups on campus have taken a 0 [percent cost of living increase].” This attempt to turn one employee group against another is unworthy of a university president.
  • Numerous eye-witnesses attest that while your press conference was occurring in the university’s public library, students were barred from access to the building on a class day.
  • Abandoning its promise, CMU has raised its tuition and even paid a $238,000 compensation package to a departing medical school dean for nine months’ work for a school that isn’t even open.

And now, by pushing for harmful and unnecessary cuts that will take money out of the local economy and hurt already struggling local businesses, President Ross, CMU is even ignoring the presidential transition report that CMU itself commissioned that emphasizes on its very first page that, “The economic impact of the University is extremely critical [to the local community].”

With its enormous $228 million dollar surplus, CMU can well afford to support its faculty if it decides that instruction is a priority. Unless a change of direction becomes evident, however, the question is likely to become whether the university can afford George Ross. We therefore urgently call upon you to reconsider and dramatically shift both CMU’s priorities and your leadership style. As you prepare your remarks for this afternoon, we hope for some sign that such a change in direction is forthcoming so that we may join with you in working to protect and enhance our academic community and returning CMU to its vision of becoming a “nationally prominent university known for integrity, academic excellence, research and creative activity, and public service.”

Jeffrey Weinstock, Department of English
Guy Newland, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Neil Christiansen, Department of Psychology

blog post, September 18, 2011

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