The Michigan Times

Lecturer Negotiations Underway

Courtesy of Aubree Stamper/MJ

Courtesy of Aubree Stamper/MJ

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After a five year union contract, lecturers on all three campuses of the University of Michigan have begun negotiations to grant them better work conditions and higher pay and compensation. Negotiations are expected to last until April 2018, or until the beginning of next school year, depending on how long it will take to finalize the contract.

The goal of the negotiations is to create an environment where lectures can, “focus on [their courses], plan for the future, and really invest in their students,” according to Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) President Ian Robinson, which is the union that represents the university’s lecturers.

What differentiates lecturers from tenure-track, full-time professors, is that lecturers are obligated to agree to a contract of employment upon accepting a position at the university. The issue has become that many lecturers do not feel that all of the terms of the contract compensate their job demands adequately.

The difference in titles can also vary in a number of administrative ways. LEO lecturers are, in many cases, not obligated to conduct research the way a tenure-track professor would. Lectures are responsible for teaching a differing number of classes each semester, teaching as many as four classes while professors typically teach fewer classes, in lieu of tending to other responsibilities, such as research.

Although many students are unaware of the specific titles of their professors and lecturers, many students are being taught by lecturers, with Flint and Dearborn having over 50 percent of their classes being taught by them. Comparatively, on Ann Arbor’s campus, only 33 percent of classes are taught by lecturers.

One arguing point of the union is a disparity in the correlation between tuition revenue and the classes led by lecturers. During the 2016-2017 academic year, lecturers helped produce $462 million in revenue across all three campuses, according to LEO leaders, who say that contribution is not reflected in lecturers’ pay and compensation.

Lecturers on the campus of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor bring in $34,500 annually at minimum, while lecturers in Dearborn make $28,300, and lecturers on the Flint campus make $27,300.

However, the pay that lecturers are getting for their work is not the only issue at hand. Job security is also a major cause of grief for lecturers, who, at times, are only granted employment on a term by term basis. This can leave lecturers wondering whether or not they will have a reliable source of income when the semester they are teaching comes to an end.

While the benefit of being a full-time employee has its perks, including stable health benefits, job security, and income, lecturers are essentially taking a chance on their job stability with each approaching semester as their income and benefits often depend on enrollment and the demand for the classes they teach. Acquiring health insurance these days can be quite a daunting task, and the current union contract is not necessarily conducive to being able to obtain affordable healthcare, according to some of the lecturers.

While full-time lecturers, those who teach at least four classes each semester, have full access to healthcare, this not the case for lectures who teach fewer than that. These university employees, although offered a healthcare package, are required to pay twice as much for coverage. Making the matter even more serious, employees on the Flint campus are often forced to work multiple jobs, even needing to rely on governmental services to help feed their families.

Some other topics that are on the table for negotiation include clarity and consistency regarding job performance evaluations, reasonable health insurance benefits, disability accommodations, and securing funding for inclusive teaching and learning environments for students.

Arguably the most important issues in the pending results of the negotiations are those that will affect the most critical stakeholders in the matter: students.

Robinson explains that turnover of lecturers is a major issue, stating, “…many [lecturers] don’t come back at all. That’s a problem because it takes a while to learn a craft of teaching.”

The high turnover rate of lecturers can be a disadvantage to students, not allowing them to get acclimated to their environment adequately.

Robinson goes on further to explain that lecturers who only have a semester or two to teach their assigned classes do not have the benefit of developing and evaluating students’ routines for flaws and improvements.

With everything that is being negotiated on behalf of the lecturers, particularly pay, the next question becomes if students will be forced to pay more in tuition in order to compensate for a higher pay for lecturers. The answer to that question: it depends.

While the amount of money that is projected to fairly compensate lecturers is only five percent of the university’s monetary surplus, which exceeds over $500 million across the three campuses, UM-Flint students may be held responsible for accommodating this wage and benefit difference.

Robinson explains, “…we feel pretty comfortable in saying they shouldn’t have to raise student tuition at all if we can just take out enough money…six percent of that huge surplus would be enough to meet those salary and benefit demands. The administration might say something different, though.”

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