During a Lecturers’ Employment Organization (LEO) meeting on Tuesday, UM-Flint lecturers were met with a disproportionate amount of layoffs and employment status changes compared to UMICH’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses.
The news came days after an online town-hall meeting hosted by UMICH President Mark Schlissel. During the meeting, Schlissel expressed hope for a return to campus in the fall. Though UM-Flint has not made similar comments, the campus will start opening up for limited operation in the coming months.
As opposed to tenured or tenure-track professors, lecturers, who are not indefinitely employed by the university, make up a large part of the UM education experience.
According to UMICH’s Human Resources webpage, approximately 1,700 full and part-time lecturers worked for the university in 2018. LEO Flint Campus Chair and Lecturer of English Stephanie Vidaillet Gelderloos says those numbers have since dropped, bringing the reported number of Flint lecturers in 2018 from 342 to 297 in 2020.
Vidaillet Gelderloos also shared that 44 percent of UM-Flint lecturers were impacted by changes in employment status. 25 were laid off fully, 69 were laid off partially, meaning they lost some but not all of their classes, and 24 experienced reductions in workload that were considered non-reappointments.
This 44 percent figure stands in stark contrast to the 13 percent of UM-Dearborn lecturers and the 8 percent of UM-Ann Arbor lecturers who lost some or all of their fall classes. At UM-Ann Arbor, where 1,065 of the 1,696 LEO lecturers were employed as of 2018, only 1 percent of lecturers were laid off partially, 3 percent fully, and 5 percent were non-reappointed.
UM-Flint also saw the greatest loss in terms of employee benefits. 16 percent of UM-Flint lecturers lost their comprehensive benefits packages, which included health insurance coverage. In comparison, 6 percent of lecturers at UM-Dearborn and 4 percent at UM-Ann Arbor saw their benefits revoked.
These benefits are directly related to the amount of workload. This means of the 86 lecturers who experienced partial layoffs, those who saw their workload more than halved also lost benefits.
Vidaillet Gelderloos explained that UM-Flint lecturers were disheartened by the news of these mass layoffs. LEO members were especially confused as to why lecturers at the Flint campus were disproportionately affected.
“In Ann Arbor, it was almost like a regular year. There were a few departments that had more cuts than usual, but it was nothing like Flint,” said Vidaillet Gelderloos.
As of June 2, Vidaillet Gelderloos had received no information that would explain the unequal distribution of layoffs across the three campuses. “They [UM-Flint lecturers] were asking, ‘why all these layoffs?’ And we really don’t have the answer to that,” said Vidaillet Gelderloos.
Even faculty within UM-Flint’s Chancellor’s Cabinet were unsure about the layoffs. “I have essentially no information regarding negotiations between the university and Lecturers’ union or regarding any lecturers who have been laid off in Flint,” said Keith Moreland, PhD, Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
Michigan universities like Concordia University-Ann Arbor are preparing for the possibility of a decline in fall enrollment.
UM-Flint seems to be taking a similar approach, as highlighted by a June 1. email sent by Chancellor Dutta to campus which said, “Even without the historic pandemic, we would have to take strong action to address the situation.”
These actions, Dutta went on to say, include lowering the number of single-digit sized classes. This would mean the increase of the current student to faculty ratio of 1:13, which Dutta called “not sustainable.”
According to UM-Flint’s admissions site, this ratio, cited on there as being 1:14 allows students to foster “relationships that allow for personalized learning and faculty mentorship.”
Dutta went on to say in the email that “The precipitous decline of high school graduates in Michigan is slated to continue through 2030.”
Though Vidaillet Gelderloos says she understands the reality of lower enrollment rates across the state, she is concerned with Flint’s seemingly disproportionate response. “I think everyone is preparing for a dip in enrollment,” she said. “The issue is, why is it so pronounced in Flint?”