Let the contract negotiations begin! (And cheers to the EMU-AAUP's stand on Continuing Ed)

There’s been an exchange of all-campus emails lately between the administration, faculty council, and the union. Long-story short: the faculty and the union are not happy with the way that the interim provost (who everyone likes, by the way) was made into a permanent provost, and the administration and the union are beginning to build their cases for contract negotiations. What case is that? Basically, the administration is saying a) we have no money, and b) we have plenty of faculty; predictably, the union is saying “do not!” to both of these things.

Ah yes, contract negotiation season….

My guess is that EMU really doesn’t have as much money to work with as the union wants to claim, but there’s no getting around the argument about the number of faculty. Simply put, EMU has fewer faculty now than it did 10 years ago, and the number of administrators on campus has risen in almost direct proportion to the losses in faculty. Even an English professor can do that math; all I’ve got to do is look around the halls and see the rising number of part-timers and of suits.

But my sense is that the biggest issues in this coming contract are going to be money (that’s always an issue) and health care. I don’t know enough to know how either of these things are going to play out, but there is plenty of opportunity for drama over the summer. This is simply speculation on my part, but I think that if the administration tries to offer the faculty a contract where we have to pay such a significant portion of our medical insurance out of pocket that we end up taking a pay cut (and, in the nutshell, this is the contract that the lecturers signed last year), then we will certainly strike. But I also think (again, just speculation) that both the union and the administration know this, so I think (hope, really) we will avoid this.

Of course, this faculty versus administration posturing will get much more hot ‘n heavy in August, which is when I (happily) will be out of the country.

Anyway, while I have my issues with the negotiating process and some of the positions both the union and the administration take on some of these matters, a big “thumbs up” to the EMU-AAUP and its president Howard Bunsis for his recent presentation before the Board of Regents on Continuing Education (warning– this is a PowerPoint presentation turned into a PDF).

Continuing Education at EMU exists in this sort of “in-between world,” more or less outside of the faculty contract for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Anyway, CE is charged with all instruction that takes place in non-traditional settings– weekends, off-campus, online, etc.– and, largely because of online classes, it’s been making money hand over fist. And they are really making money because CE teaches almost all of its classes with non-tenure-track faculty or tenure-track faculty teaching some sort of overload for extra money.

In the interest of full disclosure here: I’ve been working with CE more closely since I started teaching online in Fall 2005, and I have been quite happy with the sort of support I’ve gotten from them. This term, I’m teaching an online class as an overload for reasons that are complicated and only partly about extra money. (And for what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ll ever teach an overload like this again.) In Fall 2005, I taught online “in load”– that is, part of my regular teaching. This spring and summer, I’m also teaching online (again, through CE) and I guess it’s “extra,” but all spring and summer teaching at EMU is something faculty do voluntarily for extra money. It’s also worth mentioning– and you’ll see why in a moment– that I don’t take overloads into my online class, mostly for ethical reasons but also because teaching an advanced writing course online with more than 20 students would be way WAY too much work.

Part of what Howard is talking about in this presentation isn’t (IMO) that big of a deal, at least to me. For example, departments do have control over what courses can be offered through CE– at least in theory– right now. But there is one recommendation that the EMU-AAUP is making that is enormously significant: the elimination of the “grading stipend.”

Basically, if there are more than 25 students in a CE course, the instructor is paid $150 per student. So let’s say you’re teaching an online course and, instead of capping the course at 20 or 25 (my online course is capped at 20), you let in a total of 50 students. If you did that, then you would make $3750 above and beyond the pay for the course. Or let’s say you let in a total of 100 students; that’s 75 X 150, or $11,250.

The administration is happy about this situation because it allows them to maximize the student to instructor ratio. The instructors who engage in this process are happy about this because they make a lot of money. And obviously, this practice is a disservice to students. I suppose it depends on the particular course, and I think there is some truth to the argument that some of my colleagues make who engage in this practice: if we’re going to teach lecture hall classes of 200+ students, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with teaching online classes with 50 or 75 or 100 students. But, as my momma taught me, two wrongs don’t make a right.

I think the majority of faculty at EMU would support a change where faculty get paid more than they do currently to teach overload courses through CE and the elimination of the grading stipend, which is what the union is proposing. But there will be a vocal minority of faculty (the ones who are making the money, of course) who will oppose this, and I think it’s hard to say what the administration is going to say. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

3 thoughts on “Let the contract negotiations begin! (And cheers to the EMU-AAUP's stand on Continuing Ed)”

  1. Hey thanks for the update on the contracts talks. I haven’t heard much from the union, but wonder as you do whether or not we’re going to take a hit on health care. Given the low salaries we have, any health care costs borne by us will mean taking a pay cut.
    On the brighter side, I’m teaching spring term and happy to have the extra cash.

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