The Strike of 2006: Just what do these numbers mean, anyway?

I’ve been the stereotypical English major/writer-type pretty much my whole life. The last math class I took was when I was a senior in high school, and, while I think that statistics are pretty interesting, I can’t pretend that I understand how they work. But even with this in mind, I thought I’d write a bit tonight about numbers and how they can do funny things pretty quickly. Especially when contracts are involved.

On the EMU web site, they have a press release that claims that the “final offer” would be a great deal. It looks pretty good at first blush; but let’s look closer.

First off, CUPA, the source of the numbers, is essentially a national organization that does Human Resources stuff in higher education. In other words, these numbers don’t exactly come from a neutral source to begin with.

Second, the chart listed there raises a bunch of flags for me. For starters, I don’t make the stated average for associate professors at EMU of $64,319; further, I am at the end of that cycle– that is, I’m actually eligible to apply for full professor this year. In other words, I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of associate professors in fields like English at EMU who are making a lot more money than me.

As best I can figure, the problem with these numbers is the difference between an “average” and a “mean” in statistics. Someone who understands these things can comment and explain them better than me, and there is something on wikipedia that kind of gets at it. But it’s hard for me. Remember, English major. But I do know that these strange averages are really the result of a pretty wide range in salaries. This probably isn’t surprising, but while a starting assistant professor in English might make about $48K or $50K, a starting assistant professor in the College of Business in Information Technologies is probably starting at about $80K or $85K.

Anyway, what would be interesting to see– either from the EMU-AAUP or (God forbid!) the adminstration– is this: how many faculty members in each rank fall below the so-called “average” salary for that rank? How many associate professors make less than $64K?

Third, the additional cost of insurance is TOTALLY left off of this chart, and that additional costs is a big big deal. I know that the common wisdom is “everyone pays for health care” and faculty at EMU ought to pay something too; I don’t really disagree with that, actually. But the money they are making us pay for health care significantly impacts this “giant” raise we’re getting.

Look at it this way (and I stole this example from a colleague of mine): if the administration were offering us a $20,000 a year raise for five years but then said that faculty had to spend $18,000 a year to rent their offices and pay for supplies and such, then the administration wouldn’t be offering us a $100,000 pay raise. Right? (not to give the administration another idea about how to get money out of us…).

It’s the same deal with the insurance. If the administration is offering us 3% a year but the insurance ends up costing us around 2% of our salary, then they aren’t really giving us a 15% pay raise. Right?

Now, the EMU-AAUP’s web site doesn’t do that great of a job explaining the salary numbers either. They have an entry about the meeting on Friday where they presented the numbers, but there isn’t any explanation of the spreadsheet data they include there. Well, here’s my best attempt.

Here’s a chart that represents EMU-AAUP’s estimation of the numbers of the offer the administration is offering:

First off, they’ve changed the numbers in terms of what the insurance is going to cost us, and frankly, they’ve changed it in a way that I don’t completely understand. All I will say is that knocks a couple of points off right off the bat.

Second, there’s inflation. As I mentioned a few days ago, I for one have noticed the inflation factor in my own experiences at EMU since 1998. I make a lot more money now then when I first got here, but it isn’t worth as much for sure. Is it for anyone?

Anyway, the bottom like with all this is the union is arguing that this is really a 1.1% cut, ultimately. Again, that depends on what you do with the inflation numbers though.

Here’s what the union wanted to present (or actually did present– I don’t remember) before the administration walked out of the talks:

You’ll notice it’s a three year versus a five year contract (and I have very mixed feelings about that– I mean, can’t we put this negotiation crap off longer?), the money we’re asking for is a bit more, and a few other things. But I guess for now, I want to point out four things:

  • As it is on paper right here, even with its short-comings, I think the union could have ultimately settled on this deal. Or something very close to it. There are VERY logical negotiating points between these two deals, and, once again, it’s pretty clear from looking at this that we would have been able to reach an agreement. But…
  • … it wouldn’t have made sense for the bargaining team to settle on something at an artificial deadline imposed by the threat of a bullying administration. And remember…
  • ... the administration walked out and forced this crisis. There might come a point where the faculty have to step up and be the grown-up here, but there is no doubt what has caused this misery.
  • Oh, and just to add to the futility and stupidness of it all: my wife figured out that, roughly speaking, a 1% raise to my salary would be about $36 a month, I think after taxes. That would barely be a movie with snacks for my wife and I and our son. This whole, stupid, stoopid stand-off is over about 1/5th what I paid for my son’s Chuck E. Cheese birthday party.

6 thoughts on “The Strike of 2006: Just what do these numbers mean, anyway?”

  1. here is from the source below the chart

    “The three major research institutions were not included (UofM, MSU, & WSU). Three comprehensive MI institutions did not participate in the CUPA survey, and therefore, are not included in the above averages (Western Michigan, Saginaw Valley State, & Lake Superior State University).”

    So six universities were not included in the figures guess that would make a HUGE difference considering the universities they left out :(

  2. That’s a really excellent point, aswdacst. I left that one out. And I think that speaks to the difficulty in trying to figure out the right numbers. That’s one thing a “fact finding mission” would do a pretty good job at helping to figure out, perhaps.

    I hope you didn’t really drop all of your classes, and I hope it wasn’t for this. But if you did, I also hope you come back– it will get better….

  3. I am in a unique postition. I am an older student who had decided to come back to school and work toward my degree. I could not in good faith give my money to the school with the administration acting the way it is. I have waited this long and can wait a bit longer to see if this has a favorable outcome. If it doesn’t I will choose a different school for my education. I sent an email to Fallon et all stateing this very thing. I feel for those who do not have a choice and need their educations to continue. My husband graduates in December(hopefully) and he needs his prof back in the class teaching since he has a job lined up in January. Even with this situation he is in, we both agree the teachers NEED to strike and not let the administration bust the union. I sincerly wish the best for everyone involved.

  4. The administrations decision to walk out on negotiations did not create this crisis. The union’s decision to strike did. The administration has repeatedly said they are willing to negotiate as long as the faculty are in the classroom. However, the union has made a decision to play with students futures by walking out and refusing to teach over what amounts to a 4%pay raise and no required employee contribution to benefits.

    In light of the current medical industry/insurance industry crisis that is effecting the entire country including all industries (and causing some TRUE crisis’ that may result in industry shattering bankruptcies), is it fair to expect the students to pay the price for the difference between the relatively lower differences in the two offers?

    This crisis was created by the union’s decision to put money before the students.

  5. Well, Concerned Party, you seem pretty much convinced about the situation, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing what I’ve posted on this blog in many different places. I do want to remind you though that the administration walked away from table Tuesday night. Had that not done that, we would have had a deal. And as far as I can tell, the reason they walked away from the table was they wanted to break the union. They might be on the verge of succeeding. If they do, they’ll destroy the institution slowly; if they don’t, I’m afraid they might destroy the institution more quickly.

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