Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP

While the national election is over (though of course the fight in many ways has just begun), there’s a very local election here at EMU that’s still going on. The election for members of the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP, which is the union that represents the faculty, is currently underway (the deadline for voting is November 21 at 5 pm).  Making it all the more interesting this year is it’s actually an election with a choice (I believe in the last couple of cycles, the leaders of the union were unopposed), and it’s an important one because of events on campus.

I’m voting for the “Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP:” Judy Kullberg for President; Ken Rusiniak for Vice President; and Mahmud Rahman, Charles Cunningham, and Tricia McTague for at large members of the Executive Committee (EC). I have a lot of respect for what Susan Moeller and Howard Bunsis and the rest of the incumbents have done with the EMU-AAUP over the years, but I also think it’s time for a change. I think the Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP people can bring that change.

This post gets a little wonky for anyone who is not at EMU– maybe for anyone who is not on faculty at EMU. So for any non-locals who decide to read on here, sorry about that in advance.

 

My history with the EMU-AAUP goes back almost to my arrival at EMU. I can’t remember the first strike that happened when I was here– maybe 2000, maybe 2001?– but way back then, I helped the EMU-AAUP create one of these new-fangled “web sites” to get the word out. As a result of that (mostly), Susan Moeller asked me to be a part of a “slate” that was set up to replace the folks on the EC. Back then, the situation was there was a sense that the people running the union were out of touch, and the fiscal management of the union was somewhere between a mess and literally criminal behavior.  I can’t remember exactly the ratios/numbers here, but Moeller got elected president and I got elected to the EC, but our slate didn’t get quite enough to really take control of the union. Things ended up poorly, and the group of us who got elected resigned a few months later in order to force another election. And as a very slight tangent: being on the EC back then was hands down the most unpleasant experience of my professional/academic career.

Anyway, some time shortly after all that, Moeller and Howard Bunsis (and others too, of course) recaptured the EMU-AAUP, and they did a good job for years. And really, I do think that both Moeller and Bunsis have good intentions; these are not inherently “bad people.” But two things have happened here that require us (that is, faculty at EMU) to vote in this new coalition.

First, Moeller and Bunsis, along with the people they’re running with (Jeannette Kindred, Mehmet Yaya, and John Palladino) have been there too long, and they need to turn this over to different people, folks who have experience– which is the case with the faculty running as the Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP– but who also represent change. Again, this is the climate where Moeller and Bunsis came to run the EMU-AAUP in the first place: there was a widely-held perception that the past leadership had been there too long and they were simply not responding to the needs of the union membership. The current leadership has become what they replaced.

Moeller and Bunsis have basically been trading off being president and vice-president and treasurer for about a dozen years (because while there are term limits for these positions, there’s no rule that says how many times you can be in any one of these roles), thus squeezing out others and centralizing control. Besides the fact that it’s a little hard to bring new blood into the union if you don’t give up power, it has created (at least this is my perception) a union leadership that isn’t listening to its members and that is overly confident in itself. It’s all a bit like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a simple allegory of what happens when leaders with good intentions take power and then that power corrupts. The takeover by the animals begins with the commandment “all animals are equal,” but after the leadership becomes comfortable in its place for a while, that commandment is amended to “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Which brings me to the second issue, the DID changes regarding equivalencies (and this is where I’m going to get very deep into the weeds about EMU faculty life).

Contractually, faculty at EMU are obligated to teach 12 credits a semester– that is, each fall and winter– or the equivalent of 12 credits a semester, or four courses a semester. This was actually one of the reasons why the EMU-AAUP came together as a union in the first place in the 1970s: the teaching loads varied tremendously among departments. But I say or the equivalent because most (though not all) departments on campus have some arrangement where certain courses and activities count as more than one course– thus the term “equivalency.” For example, graduate courses, lecture hall courses, certain kinds of labs, and writing courses counted as teaching “more” than a three credit course.

The Department of English Language and Literature has a particularly complicated and interesting relationship to all of this because there was an actual labor arbitration on our teaching equivalences from way back in 1976– here is a PDF copy of it. The very VERY short version: while the arbitration is a murky and strange document that in many ways doesn’t account for the way things are done now and how we’ve been doing things for a long time, it does lay the foundation for our department’s three class a term load. This has made a lot of other departments not so happy, I guess because, even though most departments have some kind of equivalency where faculty teach less than four classes a term, enough departments require faculty to teach 4 courses per term that it creates some resentment about the “cushy life” we have over here. I’ve heard that for years.

Anyway, with the last contract, there was a provision where the administration and the union agreed that they would work to codify and standardize the teaching equivalencies across all departments on campus: that is, once and for all, these equivalences would be written down so it was fair to every member of the faculty and every department. This might seem simple at face value and a good idea, but the reality is quite a bit more complex–and all of us in our department knew that as soon as this whole thing was introduced.

Some time in Fall 2015– I want to say November or December– Susan Moeller and Julie Berger (and I think Jeannette Kindred?) came to a department meeting to talk with us about how this was all going to work out. At this meeting, Moeller literally said “Oh, you guys are easy because you have this equivalency and you all teach first-year writing.” We tried to tell her that um, no, almost none of the faculty teach first-year writing on a regular basis–and it’s been like that for thirty or more years. But again she waved it off, said not to worry, it’ll be no big deal, etc. Then at the end of the Winter 2016 term– and I mean like days before the semester wrapped– the shit hit the fan for our department, and all of those “oh don’t worry, no big deal” promises went out the window.

Skip ahead to the present and the equivalency stuff is still a mess. Departments who didn’t have equivalencies in the first place are still fine; as I understand it, some departments got equivalencies where their teaching loads will be the same, and some even got equivalences where they will be teaching less. But as far as I can tell, most departments got kind of screwed on at least part of this rehashing of equivalences, and there are all kinds of rumors about various deals and bargains made with particular departments to make the equivalences work. I hope those rumors aren’t true, because that sort of flies in the face of the move to make equivalences fair and transparent.

And as I type this in early November, it looks like our department’s equivalences are going to be a hot hot mess. We still don’t really know how this is going to shake out, but my best guess is there are going to be a lot of tensions between faculty within my department about different teaching loads which are going to be based entirely on faculty specializations. I think this set up is going to be a rich target for grievances of many different flavors, and it is going to make it almost impossible for one department head to run things.

Back in April, there was a meeting between department folks and some EMU-AAUP folks (including Moeller and Bunsis) about figuring out this mess. I was there, and it turned out to be a pretty promising meeting. But before we met, I posted this on Facebook and in the EMUTalk group:

“So I don’t know: with all of the craziness around the DID, is it reasonable to ask senate to take a vote of no confidence against the Provost? Against the EMU-AAUP? Against both? Is that too extreme?”

After the meeting, Bunsis emailed me. I won’t repost it all here (though I feel like it’s within my right to do so, frankly), but let’s just say he wasn’t happy with me and he let me know it. I emailed back and apologized because– like I said– we had had a good meeting that day. But I also wrote back this:

Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, but what should have happened in fall was a more careful consideration of these equivalences. If Julie or Susan or someone from the union had come to the English department in the fall and actually listened to faculty and taken seriously that working out this equivalency stuff is not necessarily all that straight-forward and it isn’t in practice tied as tightly to freshman composition as I think the union assumed, I don’t think we would be where we are right now. Or another way of putting it: if we had had a meeting in fall that was along the lines of the meeting we had today, I don’t think we would be in such dire circumstances now. And judging from what I am hearing from folks in other departments, there are a lot of people who feel that way.

Anyway, I’ve always been very pro-union and you’re right, this is in some ways the administration trying to divide the faculty and break the union. But I also have to say that this is a gut-check moment for the union, too. If after the dust on all of this DID stuff settles it turns out that the new equivalency agreements increase teaching loads for a lot of faculty across campus, it is going to be very difficult for a lot of us to stay as pro-union. If the union can’t protect the workload of its members, what’s the point?

So that’s where we’re at. In my opinion, the current leadership of the union handled this equivalency issue very badly, mainly because they were over-confident in thinking that this would all be “easy” to solve.

Again, that’s not to take away from any of the good things that Moeller and Bunsis and the rest of the incumbent members of the EC. But also again, it is to say we’re in a different era here after these equivalences and also after Michigan’s move to “right to work.” It’s time for a change, so that’s why I’m voting for the “Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP” group.

If you are a faculty member at EMU and you are reading this and you haven’t checked out their Facebook page, you should. It’s an impressive group. Judy Kullberg is currently president of Faculty Senate and she’s served in lots of other related roles. Ken Rusiniak and Mahmud Rahman have been in a ton of different roles on the EMU-AAUP in past years, and so has my department colleague Charles Cunningham. Tricia McTague is the newest member of the group as an assistant professor, but she also a scholar in labors and union organizing. I think we’ll be in good hands as a union and able to head in a new direction.

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