EMU-AAUP Tentative Agreement: What Do You Think? (And Nearing “Last Call” on EMUTalk.org)

EMUTalk.org is coming to you now from an undisclosed location in that vague region referred to as “up North.” The family and I are here relaxing  and preparing for the fall term, which is to say that we are sitting around enjoying nature while working on syllabi and other fall things, we are breaking up our hikes and site-seeing with bouts of reading material that will be assigned in a few weeks– or vice versa.

Anyway, this was all interrupted with news that the administration and the faculty union have reached a tentative contract agreement, one that will surly be ratified by faculty in early September when we get to formally vote on it.  More details/thoughts on all of it after the break, but I think this quote from the EMU-AAUP blog post on all this kind of sums up the overall feelings I have:

As with negotiations in 2012, we finished several weeks early, and there was a genuine spirit of good will and cooperation at the negotiating table.  Both teams operated in an environment of mutual respect, and we were still able to represent the faculty forcefully and responsibly.

I think that’s totally right, and congratulations to both sides of the table for that. Even though it has taken years for both sides of the table to figure this out (that is, all the tense negotiations that went on in the past, and the really ugly strike in 2006), it looks like the administration (and probably the board of regents, too) has come to realize that it isn’t in their interest to screw the faculty, and it looks like the faculty union folks are starting to realize that the faculty they represent would rather have leadership looking for sane and reasonable deals.

Overall, the contract looks like it’s a good deal. If I had any reservation about it– and this is a small one and kind of an odd one, too– it’s the “we will not be paying for parking, despite insistent claims by the administration.” I guess the EMU-AAUP folks see this as a “victory” of some sort, but to be honest, I think we’re at a point where maybe faculty should pay for parking simply because it doesn’t look good. We’re the only group on campus that doesn’t pay for parking, and that includes administrators and students. It’s not that big of a deal either way, but I think symbolic gestures matter, and I feel vaguely uncomfortable/guilty about the “special status” of free parking.

Besides, it could be a good bargaining chip: what could faculty get in exchange for giving up free parking?

And again, the end is near for EMUTalk.org. I’m trying to find a good way to export the whole site and put it up someplace as just text so that if folks want to find it later they can, but I have my doubts about how well that will work. If anyone has any technical advice on that, let me know. In the meantime, be sure to join the EMUTalk Facebook group– oh, and I just customized the address so it’s easier to remember/email to folks: https://www.facebook.com/groups/emutalk/

Okay, more thoughts on the contract after the jump:

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The end of EMUTalk is near/EMU-AAUP contract negotiatons

I’m always surprised when August arrives. Summer goes along with June and July– and that’s especially true for me this summer since it’s the first time I haven’t taught a summer course since I came to EMU, probably only the second or so time in the last 25 or more years. That’s not to say that I haven’t been working at all– I’m doing sabbatical things, I was involved in EMU’s first Cyberdiscovery camp, I’ve done a bit of quasi-administrative work, and so forth. Still, the summer pace is slower and the summer schedule is a bit more abstract, even “lazy.” But when August rolls around, I know that it means that the end of summer is near.

And with this summer, the end of EMUTalk is also near. I won’t be renewing the domain name or server space when the bill comes due this September– though technically, if someone else wanted to start up their own version of a site with the EMUTalk.org domain name, I suppose they could. Also before September, I am trying to figure out a way to download the entire site and then post it someplace as a file– that is, while it wouldn’t be an active blog anymore, it would at least be available as a “text” for anyone who is interested. If anyone knows the technicalities of converting a wordpress site into one big file, let me know.

But this is not to say that these kinds of posts/comments/discussions are disappearing entirely. For one thing, the EMUTalk Facebook discussion group already has 72 members– and you can join too!  Just login to your Facebook account and either click that link or search for EMUTalk. For another, I will continue to blog about these kinds of things at stevendkrause.com (including this post!), and I am thinking that I will be rearranging my site into more distinct categories, one of which will be “EMU.” Stay tuned.

Anyway, the one thing that is going on this summer that is EMUTalk-like news is faculty contract negotiations. There’s a meeting on Tuesday, August 4 at noon in Roosevelt Auditorium. According to Susan Moeller’s email to faculty the other day, this is the meeting where the bargaining team will show the administration’s first offer in terms of money and benefits. I won’t be making it to this meeting (I’ve got other plans), but I hope to hear from some folks who go here in the comments. But I don’t recall a meeting like this with the faculty this early in the process.

I think this is a positive thing and a pretty good indication of changing times. In the past, it seems like we would have a faculty meeting like this later in the negotiating process, and during one of these late August/early September meetings, the bargaining team has asked for a vote to authorize a strike, and sometimes, it would get real ugly real fast. Nowadays, it seems like the administration and the union have been able to get along and negotiate with each other in a much more (for lack of a better word) “mature” fashion.

The other thing that feels different now than things felt in the past is even the less than techno-sophisticated EMU-AAUP has a blog of sorts where we’re getting regular updates from the union about the negotiation. It’s not exactly a freewheeling and open discussion space, and the site itself is kind of a work in progress, better than what they had before but still not quite ready for prime-time, IMO. For example, take a look at the masthead picture on the negotiations blog:

negotiationsblog

As far as I can tell, that’s a picture of some building in Germany; I certainly don’t recognize that as an EMU building, and I’m pretty sure there’s no signage for the “Stadthalle” in Ypsilanti. Sure, maybe I’m picking at nits here, but that’s a pretty easy problem to fix.

Anyway, if you look at the actual updates on that site, it looks like things are moving right along. A few of the things that I’ve noticed (because they might indirectly impact me) are dealing with the uneven distribution of overload teaching and summer teaching; faculty won’t be able to be on full release to do administrative work; big changes to the graduate council and also electing the president of the faculty senate directly from faculty; more FRFs; and contractually mandated help with Concur. So as long as we get a modest raise and insurance costs remain about the same, then I think we’ll be in good shape.

Anybody have any other thoughts on the negotiation process so far?

EMU-AAUP contract negotiations and an eye on the future

By the way, this is a post I’m writing for both stevendkrause.com and for EMUTalk.org and it’s the kind of thing I’ll keep posting on stevendkrause.com once the sun that is EMUTalk.org sinks below the horizon for good in September or so.

The faculty union, the EMU-AAUP, is in the midst of contract negotiations this summer, and so far, so good. I have no detailed or inside knowledge about what’s going on, but I have chatted with a few colleagues who “know better,” and this is what has happened so far (at least according to the EMU-AAUP web site):

  • There is nothing particularly contentious on either side of the table right now. Probably the biggest fight is going to be over administration’s contribution to TIAA-CREF because the administration changed the way this works for new administrators coming to EMU so that it is a noticeably worse deal than it is right now. It’s more complicated than that, but I guess what it boils down to is the administration wants to pay less for retirement than they do right now, and the faculty obviously don’t like that idea.
  • Apparently, faculty at EMU have fallen behind our peers in terms of salaries and such, and given that the finances and enrollments at EMU are generally pretty solid, we will probably see a decent enough raise both in terms of a flat percentage and also in terms of the “bump” between assistant and associate and associate and full. Of course, the union continues to want to negotiate these raises as a flat percentage, which benefits the highest paid faculty at EMU. It is no wonder that the leadership of the EMU-AAUP has been dominated by faculty in the College of Business and the College of Technology, at least that’s pretty much been the case since I’ve been here.
  • There will almost certainly be some kind adjustment in health insurance, though that’s just an educated guess based on the fact that there has been some kind adjustment on health insurance with every contract I’ve seen.
  • The EMU-AAUP site has a blog of sorts where they have been posting updates to the contract negotiations so far, and things seem to be going smoothly. It’s early of course, and they always start with the less contentious stuff, but it looks like there will be some kind of new language/rules on student conduct, there are some changes to the way contracts work for tenure-seeking faculty that makes things a little easier, and there’s going to be some kind of “electronic dossier system” that will end the ridiculous stacks of binders and such that faculty submit for tenure and promotion and the like.

So while I wouldn’t want to predict too much, I’m not too worried about this contract cycle. I’m frankly a lot more worried about what happens next.

The next contract will be the first under Michigan’s change to a “right to work” state, which means that workers in a bargaining unit (in this case the faculty) have the right to “freeload:” that is, the union will continue to represent all faculty for the purposes of negotiations and for grievances, including faculty who decide to not pay their union dues. If enough faculty opt out of paying the dues, the union will be weaker and eventually it could go away.

Just to make matters worse (as reported in Inside Higher Ed here, “Threat to Faculty Unions”), there’s a case that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear next year that could further weaken public sector unions. I’m not sure it would make matters worse in Michigan or not because the IHE article makes it sound that if the court decides that a forced “fair share” fee to a union is unconstitutional, then all states would become “right to work” states.

Either way, the future is worrying. Up until this point, the union hasn’t really had to do much in the way of convincing faculty that the union was a “good idea” because everyone had to pay their dues regardless of how they felt about it. Now if the union doesn’t pay close enough attention to the faculty as a whole, they will risk losing members.

I don’t think there is going to be a bunch of faculty who abandon the union anytime soon, especially in the current unpredictable climate higher education is in, and, as I have said many times before, I am all for the union. At the same time, I think the EMU-AAUP has to make some subtle changes in how it does things.

First, it needs to continue to be responsive to the constituency generally and not just to those who are loudest. A really subtle example of what I mean: the EMU-AAUP opened contract negotiation season with this video that depicts the “battle” that as about to come as akin to one of good versus evil and with all of the drama and special effects of a summer blockbuster. Now, I get that this is a parody and it’s supposed to “fire up” the base and all of that. But a lot (most?) faculty don’t see the administration strictly as the “them” that the “us” is fighting, and the “we’re here to battle” is not exactly a tone to take at the start of what can hopefully become a mutually beneficial negotiating process.

And along these lines, I think the union has to be a little more careful in some of its communication and sometimes knee-jerk responses. A good example of this for me personally is the whole Yik Yak mess: if the EMU-AAUP had held on to its initial position of banning Yik Yak on campus (they seemed to have backed off on that), I probably would have opted out of union dues as a matter of public protest. It’s easy for me to imagine lots of other scenarios where the union leadership does something that ticks off enough people to cost them a lot in dues.

Second, I think the EMU-AAUP needs to do more to emphasize the positive, and there really is a lot of positive with the union. They need better PR and better communication. They’re starting to do that with the revamped web site (though I think there are a lot of clunky elements to the new design), but I think it needs to go further than that. Rather than assuming that all faculty see the obvious benefits to the union, the EMU-AAUP needs to sell itself a bit better than it has done in the past.

Like I said, I don’t think faculty are going to leave the union anytime soon. The one percent or so of salary that faculty pay in dues is definitely worth it to me (though one thing the EMU-AAUP might do– if this is possible– is to have more of a sliding scale on dues that is tied to salary and/or rank, which would make the incentive for lower paid faculty to skip out on dues even less– just a thought). At the same time, the future of the EMU-AAUP and of academic unions generally seems murky to me.

Faculty Contract Negotiations Begin This Week; What Do You Want?

EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller sent around an email about contract negotiations set to begin this week. Bargaining Council has been meeting since May 1 and has “around 30 proposals ready to take to the table” (more on that in a moment), there’s a “kick off picnic” on Tuesday, and negotiations proper begin on Thursday.

The “motto” for this year (I’m not sure this is a motto so much as it is an advertising tag line, but whatever) is “United We Stand– Divided We Beg,” and the EMU-AAUP has been making some modest efforts at branding, PR, and social media. Check out the Facebook group, for example.  Some of this I like quite a bit– for example, I like the idea of the interviews about why the EMU-AAUP. So far, I’ve only seen this one of Howard Bunsis:

On the other hand, I am not at all a fan of the motto, I suppose because while I am a firm believer and advocate of collective bargaining for faculty for all kinds of reasons, I don’t see the alternative of the union as “begging.” Rather than a message of “If you’re not with us, you’re screwed,” I’d prefer a message along the lines of “We are stronger with a union” or “Look what the union has done for you before.” Or something like that.

And I really don’t like this:

Ick.

But I digress: this bargaining season also reminds me that the end of EMUTalk is approaching in a couple of months– September at the latest, and, assuming a happy end to the negotiations this time around, maybe earlier. Long-time readers will undoubtably remember that EMUTalk.org started as the result of what I think everyone agrees was the absolute ugliest negotiations ever in 2006, when the administration’s team walked away from the table, when we were out on strike for about 12 or so days, and when the contract wasn’t decided until it went to a “fact finding” and arbitration process that wasn’t really settled until well into 2007.

After that mess, contract negotiations have been a lot more productive and quite frankly, the last contract we got– which, among other things, lead to more funding for research and a process for a raise and promotion after the full professor rank– was probably the best deal I’ve seen since I’ve been here. And while I have no inside knowledge at all– I just have heard some rumors– I’m cautiously optimistic about this go-around too.

The administration has pretty much the same negotiating team at the table as they had last time, the EMU-AAUP’s team is pretty similar, EMU’s finances and state support seem reasonably solid (at least as far as I can tell), and I think there are good reasons for both sides to make a fair deal and to make it quick and with as little controversy as possible. After all, EMU is also about to start a search for a new president, not to mention a new VP for the graduate school and a new dean for our largest college, Arts and Sciences. We want to attract the best candidates possible for these positions, and the last thing the administration needs at a time like now is some kind of ugly and protracted fight with its faculty. At the same time, the whole “right to work” bullshit puts the faculty union in sort of an awkward position too– or at least a less certain one. So in a way, there’s a sort of “mutually assured destruction” thing going on here. And I think that’s a good thing.

I don’t know what is included in the 30 or so proposals coming out of bargaining council (and if anyone does know, that’d be interesting to hear), but I’m pretty sure there is going to be something about the faculty harassment issues highlighted by the infamous Yik Yak incident. My guess is that there will be the usual suspects regarding a percentage wage increase and how much we pay for health insurance, and there might be something in the mix this time about TIAA-CREF. As I recall, administrators now don’t automatically get the institutional contribution of a 11% of base salary, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration wants this for faculty too.

Which gets me to the question part of things: what do you want? I have to say that other than the usual– more money, good insurance, good benefits, etc.– my needs are pretty modest.

  • I certainly don’t want any of the gains we made in the last contract to go away, and I’d be surprised if they did.
  • I’d like to see some clarification about summer teaching because the way that’s been handled in CAS for the last couple years has been kind of confusing and/or crazy.
  • One of the things in that nutty flying letter video that comes up is “academic freedom,” which I obviously think is important and maybe, given some of the craziness going on around the country right now, maybe there is space in the contract for some language regarding that.
  • I’d like to see us exit once and for all from the EAA nonsense, and I frankly think the administration would like that too. The problem is the Board of Regents on that one.
  • I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it would be nice if there was agreement that we have a 3-3 teaching load rather than a 12 credit teaching load, a disparity that makes for inconsistent practices across departments.

So, what do you want?

 

 

 

“Little recourse against faceless commenters”

A loyal EMUTalk.org reader sent me this link the other day, “Little recourse against faceless commenters,” a column by Froma Harrop in “Herald.Net” out of Everett, Washington. It talks about a variety of examples of bullying online and the problems of anonymous identities and the like, but the reason I include it here is because it makes reference to our own local Yik Yak controversy:

Three female professors at Eastern Michigan University were shocked to learn that some young scholars in their lecture hall had been on their cellphones attacking them with lewd public posts, complete with imagery. It was all done anonymously, courtesy of an unusually obnoxious social media app called Yik Yak.

Their lecture topic, post-apocalyptic culture, seemed somehow apt. And to think, this was an honors course.

One complained to her union rep as follows: “I have been defamed, my reputation besmirched. I have been sexually harassed and verbally abused. I am about ready to hire a lawyer.”

It’s not clear what a lawyer could do for her.

She really has only two options: 1. Rip the electronic devices out of the students’ grubby little fingers. Or 2. Choose to not give a fig what anybody says about her anatomy/age/hair color/sweater size.

Having been on that receiving end any number of times, I’d advise 2. The more obscenity and general abuse flourish online the less impact any of it should have. These days, even high schoolers need skin 10 feet thick.

And then the commentary goes on from there.

Say, speaking of different online forums:  remember that the sun that is EMUTalk.org is setting for good some time this summer/early fall, and if you haven’t done so already, now is a good time to join the Facebook group EMUTalk. It has the disadvantage of not being anonymous (well, unless you set up a pseudo-anonymous Facebook account), but it has the advantage of being about as close to an open-ended forum where anyone can post and comment as we’re likely to get. So if you have a Facebook account (and really, who doesn’t?) go and join the group.

“Anonymous apps on the rise across college campuses”

There was a good story about Yik Yak the other day on the Michigan Radio show “Stateside” and it’s up on their site now:  “Anonymous apps on the rise across college campuses.” It’s a twelve and a half minute interview with the U of M’s Director of Social Media Nikki Sunstrum. Among other things, Sunstrum talks about meeting/talking with the folks who developed the app and their vision of it– they see themselves as a “more democratic Twitter.”

She also talked about the proactive approach to the app that they’ve taken at U of M. For example, there’s this post on the social media blog at U of M from back in September about Yik Yak.  That too is definitely worth reading because it explains what the app is and it also offers some solid advice for dealing with the cyberbullying/harassment problem that comes with this level of anonymity. Here’s a quote:

It’s up to us to change the tone of the yaks. Up-vote positive yaks that speak to us as Umich students, down-vote the yaks that can be degrading or hurtful to others, and flag hateful posts. By doing this we shape our common voice in a supportive way. Even though Yik Yak is anonymous, we can still step in to to stop the bullying found on this platform. If you see yaks about abuse or self-harm, suggest our student support resources link: http://studentlife.umich.edu/studentsupport. Our university also has resources such as CAPS, SAPAC, and our 24 hour helpline for those in need of professional help.

Yik Yak can be a way to share the hilarious and absurd thing you saw while studying in the UGLi. It can be the outlet you introduce a difficult issue that’s on your mind. It can be a way to anonymously reach out for support when you need it. Yik Yak is a culture-sharing medium. It’s hilarious and it’s entertaining. It can be distressing or it can be uplifting. It can connect us or tear us apart. Regardless of how you use Yik Yak, these fleeting posts have an impact on us.

 

On the lighter side of all of this, here’s Buzzfeed’s “25 Hilarious Little Gems From Yik Yak”

A loyal EMUTalk reader (who also happens to be a departmental colleague, good friend, and someone who has sent me other Yik Yak links lately) sent me this from Buzzfeed, “25 Hilarious Little Gems From Yik Yak.”  I’m posting this here for two reasons. First, it’s funny. I realize that there are those who might say something like “THERE IS NOTHING AT ALL FUNNY ABOUT YIK YAK,” and I apologize in advance to those readers. And not all of these are equally funny, family-friendly, and/or politically correct.

Second, in my reading of Yik Yak (which really isn’t all that frequent), these kinds of posts are pretty typical. Sure, you do see ugly things like the language that characterized the infamous Yik Yak incident that has put EMU on the map for all the wrong reasons. But I think a much larger percentage of Yaks are more along these lines– or maybe a better way of putting it is most of the Yaks I have seen are attempts to be as funny as these.

And by the way, if you are doubting me about this and you haven’t yet checked out Yik Yak, what are you waiting for? As I said as part of a rather “spirited” Facebook conversation I had over the weekend, if you are in the “we need to ban Yik Yak” camp, it seems to me you ought to at least see what it is you’re trying to ban.

But in the meantime, read these. They’re pretty funny.

 

Dueling Yik Yak emails

Yesterday, faculty and lots of other people received not one but two emails about the ongoing Yik Yak mess. I include both below; the first was from Provost Kim Schatzel  in the afternoon. She basically outlines the administration’s response to all this and what they are planning to do about it. Among other things, it includes workshops about workplace bullying, discussions about faculty classroom rights and responsibilities, and policy reviews of classroom management policies.

Then last night, EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller sent an email which was a forwarded letter/email from MSU’s Hilda Lindemann. Lindemann is the chair of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status on Women. That letter/email (are you following all this?) expresses support for Margaret Crouch because she was the one featured in the New York Times piece and because she’s a philosophy professor. (I’m assuming that the APA also supports Crouch’s co-professors, even though they aren’t philosophers and aren’t mentioned in the APA letter.) The APA group urges EMU to do something about it.

For me, I guess this begs two questions: first, do the actions/initiatives described in Schatzel’s email adequately address the demands being made by the APA?

Second, what are the other issues on the table in contract negotiations this year?

Don’t get me wrong– as I’ve said several times before, these issues are important, particularly as they spill over from the anonymous and digital world to the non-anonymous and physical classroom world. It’s just that this seems to be the only issue I’ve heard about from the EMU-AAUP for a while now. So for example, are there issues about things like health insurance, salaries, teaching load (and so forth) on the table, or is it all about classroom conduct?

The emails after the break.

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“Colleges Should Stop Worrying About Yik Yak and Start Respecting Their Students”

An alert EMUTalk.org reader sent me this the New Republic web site, “Colleges Should Stop Worrying About Yik Yak and Start Respecting Their Students.”  It’s a very smart piece by David Sessions (who is a PhD student at Boston College), and if you only read two articles about all of this Yikking and Yakking, I’d say read this one and the New York Times article I posted the other day.

I take away three things from this piece. First, if you’re concerned about Yik Yak one way or the other and you have smart phone, install it and see for yourself. My take on the conversation is similar to Sessions: most of it (he says 70%, I’d say more like 90%) is some version of “I’m alone in my dorm and wish I had someone to talk to and possibly touch,” and (I would add) “I’m so high and/or I would like to be high.” Not exactly debates over the Platonic ideal, but not particularly surprising, either.

Second, the “brute reality” is the only way Yik Yak is going away is if the government intervenes (and no one wants that), and cyberbullying/abuse happened before Yik Yak and will happen after Yik Yak. The real project we should be engaging in is figuring out how to live in this reality rather than figuring out to make it go away.

And third, this last paragraph in Sessions’ piece:

College students are neither inherently predatory nor inherently vulnerable, and the proper response to technological challenges is not suspicion, fear, and punishment. With Yik Yak, like everything else, it’s hard to expect students to respect their classmates and professors, and to stand up when they feel wronged, if the university already presumes they’re incapable of doing so.

Exactly.

“Popular Yik Yak App Confers Anonymity and Delivers Abuse”

Just when I thought the whole Yik Yak thing was dying down comes this (which I learned about from an alert EMUTalk reader and a colleague), from the Sunday New York Times, “Popular Yik Yak App Confers Anonymity and Delivers Abuse.” Here’s a long quote from the opening paragraphs that makes it clear why this is particularly relevant for EMU:

During a brief recess in an honors course at Eastern Michigan University last fall, a teaching assistant approached the class’s three female professors. “I think you need to see this,” she said, tapping the icon of a furry yak on her iPhone.

The app opened, and the assistant began scrolling through the feed. While the professors had been lecturing about post-apocalyptic culture, some of the 230 or so freshmen in the auditorium had been having a separate conversation about them on a social media site called Yik Yak. There were dozens of posts, most demeaning, many using crude, sexually explicit language and imagery.

After class, one of the professors, Margaret Crouch, sent off a flurry of emails — with screenshots of some of the worst messages attached — to various university officials, urging them to take some sort of action. “I have been defamed, my reputation besmirched. I have been sexually harassed and verbally abused,” she wrote to her union representative. “I am about ready to hire a lawyer.”

In the end, nothing much came of Ms. Crouch’s efforts, for a simple reason: Yik Yak is anonymous. There was no way for the school to know who was responsible for the posts.

Eastern Michigan is one of a number of universities whose campus has been roiled by offensive “yaks.” Since the app’s introduction a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center.

The article goes on from there, and I think it does a pretty good job of summing up the way Yik Yak works and the limitations/problems/dilemmas universities face in doing anything about it.  Though since this is now news in the New York Times, I have to wonder: what has happened with Crouch’s threat of hiring a lawyer?