How You Can Help EMU Lecturers

Thanks to all of you who read my last post about Eastern Michigan University lecturers and asked what you could do to help.

Most of the efforts by ALOC (Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee) have been focused internally, meaning on campus. These include informational pickets, signature drives directed at lecturers and students, addressing the Regents at their last meeting, getting support from other unions on campus (part-time lecturers are the sole workers’ group on campus to not be represented, with the lone exception being graduate students), and other forms of campus outreach. Outreach to the greater community is just beginning.

We are hoping that President Martin and the Regents see the damage they are doing to EMU’s reputation by their refusal to deal honestly with lecturers and recognize the legitimacy of the lecturers’ concerns before a major outreach effort is necessary. Nevertheless, we seek and welcome support.

The following information is adapted from an ALOC/EMUFT informational flyer. It includes email addresses of President Martin and the members of the Board of Regents. If you would like to help, let them know that you support the legitimate right of all workers, including part-time lecturers, to represent themselves collectively.

Then send this link to your friends and tell them to join us.

While you’re at it, take a look at my articles in yesterday’s Labor Notes and Eastern Echo and post your thoughts to their blog sites. Thanks to both papers for opening up their pages to EMU’s lecturers. 

ALOC/EMUFT

ADJUNCTS UNITED FOR BETTER EDUCATION

What do EMU Adjuncts want?

Today EMU’s part-time lecturers are treated as temporary workers with minimal pay and no employment rights. We want the opportunity to vote to join with EMU’s full-time lecturers in a single lecturers’ union. The existing lecturers’ union (EMUFT) has invited us to join in providing better education by improving the working conditions of all its members.

What do President Martin and Provost Kay contend?

The administration has rejected our petition (endorsed by 65% of EMU adjuncts) to allow us to vote. They have terminated discussions and stated that we do not “share a community of interest” with other faculty simply because we do not have full-time appointments. It seems they believe we should have no voice in how and what we teach!

Why are they wrong?

EMU adjuncts provide EMU students with a rich array of academically demanding and professionally taught courses that fully support the EMU mission of “Education First.” Adjuncts provide one-third of student contact hours, often at times most convenient to students. We bring a wealth of real-world experience from the workplace to our teaching and many of us have taught at EMU for a decade or more.

What you can do!

Support your Adjunct Lecturers! Insist that the EMU administration gives all adjuncts the right to vote in a secret ballot election on whether to join the full-time lecturers’ union. Email President Martin and the Regents! Make sure that EMU stands by the democratic rights of all of its community members. Give us a voice!

Contact info:

Pres. Susan Martin: sue.martin@emich.edu – 734.487.2211

EMU Board of Regents: emu.regents@emich.edu – 734.487.2410

Roy Wilbanks – Chair – roywilbanks@aol.com – 734-395-2011

Francine Parker – Vice Chair – francine.parker@emich.edu – 734.487.2410

Floyd Clack – fclack1@yahoo.com – 810-232-7007

Gary Hawks – garydhawks@comcast.net – 517-347-8659

Philip Incarnati – phili@mclaren.org – 810-342-1130

Mohamed Okdie – emu.regents@emich.edu – 734.487.2410

Thomas Sidlik – thomas.sidlik@emich.edu – 734-487-2410

James Stapleton – jstapes@att.net – 810-794-9160

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A “Nice Experience” or a Job: EMU Lecturers Say Part-Timers Need a Union, Too

Contract lecturers at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti are fighting a hostile administration over the right to add part-time adjunct lecturers to EMUFT, the collective bargaining unit representing EMU’s full-time contract lecturers. Full-timers won recognition as a local of the American Federation of Teachers in 2001. The university, whose specialty is educating future teachers, and whose slogan is “Education First,” has hired a team of high-priced lawyers to break the back of the drive in part by creating divisions between full-time and part-time lecturers.

Lecturers, through their Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee (ALOC), have fought back by gathering signatures from “a super majority” of part-timers who are teaching this semester, according to Greg Pratt, AFT organizer, and have filed a petition with Michigan Employment Relations Committee (MERC) for an election to be held before the winter semester ends on May 4. According to ALOC data, EMU employs every semester approximately 450 part-time adjunct lecturers, who teach over one-third of all classes. More significantly, three out of four part-time lecturers who have been approached personally by ALOC organizers have signed.

The demands of EMU part-timers are being echoed at the national level: a coalition of academic associations, including the AFT, released a report February 10 calling on universities to treat their teachers as “one faculty”—which means extending health and retirement benefits and making pay equitable to those on the tenure track. The joint paper notes that nationally one-third of teachers not on the tenure track have been in their jobs at least five years, but schools insist “on outdated personnel and compensation policies that assume non-tenure-track faculty members are short-term employees who will make up only a small proportion of the faculty.”

If MERC approves the election, only adjunct lecturers teaching this semester will be eligible to vote; adjuncts who have signed cards but are not teaching this semester are ineligible, regardless of how many years they have been teaching at EMU.

However, the administration has refused to recognize part-timers as worthwhile members of the EMU community. They have hired the high-priced law firm of Butzel Long to discredit the part-timers’ legitimacy.

At a recent conference call between representatives of MERC, EMUFT, and the administration, Butzel Long attorney Craig Schwartz, representing the administration, said, “The part-time employment of adjuncts provides them with a little money and a nice experience.” But, he continued, the part-timers “have no community of interest” with the full-timers. Not surprisingly, this is the same argument the lawyers made to create divisiveness between professors and lecturers before full-time lecturers won representation in 2001.

In successive contract negotiations since their victory in 2001, full-time contract lecturers have seen their base salary finally pass $30,000 a year, a figure equal to about a half to a third what tenure-track faculty members earn, regardless of actual qualifications. They have a contractual right to an office, tech support, library privileges, medical, dental, retirement, and secretarial support, as well as a formal grievance procedure. Further, unlike part-time adjunct lecturers, they are no longer at-will employees who can be terminated at the end of every semester. Rather, they are at-will employees who have the security of a year-long appointment before they can be terminated. (After three years, they get two-year contracts.)

At the February 16 meeting of the EMU Board of Regents, adjunct lecturers Mark Wenzel, who divides his time between the history/philosophy and economics departments, and Peter Thomason, from the construction management program, presented the lecturers’ position that all lecturers, not just full-timers, have a fundamental right to representation, and that there is wide support for this position among faculty, students, and the greater EMU community. No one spoke against it. More than thirty faculty members and students attended the meeting to show support for the lecturers.

As Wenzel stated, “Ninety-six percent of current full-time lecturers were adjuncts at EMU before they became full-time lecturers, thus embodying the highest evidential support for the existence of a community of interest between them.”

In a follow-up interview, conducted by email, Wenzel was asked why the argument that part-timers and full-timers have different interests resonated with some people. “Because some people—Craig Schwartz among them—are clueless about what we actually do,” he responded. Noting again how many current full-time lecturers come from the ranks of the part-timers, he continued, “It’s time to further the cause of justice and education here at EMU by agreeing on the principle that there is only one community of interest among teachers and between teachers and students and that is the interest to challenge ourselves and our students to define our core human values, to increase and share our knowledge of the world and ourselves with our students, and to pass on skills that help our students become ever-more creative and effective persons and citizens.”

Lisa Laverty, a full-time lecturer from the political science department, can’t understand why it resonates at all. Calling out the university for promoting a “divide-and-conquer, anti-union strategy,” she says: “The fact is that we all do the same work: we teach our students…. Students choose classes, whenever possible, based on what they hear about who the really good instructors are, not their status…. Full-time lecturers, most of whom started out as adjuncts, understand what it is like to teach at EMU for low pay, with no benefits, and to face the possibility of unemployment every three months when the semester ends.”

Nor should this argument work from the perspective of most EMU administrators, she adds: “If ‘Education First’ has any true meaning, then the administration should be supporting all of its instructional staff. In fact, many university offices that are on the front lines of our actual mission, educating students, do treat all instructional staff the same. For example, the Faculty Development Center runs support workshops for all faculty, regardless of full-time/part-time or tenure status. The General Education program actively seeks to include lecturers alongside our tenure-track colleagues. Many department heads include lecturers in the life of their departments, but are hampered by voices higher up in the EMU administration that prevent them from developing a more inclusive atmosphere. The fact that some, at the highest levels of the university administration, insist upon creating this artificial division between ‘full-time’ and ‘part-time’ lecturers only serves to distract the rest of our university community from our common interests and goals.”

What’s next? According to Wenzel, “We plan to mobilize community support for our campaign through informational pickets, street theatre, attending more Regents’ meetings, and other actions. As others will tell you, the students are almost 95% behind this campaign—according to the sheer number of petition signatures we got in one two-and-a-half hour session after the Regents’ meeting. I am so heartened by this. I’m falling in love with our students all over again.”

The current drive to bring part-time lecturers into EMUFT, which began in Summer 2009, is a continuation of the struggle that was left unfinished in 2001. The goal of that drive, which was led primarily by part-time lecturers, always was to include all lecturers. Only as a result of a painful compromise to gain MERC support did lecturers agree that a union of full-time lecturers only was better than no union at all. The resulting vote by the full-time lecturers was a landslide victory, with 91 voting in favor and only 2 voting against. To memorialize the victory, contract lecturers named their unit Local 9102 of the American Federation of Teachers. The historic victory made EMUFT the first collective bargaining unit in Michigan to be comprised solely of lecturers. Ironically, accepting this compromise meant that those who had led the drive to create it found themselves not allowed to join it, along with nearly four-fifths of all lecturers.

But history has proven the decision to be correct, as the compromise victory, done for the good of the greater cause, paved the way for adjunct victories and new AFT affiliates at other Michigan campuses, including University of Michigan, Wayne State, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Kirtland Community College, Wayne County Community College, and Henry Ford Community College.

Now, lecturers at EMU want to finish what they started at home.

Volume 1 Files Finally Received from Publisher

I spent the long Presidents’ Day weekend reviewing the frontmatter and initial stories from volume 1 of the Dissident Press Series, Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press. After so many months of sending files to Michigan State University Press, finally receiving files back from them, for both the stories and the images, made it all feel real.

I’m pleased so far with their work. Files showed electronic coding, of course. That’s how book pages are prepared in this electronic age.

Most of the other editing was light, mostly for the mundane purpose of bringing my style into conformity with theirs and being consistent. Uppercasing or lowercasing: “Leftist” or “leftist”; “Communist” or “communist”?  When should I spell out numbers one to ten? When should I use numerals? Context matters, and I have my own preferences as a long-time editor. But after editing some 1,500 pages from the four volumes I couldn’t remember which way I went for what context every single time. Long ago, I resolved that I would just do my best and go with their style. They made lots of those types of changes. Thanks, MSU Press.

Beyond that, they showed deep respect for the writing of my contributors and for my own editing as the series editor. As MSUP’s in-house project editor for the series wrote, “Our aim was to correct or query any apparent errors or omissions and to impose a book-level style in purely mechanical matters (for example, in the decision of how to render mentions of decades—between, say, seventies, nineteen seventies, and 1970s), while allowing variation in matters that could be considered more than mechanical (such as the decision of whether to capitalize the racial nominations black/Black and white/White).”

Also, the title, Dissident Press Series, is now official. For those reasons I am grateful, for the respect they showed our work and because I do not have to send the files back to my contributors just to have them say, “It’s still okay.”

The only disappointment I’m feeling is that volume 1 won’t be out until the end of this year. Our initial tentative publication date was May 2010. The other part of the plan, to release a new volume every six months until all four are out, is still intact.

On the bright side, the whole process has taught me patience.

I’ll be writing more about volume 1 in coming weeks, especially as we get closer to publication date. In the meantime, if you’re interested in being part of my mailing list, please write to me at info@azenphonypress.com.

J Street Launches Chapter in Ann Arbor

I attended the J Street launch in Ann Arbor this past Thursday (February 4) at the Jewish Community Center of Washtenaw County. J Street is, as they describe themselves, the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. The event was one of some two dozen local launches that took place around the country at the same time so that attendees could all listen simultaneously to a livestream from founder and director Jeremy Ben Ami, who was attending a local launch in Philadelphia.

I was one of four dozen activist progressive Jews in the area who attended. We listened to pep talks and informational presentations from the area leaders as well as students from University of Michigan who have begun campus outreach. We learned of J Street’s multipronged approach:

  • Advocate for policy changes that promote a just peace
  • Do campus outreach
  • Raise money to support peace candidates

Clare Kinberg, founder and managing editor of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, as well as one of the co-directors of the Ann Arbor chapter of J Street, introduced the session by recalling lessons she learned from her brother Myron, a rabbi who died thirteen years ago. According to Clare, he taught her that “there is no contradiction between Zionism and advocating for mutual support” for Palestinians and Israelis. The concept of a two-state solution is not new, she added. What is new is J Street’s multipronged approach, which gained momentum with the election of Barack Obama. “The most pro-Israel thing we can do is work to bring about a comprehensive peace solution.”

Dan Soloway spoke of his attendance at the first J Street national conference that was held in Washington, D.C., in October 2009. What caught his attention, he noted, were the diversity and the high energy of the 1500 attendees.  He attended one breakout session led by Rabbis for Human Rights and other sessions on Iran and lobbying. “Every event was standing room only. When James Jones, national security adviser to Obama, spoke, he said what we were saying.” But naturally not all was good vibes. Outside the conference, picketers, including Jews, displayed hate signs including one that called J Street Nazis.

After Dan’s talk, a University of Michigan student shared the activities of the J Street campus group, including a visit by a member of Rabbis for Human Rights and an upcoming collaboration with Palestinian students.

In a general discussion immediately preceding the talk by Ben Ami, participants at the meeting shared qualities that made Ann Arbor unique and that made J Street’s acceptance into the community encouraging. In particular, it was noted that the many local Jewish community groups worked well together and that the rabbis of the different Ann Arbor congregations are open to the two-state solution.

Jeremy Ben Ami’s talk began at the scheduled time of 8 p.m. EST so that local meetings around the country could all listen as a community. Ben Ami was a staff member in the Clinton administration as well as the policy director for Howard Dean during his 2004 presidential campaign. He recapped the history of J Street and its struggle to capture “the heart and soul of the American-Jewish community.” He spoke for those who are “tired of having our views not represented” by the traditional Jewish organizations and who are “scared of the future of Israel without a two-state solution.”

Then he outlined the goals of J Street:

  •  To inject the voices of peace into the American foreign policy process. This approach includes the realization that to survive we must also have a Palestinian state;
  • To express support for Israel that upholds the best of Jewish values. Our democratic character is at risk, he noted. All Israelis deserve equal rights. Unfortunately, “the settler movement sees human rights as a dirty word”;
  • To open the American-Jewish community to vigorous debate.

After his talk, we broke up into four organizing groups:

  • Grassroots advocacy. Goal: organize outreach to congressional representatives through letters and delegate trips to D.C.
  • Communications and media/New media and data (two groups that combined into one at the meeting). Goal: use media old and new to generate publicity and excitement and bring in new members, including younger people.
  • Education and programming. Goal: organize community events in support of a two-state solution.
  • Community outreach. Goal: identify and recruit new supporters within and outside the Jewish community.

I attended the meeting because I have been looking for an organization to represent the voice that I have found absent from the mainstream Jewish national organizations that supposedly speak for “the American-Jewish community.” I won’t claim to speak for the others in attendance in Ann Arbor and around the country. Speaking only for myself, I will say—they don’t speak for me.

Certainly, as I view them (in other words, this is my opinion, not the J Street line), AIPAC (American Israel Public Action Committee), the largest and most influential Israel support group, doesn’t. AIPAC up until now has been known as “the pro-Israel lobbying group.” But what does “pro-Israel” mean? According to AIPAC, pro-Israel means to support whatever the current Israeli government is doing. In other words, you are pro-Israel if you are a blind sheep. Support for Israel becomes a mindless, cult-like activity, hardly becoming for the group that claims to be “the people of the book.”

Other national Jewish organizations are more “liberal.” In other words, they acknowledge that Palestinians are real people, with hopes and dreams and families they love and children whom they pray will not die wearing bombs intended to indiscriminately kill Jews and Israelis and innocent bystanders. These groups say they support a two-state solution but they are timid when it comes to criticizing Israel’s aggressive actions that hamper efforts to arrive at that solution. They are quick to invoke the Holocaust. They rally around the mythical “Jewish unity” to claim, falsely, that any disagreement with Israel’s public policies represents an unwarranted “airing of our laundry in public.”

If you are from the Greater Ann Arbor area and want to get involved in J Street, send an email to annarbor@jstreet.org. And while you’re at it, check out the J Street website.

Then attend the next meeting, which will be held Sunday February 14 at 1516 East Park Place, Ann Arbor, at 10 a.m.

If you attended a J Street launch in another city, I would be interested in hearing from you.