Historic Victory for EMU Lecturers

I go away for a weekend of rest and relaxation and come home to historic news. The Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee / EMU Federation of Teachers at Eastern Michigan University have reached an agreement with EMU administrators on the makeup of a bargaining unit for the 500 (plus or minus; we’ve never been able to establish a definite number) part-time lecturers at EMU. Anyone who teaches one credit or more per year is a member, in total agreement with the lecturers’ long-time battle cry: “One syllabus, one vote.” There are a few exceptions but all were within the group that we figured all along would be excluded: visiting professors, doctoral fellows, and teaching assistants.

As Acting EMU-FT President Sonya Alvarado explained:

Part-time, non-tenure-track faculty who teach one or more credit hours will be allowed to vote to be part of our union. The agreement between the university and us includes the stipulation that there be two contracts for our union, one for full-time non-tenure-track faculty and one for part-time non-tenure-track faculty. This does not mean we will be separate unions. We will be one union operating under one constitution with two separate contracts. This historic agreement fulfills the mandate of our current constitution in Article 2 Section 3 that states, “EMU-FT shall work to bring collective bargaining rights to all EMU Lecturers as rapidly as possible.”

The instructors have petitioned the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to hold an election this spring. According to a joint statement from EMU and EMU-FT, “An election will be conducted by mail ballot, to give as many instructors as possible an opportunity to participate. Should the EMU Federation of Teachers be certified as the collective bargaining representative for the adjunct teaching instructors, contract negotiations for an initial agreement would begin this fall term.”

Of course, a no vote by the majority of voting lecturers kills the deal.

But I predict there’s no way in hell that’s going to happen. Not after the incredible work done by the organizing committee of ALOC / EMU-FT and the representatives of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union. Not after the strong support shown the lecturers by the entire campus community and the surrounding towns of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Not after the long struggle on the part of adjunct faculty to be shown the dignity that they deserve. Not after this much time waiting for our due.

The drive to unionize EMU lecturers began in March 1992, when a group of us, working with Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT), began an official campaign to determine if there was a “show of interest” among lecturers in the idea of unionizing. There was, but the university was hostile and underhanded in their opposition. It took us nine long, frustrating, but ultimately exhilarating years. The day before our right to form a bargaining unit was recognized, the then-president resigned. We took full credit for getting rid of him. Our following electoral victory was historic. The resulting EMU-FT was the first bargaining unit in the state of Michigan to be composed entirely of adjunct faculty. Unfortunately, victory required a painful compromise: part-timers were excluded.

This week’s decision—and our upcoming electoral victory—brings the long 18-year struggle to a successful end.

But I’ll save my final celebration until after the vote.

In the meantime, I’m starting my initial celebration now because even this much is a huge victory. The organizing committee and supporters wrote letters, picketed, leafleted, attended and spoke at regents’ meeting, conducted peaceful sit-ins in President Susan Martin’s office, blogged, and, in general, not only got out the word that we were serious and demanded respect but made it clear that we weren’t going to go down quietly.

To the credit of President Martin and EMU Provost/Executive Vice President Jack Kay, they recognized the inevitability of our victory and the bad press that would come to the university if they refused to recognize us. In conceding the end of obstruction, Kay is quoted as saying in the joint statement:

“This agreement will give an additional estimated 500 teachers the opportunity to elect a collective bargaining representative and join our many valued teaching faculty who are already represented. Eastern Michigan highly values the important contribution our adjunct teaching instructors make to the education of our students. We support their right to organize, and to exercise their right to choose their bargaining representative. We value the strong, collaborative working relationship that we have with our many unions on campus, including the EMU Federation of Teachers, who would represent our adjuncts if elected. We look forward to building on that tradition of collaboration.”

It’s so touchy-feely it just makes me want to kiss him.

But I have a better idea. I’m going to vote yes.

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Ten Special Years

This brief entry is a special note to my family, by blood and by choice.

I just wanted to share with you all that today, the Friday before Mother’s Day, is the tenth anniversary of the day we learned Emily had breast cancer. These past ten years with her have been extra special because both of us have remained sensitive to the fragility of life and to how special it is. Every day we are reminded that living a good, successful life requires work, education, courage, initiative, lots of creativity, and a community of loved ones like you. The rest is pretty much a crapshoot: Some of us make it; some of us don’t.

We were reminded throughout that experience ten years ago of how special family is—our traditions, our special events, but, most of all, our closeness in times of need. What I learned then was that the closeness was there waiting to be expressed and shared but I had to make the first move, to allow you in, in order to experience it to its fullest. Humans are funny creatures, I discovered. At the exact time when we need attention and help the most, that’s the time when those who can provide it often withhold it because they think it will make us awkward. By giving us attention, they think they are reminding us of something we don’t want to think about—as if there is a second of the day when we are not thinking about it anyway. So when we need help, we often, in effect, have to give others permission to provide it.

I didn’t know that at the time. I just wrote in my journal and shared it on our family listserv, like I have so often done on so many venues in so many circumstances over the years. The result this time, though, was a steady stream of emails and prayers and calls and visits and other expressions of love that you gave to us. It made a difference to our recovery. It still does.

I also learned, as Emily’s support person, that, while the patient is the perceived victim, with good reason, the support person is the silent victim. Again, I didn’t realize it at the time. I never asked for help. But when you gave it to me anyhow and didn’t let me dismiss your efforts (“That’s okay. I can handle it”), I came to see how much I needed help, too. My literary result was the booklet Your Partner Has Breast Cancer?: 21 Ways to Keep Sane as a Support Person. Since then I’ve given lots of talks about being a support person for someone with breast cancer. I still try to make myself available if someone wants to talk.

Every May since Mother’s Day 2000, Emily has done something special to celebrate her life. Sometimes I celebrate with her; other times she celebrates on her own. One year she participated in the 3-day, 60-mile walk; I was there, too, volunteering as captain of the clean-up crew for the campers. Another year she visited Las Vegas with a friend and fellow survivor. Another year she used her frequent flyer mileage to visit extended family in the Netherlands. Tonight, the budget’s a little tighter so we’re hitting the road to spend a weekend at a bed and breakfast.

What I’ve discovered during these times together is that it isn’t where we go or what we do, or even if we do it together, as much as that we took the time to think about life, to celebrate it rather than taking it for granted. It can be pretty special if you do it right. It’s been good to us.

Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference: If You’re a Writer, Don’t Miss It (Just Because I Am)

I’m missing this year’s Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference May 15 at University of Michigan to attend Carrie’s college graduation at Syracuse University. I even turned down an invitation to be a speaker again. If you want to learn about how to negotiate a book contract, you’ll have to wait for another appearance by me. Or, better yet, join the National Writers Union, where members from the Grievance and Contract Division, who know book contracts better than any group of folks probably anywhere in the world, will explain to you what every clause in your contract means and how to negotiate for a better contract.

In the meantime, just because I’m missing the Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference doesn’t mean you have to miss it, too. If you’re a writer and you’re anywhere near the Ann Arbor area, don’t miss the opportunity to learn from the pros.

The day begins at 8:30 a.m. with the author’s breakfast at Hatcher Graduate Library. There speakers for the day join attendees to share their writing experiences and describe their work.

Following the breakfast are three sessions, the first beginning at 10:15 and the last ending at 3:15. As with all great conferences, this one provides the frustration of offering more talks than one person can attend; each session has four separate talks so you have to pick and choose. The best way to benefit from them is to attend with friends and swap notes afterwards.

The sessions will meet at Mason/Haven Halls on the University of Michigan Central Campus and will be followed by an hour-long panel called “I’ve Finished My Book (Article, Essay, Etc.): Now What Do I Do?” featuring Ellen Meeropol, Ann Pearlman, and Bonnie Jo Campbell and moderated by Mary Bisbee-Beek

Following is a list of the topics that will fill the sessions along with descriptions written by the presenters. For bios of the speakers and locations of the sessions, visit the website:

10:15 am – 11:30 am – SESSION 1

A. Feel the Power of Flooding the Page with your Thoughts – Debbie Merion

In this workshop, you will experiment with the freedom to write the worst junk in America. Get ready to be surprised with what emerges. Ironically, the most present, compelling first drafts result from quieting the censor in our heads. We’ll write as a group — a powerful experience — and then listen intensely to recall exact words and phrases heard. The goal is to learn nonjudgmental writing and feedback techniques that lead to vivid writing.

B. Beginning the Novel – Vasugi V. Ganeshananthan

The first hundred pages of a novel are make or break. What works? What doesn’t? What information does a novelist put into the “beginning” of the story? We’ll look at the beginnings of books by a range of authors and talk about pacing, themes, language, style, plot, and character. You don’t have to read the whole book to appreciate a good beginning — that’s the point. Readings to be provided at the session.

C. Methods of vision & (re)vision – Aracelis Girmay

The work of revising is an exceptionally rigorous practice. I’d like for this workshop to serve as a space where we can explore methods of revision as a highly imaginative, exciting, &, sometimes, political practice. This workshop will be a generative workshop focused on the practice of surprising or honing the eye/I. It will be an opportunity for us to study a very small selection of high-stakes, beautiful work by Lucille Clifton, Nazim Hikmet, & Frida Kahlo. We will use these works as models to guide us through our in-workshop experiments. It will also be a chance for us to experiment with methods of revising lines, histories, & images.

D. Brainstorming, Work, and Creativity: Thinking Outside of the Box – Chloe Miller

Right brained or left, it doesn’t matter – being creative is essential in the current economy. Access your inner poet and your muse with poet and entrepreneur, Chloe Miller will lead a discussion of how to connect creativity with business planning and the generation of concrete ideas. This is a hands-on, interactive, process-driven voyage of discovery. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves.


11:45 am – 1:00 pm – SESSION 2

A. Why Writers Write and Why It Is Important – Walter Palesch

During this session, Walter Palesch will share his philosophy on the relevance of writing today. What are the goals of the writer when telling a story and the responsibilities one has to the integrity of the characters? He will discuss the importance of careful research when developing a historical novel. Finally, once the work is complete, what are the strategies you can use for getting your work into your readers’ hands, both in the publishing and marketing areas?

B. Crash Course for Aspiring Writers – Jeannie Ballew

Do you have a secret book in you that you’re longing to write but haven’t because it feels so daunting? In this workshop, you will be introduced to a powerful book coaching process that will show you how to produce a rough draft of your entire non-fiction manuscript within two weeks. You will start by identifying your readership and work through specified steps to a complete finished rough draft.

C. YA Beyond Vampires – How to Write Uniquely – Darryl Markowitz

Is the purpose of art met in today’s Young Adult literature? How can you write a unique work of literary art? In this workshop, participants will briefly discuss the writer as a literary artist. There will also be a writing exercise in creating compelling characters with moral/social views that you can continue to develop in later works.

D. The Girl with No Hands – Rachel McKibbens

This workshop will take a look at the cultural and literary significance of magical realism, as well as provide participants with writing exercises that ignite the use of startling imagery. We will also discuss the importance of cutting loose the binds of “truth” by allowing the fantastic to co-exist with the factual.


2:00 pm – 3:15 pm – SESSION 3

A. Make the Most of Your Writing Time – Margaret Yang

You’ve blocked out your writing time – five hours on a weekend or five minutes between errands – and then something happens to derail your good intentions. It’s too noisy. Your spouse wants to talk. You can’t think of what to write about. What are you going to do? This workshop will provide tips for making the most of the writing hours (or minutes) that you’ve worked so hard to obtain. We will discuss why “just doing it” isn’t enough and how to use your environment to your advantage. A small amount of planning pays off in increased productivity.

B. Drawing Fictional Characters – Ann Pearlman

Characters in novels keep us reading the stories. They are often what we remember about a favorite book. What makes a good character so compelling to the reader and how does the writer successfully create believable people on the page? Fiction writer/memoirist/biographer Ann Pearlman, author of the highly successful The Christmas Cookie Club, will take you through the experience of developing sound characters with their own personalities, even bringing her own tricks and exercises to get you started.

C. Breaking New Ground in Nonfiction – Micki Maynard

For nonfiction writers, getting past the conventional wisdom can be a challenge. What are the best methods to draw new conclusions about what may seem to be familiar subjects and get past the status quo? This session will offer helpful advice on the kind of research an author must do to build a case, break new ground, and have the courage to stand behind their conclusions.

D. Don’t Succumb! Finetuning Story Ideas – John Hilton

Finding a compelling story line can be the biggest challenge in writing nonfiction. There’s no formula for finding fresh insights and building an engaging narrative, but a longtime magazine editor offers some thoughts on the perils of clichés and the rewards of thinking for yourself. Attendees are encouraged to bring their ideas for nonfiction stories and they will be (constructively) considered, discussed, and tweaked.

Much more Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday. Check the Ann Arbor Book Festival website for all of the details.

And let me know how it was.

I’ll see you there next year. My new book will be out by then.