I’m acquainted with Joel Russel, chemistry prof and president of the AAUP chapter at Michigan’s Oakland University. Courteous, soft-spoken and gentle to the point of self-effacement, he’s naturally conflict-avoidant and careful with his speech.

But yesterday’s scheduled start of classes found him walking a picket line with most of his colleagues and several hundred supportive students, determined to hold the administration of his institution accountable to students and the public.

Administrative Opportunism:
“Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste”

Oakland’s administration, Russell contends, is engaging in a version of the sleazy managerial opportunism sweeping the country–using claims of fiscal crisis as a form of extortion, to seize even more control of the institution’s mission, raise tuition and fees and further impoverish the faculty.

(Only about a quarter of all faculty today are even eligible for tenure*; in many traditional humanities and science disciplines, even this minority earn wages similar to those of bartenders and waitstaff–a fact that has real consequences for the class, race, and gender segmentation of the academic workforce.)

As Russell told the Chron, “The Michigan economic crisis is real. Oakland’s is not.”

Citing several reports of the institution’s excellent financial health, the chapter’s website includes the AAUP chapter’s opposition to steep rises in tuition during the summer of 2009 and previously. Meeting with the trustees’ finance committee, Russell documented ten million dollars in faculty givebacks (on pension contributions) and annual tuition increases averaging almost ten percent.

“Our employees have made the sacrifices and our students have paid steep tuition increases while the university has chosen to build its reserve accounts,” Russell said.

“The time has come to consider spending some of the extra tuition dollars you have collected in the past rather than asking students to help you build even higher reserves.”

What is really going on, the AAUP chapter contends, is an unfair labor practice–the administration is not bargaining in good faith, counting on the claims of “crisis” to give them carte blanche at the bargaining table and before an administrative law judge, who will rule on whether the chapter membership can continue to withold its services legally. (If the judge agrees that management is violating its obligation to bargain in good faith, the job action can legally proceed.)

Normally at this point in a bargaining cycle there are one or two issues remaining to be resolved, but according to AAUP (pdf), few major issues have been resolved and there has been little pretense at actual bargaining by the administration.

In addition to opposing unfair tuition hikes, the chapter is seeking fairness in health care and pension contributions, support for faculty research, and to restrain the growth of nontenurable appointment.

The chapter has pledged to stand behind all faculty, pledging unqualified solidarity with those working nontenurably, “The AAUP will not tolerate punishment of any faculty member for participation in a job related action. You will be protected as if you were a full professor.”

Where is the money going?

Russell notes that while faculty and deans averaged 2.5 to 3.3% wage increases in 2008, the president accepted a 40% raise to a $350,000 base (despite having collected additional compensation of as much as $220,000 above the base in previous years), created three new vice presidents at salaries in the $170,000 range, and gave existing veeps raises of five to fourteen percent.

Similar claims of opportunism and manufacturing a fake crisis to extort concessions have been made by faculty at the University of California. They have just voted no confidence in the system’s chancellor and are planning a walkout already endorsed by national AAUP (join).

Further reading: Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush?
Undergraduates and Faculty are Super-Exploited Together (pdf)
Why Higher Ed is Like Health Care (pdf)

*As I’ve previously written, there are holes in the data on permatemping that campuses a mile wide: there are no criteria about what it means when ampuses report instructors “without faculty status,” no standards for the reporting of grad students working as faculty, and no remedy for the increasing percentage of persons reported as staff but also teaching courses as an adjunct.  This has resulted in major distortions of the true tenure-track faculty ratio at many schools–including my own–and most recently the University of Nebraska, which contrived to report itself at 100% full-time faculty when as Craig Smith points out, the truth is they had more like 1500 full-time, 400 part time, and over 1800 grad students. Even this more honest data covers up the number of full-timers who were tenured, the number of the the tenured who were released from teaching into administration, etc etc.






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