AAUP Strike for raises poor taste in hard times

Welcome freshmen and returning classmates. Many of us are anxious to begin classes, especially after the short-lived strike scare last week resulting from a contract dispute between the EMU American Association of University Professors and administration officials.

For students attending in 2006, the scene of professors standing out front of the president’s office in their red shirts with bull horns demanding a “fair” share might be familiar. Four years ago, the AAUP eventually received a nearly 4 percent per year raise, which added up to about a 15 percent raise over four years.

Not bad when you consider many school districts have scrimped by with 1 percent or less pay raise offers for years now. But this is a university. To fill a budget gap, just raise tuition. After all, students, especially those EMU first-of-their-generations to attend college, are hording gobs of money in their porch couches.

Now, you might say this is 2010 and Michigan is at the epicenter of the Great Recession. Unemployment has nearly doubled since 2006 and revenue collections are down, causing our so-called leaders in Lansing to continuously reduce university funding. Many private-sector workers are carrying a much larger load for less pay. They’re the lucky ones. That extra work comes from colleagues who were laid off outright and now live in real economic insecurity.

So why was the AAUP threatening to hold up classes unless it received 2006-like raises? It appears its argument was something akin to, “the EMU administrators received large raises, so we want one too.” Do unions even hire or consult with public relations pros?

The administration claimed those raises represented the prevailing marketplace wages and were needed to recruit new appointments. My question is what are we getting in return? What are the expectations for these new hires, how and when will they be evaluated and what are the repercussions if they fail to meet those goals?

The AAUP members also cited the university’s seemingly endless splurge on the EMU football program. This I can relate to because I remember our motto being “Education First.” I’m not sure the football program has, or ever will, live up to the investment and I’m very confident it never contributed to my education.

In either case, a strike was looming, classes were in jeopardy and students’ education was hanging in the balance.

Both sides spilled so many numbers and statistics your head would have spun if you attempted comprehending it. Many of us don’t have endless hours or paid staff to sift through it all. We simply have time to ask a few questions and form an opinion from there.

It seems with the economy tanked and pain being spread throughout, it’s only plausible professors’ pay become more in line with the times and that doesn’t include a 12 percent raise over three years.

And for an administration so bent on denying raises, I suggest it instead focuses on pension costs. After all, pensions and healthcare costs are crippling local governments and school districts all over the country. To ignore this fact and do nothing about it is negligent on the administration’s part. In fact, it’s probably more cost efficient to trade raises for less pension contributions.

During the 2006 strike, the one I supported, a close friend chose to sit through her canceled class. It baffled me why someone would sit in an empty classroom for more than an hour. She simply explained she had paid for a product/service and wanted it and didn’t care who was to blame. It still didn’t make sense.

This time around, luckily an agreement was reached — at least tentatively, and nobody should be sitting alone in an empty classroom.

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