Eastern Michigan University, along with the school district for the city of Detroit, signed an interlocal agreement with the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan on June 23, 2011. One of the university’s main motivators to sign the agreement was to play a helpful role in the education of Michigan children, according to President Susan Martin.
“It is important to remember the situation prevailing some Detroit schools at the time,” Martin said. “The 15 Detroit schools that were moved into the EAA were the lowest performing schools in the district… The state judged it was time to act.”
Now, a little over two years later, hostility surrounds EMU’s involvement in the EAA. Organizations like Students for an Ethical and Participatory Education at EMU and the coalition of people against the EAA are demanding that EMU withdraw from its agreement with the EAA immediately. These organizations have seen support from key EMU players like Steven Camron, a special education professor and chair of the College of Education Council, and Howard Bunsis, an accounting professor and president of the EMU American Association of University Professors.
The opposition began gaining traction in the fall of 2013 when six teachers unions in Washtenaw County announced they would boycott EMU student teachers until the university withdraws from their agreement with the EAA. MLive reported that the Washtenaw County Education Association proposed this boycott to the teachers in its unions in April 2013 with a letter that advised the teachers against hiring student teachers from EMU.
On March 20, the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education called for EMU to cease its affiliation with the EAA. They also voted unanimously to publicly oppose legislation that would allow for the EAA to expand statewide in one year, according to MLive. This legislation passed later that day by a 56-54 vote in the Michigan House of Representatives.
“Our relationship with the EAA is destroying our reputation … we are known for educating teachers,” Bunsis said after a university-hosted EAA forum earlier this month. “The EAA does not believe in having to train students in the art of education … they don’t believe that’s needed or relevant.”
Bunsis’ statements echo the common refrain from members of the EMU community who oppose the EAA.
“We respect and support the rights of our faculty members to share their positions on important university matters, and we take their concerns very seriously,” Martin said. “We plan to continue to actively work with and listen to the faculty members who are concerned about the agreement over the weeks and months ahead.”
One common misconception is that the entirety of EMU or the university’s College of Education is working with the EAA. In fact, only the university’s Board of Regents is included in the interlocal agreement.
The interlocal agreement that gave birth to the current manifestation of the EAA is between “The Board of Regents of Eastern Michigan University and the School District for the City of Detroit and the Education Achievement Authority (a Michigan public body corporate).”
In Article I, Section 1.01(k) of the agreement, “university” is defined as the Board of Regents at EMU.
Under the agreement, EMU’s Board of Regents is required to appoint two representatives to serve as members of the Authority Board of the EAA to serve at the will of the governing body, according to Article IV, Section 4.01. These two appointed representatives are the only EMU entities recognized by the agreement that work directly with and have power within the EAA.
According to Article IV, Section 4.02, as members of the Authority Board, these two appointed EMU representatives are responsible for authorizing and approving the annual audit of the EAA, evaluating the performance of the EAA and reviewing the acts of the executive committee.
One or both of the two appointed EMU representatives on the Authority Board may also be appointed to the Executive Board by Governor Rick Snyder.
The Executive Board’s powers are listed in Article IV, Section 4.06 as, “The Executive Committee shall appoint the Chancellor … may make inquiries, conduct studies or investigations, hold hearings, and receive comments from the public. The Executive Committee also may consult with outside experts in order to perform its duties including, but not limited to, experts in the field of education, the private sector, government agencies, nonprofit entities, and experts at institutions of higher education.”
Chancellor of the EAA John Covington said that he does not have much interaction with the EMU beyond the two representatives appointed by the university’s regents currently serving on the EAA board, Provost Kim Schatzel and Regent Mike Morris.
Covington sat on an EAA panel of representatives at a forum hosted by EMU earlier this month, at which he received a considerable amount of criticism from SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA. He was met with protestors in the audience holding signs condemning the EAA on one side, and calling him a liar on the other.
“The EAA strips local schools of community control,” Phil Patterson, an EMU student working towards his master’s degree in social foundations and member of SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA said during a protest prior to the forum.
He said President Martin and the university have an ethical obligation to cancel their relationship with the EAA.
“[Martin should] support actual education reform that will bolster and strengthen the community as opposed to corporate education reform,” Patterson said.
Covington said the backlash he faces from SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA have no effect on the university’s standing with the EAA. He is not intimidated by either organization.
“We have a very amicable relationship with DPS and Eastern Michigan University,” Covington said. “I now have a better understand of who [SEPE] is … most of the participants are a student group at Eastern, last year their issue was Adidas, I think, and this year it’s the EAA.”
Covington does not feel that SEPE or the coalition of people against the EAA make up a large enough faction of the university to say EMU opposes the EAA in its totality.
“It’s the noise of the minority, and not the silent majority,” Covington said.
He said he would be happy to hire as many EMU-taught teachers as he can, especially those in the special education program, adding that the EAA is concerned with finding good teachers.
“Our concern is making sure that we place a good teacher, highly qualified and effective, in front of every child,” Covington said.
SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA have shown no sign of slowing down or moving on to a different cause. Members protested, occupied and spoke out at the Tuesday Board of Regents meeting.
Camron called for Regent Morris and Provost Schatzel to immediately resign from the Executive Committee and from the Board of the EAA, and for the regents to vote to immediately withdraw from the interlocal agreement that created the EAA.
This demand for EMU to withdraw from its agreement with the EAA is what most members of SEPE and the coalition of people against the EAA are asking for; however, this is unlikely to happen given the way the agreement is written regarding withdrawals.
According to Article VIII, Section 8.02(a) of the agreement, EMU may only withdraw from the agreement immediately if, “the agreement amended and another state public university is party to the agreement.” This means for the EAA to continue functioning, a public university must take part in the interlocal agreement. The only way for EMU to withdraw immediately is to find another public university to take their place in the agreement.
Article VIII, Section 8.02(b) of the agreement says EMU may withdraw after Dec. 30, 2014 if, “the university provides notice of its intent to withdraw on the first June 30th at least 180 days after the notice.”
“We have a legally binding agreement in place with the EAA and plan to honor its provisions,” Martin said.