"Well paid teachers, not stadium bleachers!"
That was one of the many chants led by Eastern Michigan University part-time lecturers, community members and students during the rally held Monday, May 15, at Welch Hall.
The protest was in direct opposition to the potential 25 percent pay cut that could target part-time faculty, beginning Fall 2017.
With the current contract set to expire August 31, negotiations between the EMU Federation of Teachers Union (EMUFT) and university brass have been steady on some issues, but the pay cut seems to be too much for a group of faculty whose median salary tops out at just $15,000.
"The university is sending a message of not valuing part-time lecturers by reducing pay for new hires and eliminating job security for all of us," EMU mathematics professor and EMUFT union member Sandra Becker said.
"Many of us already work multiple jobs because we need health insurance from somewhere and EMU does not provide this, and the pay and job security reductions will make our lives even harder."
Back in March, it was announced that the university would begin renovations to the athletic facilities, which would cost $35 million, including a practice field for the football and soccer teams to use, as well as removing the track currently around the football field, among others.
The decision was met with opposition from students who felt this is a repeat of the university's continued mismanagement of university funds. In an open letter published in the Detroit Free Press that same month, former student government president and vice president, Tanasia Morton and Joshua Starr vehemently opposed on behalf of the student body.
"Student Government will not support any renovations to the athletic facilities as a part of this $35 million plan, outside of the Rec/IM that involve a single cent of university dollars. Over the course of the last several years Eastern Michigan University has been forced to make a series of incredibly tough cuts to many academic and student programs. Meanwhile, the athletics department has enjoyed generous increases to its budget. These priorities are misplaced," the letter states.
After the rally had begun and made its way to Cross Street, EMU President James Smith emerged from his office after a teleconference to view the protesters on the street. The protesters began chanting at him, to which he offered a smile and a remark about "protests and democracy."
"I generally don't like to talk about negotiations while they go on, but the pay cut would not apply to all part-time lecturers," President Smith said.
"It would be a segregation of new employees, and existing employees would stay on their current salary schedule and move forward. The new employees would go to a reconfigured base that would be less, and as the negotiating process goes, will it be 25 percent or something different? I don't know."
For many part-time lecturers, their union has been in the thick of the negotiations with them. However, if the negotiations fall flat to the higher ups at EMU, the possibility of incentivizing the University to hire inexperienced, lower quality professors just to save money will leave a bitter taste in a lot of mouths, all while at the expense of the university's reputation.
"EMU has consistently dragged their feet on this and wants to create this two-tier system to justify employees getting paid 25 percent less," EMU Part-time lecturer at the School of Music and Dance Woody Chenoweth said.
"It's a classic union busting move designed to take away power and solidarity and it's basically bullshit. You can quote me on that."
Follow Joe Israel on Twitter @izzywan_kenobi.