‘Save our Staff’ protest calls for change

Students and faculty protest against recent job cuts and privatization efforts in front of Welch Hall.

The lay off of 60 secretarial positions at Eastern Michigan University sparked a protest outside Welch Hall by students and faculty. 

“Some of them [laid off secretaries] have been working for EMU for decades,” said Judy Kullberg, a political science professor at EMU and the president of EMU-AAUP. “Instead of being rewarded for their service they are being discarded as if they have no value.” 

The protest began at 12 p.m., March 15, where students, faculty and staff marched down the sidewalk along W. Cross St. Most carried bright yellow signs reading ‘NO CUT$’ and ‘save EMU staff’, while other carried homemade signs. While marching, participants chanted ‘EMU, shame on you’ and ‘chop from the top’ as loud as they could. Passing cars often honked in solidarity, resulting in cheers from the crowd. 

The protest comes in the wake of the recent lay off of 60 clerical secretarial positions, as well as a plan to privatize parking from the university. Protesters expressed frustration at the decision-making, as well as the lack of notice given to students and faculty about it. 

Margaret A. Miller, a graduate student at EMU, came to the protest because of the lay off of department secretary Nancy Romano. 

“It’s impossible for a department to function with only one secretary,” she said. “So we collectively wrote a letter for them, which is why I’m here today, just because it’s incredibly short-sighted to do something like that…support staff is what makes a business function, what makes an institution function.” 

A few students treated empty plastic bins as drums, the same bright yellow signs wrapped around the bins. One such student, Chris Beauchene, a current junior at EMU, expressed similar concerns.

“I don’t feel Eastern’s staff should be punished because the Board of Regents has made a series of bad decisions that’s put Eastern in a bad position financially,” he said. “Just from the numbers I’ve seen as far as what will get cut and what departments will lose money, it would grossly hurt our academic programs.” 

While there were only a dozen people 15 minutes before noon, the number grew to over 100 by the official starting time. The Lecturers Employee Organization (LEO) and Huron Valley Area Labor Federation carried signs during the march. 

After marching for half an hour, the crowd gathered around the fountain between Welch Hall and McKenny Hall. Multiple people took turns with a megaphone to address the crowd, including Kullberg. 

“The putts to staff and budget have been made without any consultation with the university community, nor input from faculty members from departments who best know what their students need,” she said. “This is a continuation of a pattern of ill-conceived decisions made at the top behind closed doors without any involvement from us.” 

Alex Nuttle, a student who had previously spoken at the city council meeting over the parking privatization plan, said the reason he came to EMU is no longer present in his eyes. 

“Education comes after athletics, privatization, punishing peaceful student protestors and shady back door dealings,” he said. “I have lost hope in this administration…but I have not lost hope in those people who have the power to make EMU the school it deserves to be.” 

Democratic candidates for governor Abdul El-Sayed and Bill Cobbs both made appearances at the protest and both spoke before the crowd at the fountain. 

“We can’t have state educational institutions that prioritize athletics more then they fund teaching, resources and support resources,” Cobbs said. “That’s what kids come here for: to get an education. Athletics are a nice thing, but they aren’t what this institution is about.” 

Cobbs expressed sympathy for the cause, saying he’s been part of labor unions in the past, such as the UAW and the Detroit Police Officers Association.  

“I recognize that if we don’t have the ability for people who work for a living to be secure in their employment, then we don’t have a great state to live in,” he said. 

Abdul El-Sayed’s father, Mohamed El-Sayed, is the director of engineering technology at EMU. Abdul said this gives him plenty of information on how the education works, equipping him with the knowledge to address the issues brought up during the protest. 

“I think we have to put structural barriers in place with the growth of administrative costs, we’ve got to make sure we’re empowering students first, we’ve got to make sure resources are focused on the kids in the classroom and the things they need to thrive,” he said. “We need to austerity measures are born equally.” 

Kullberg said there are better solutions then privatization and job cuts to the university’s economic problems. 

“The real origin of our current financial situation is overspending on athletics, we have no doubt about that,” she said. “We need to make hard decisions in this era of sharp levels of funding from the state; we can no longer afford such large athletic programs.

After the crowd was addressed, they made a few more rounds around Welch Hall until 1 p.m. 

EMU-AAUP and EMU Federation of Teachers will be hosting a town hall event to discuss the state of EMU on March 24 in Pray Harrold room 204. The vote on the privatization of the parking at EMU will take place at the Ypsilanti City Council building on April 17. 

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