What I Did on My Fall Flint Vacation: Presenting Article XI

This Friday was a hoot. Looking at it from another direction, it takes a proverbial village to hoist me. But in Flint, once again, we had the villagers. My classes having been placed for the day in the capable hands of EDWP (English Department Writing Program) Lecturer Mentor James Pinto, I was able to ride up to UM-Flint with LEO President Ian Robinson and newly-elected Ann Arbor Campus Co-Chair Phil Christman, Over the course of the day, I was able to spot about forty-five LEO members, other lecturers covered by the contract, tenure-track faculty allies, students, and staff organizers stopping by the bargaining room and/or the caucus room, a show of support that, given the Flint campus's smaller size, was consistent with what we enjoyed last week at Ann Arbor's Pierpont Commons. Kudos to all who managed to bring themselves to Michigan Rooms C & D at Harding Mott University Center (UCEN). You mattered, you counted, and your voices made a difference!

At the bargaining table, UM-Flint Philosophy Chair Stevens Wandmacher discussed our proposed changes to Article XIX, on performance evaluation. LEO Vice-President and bargaining-team manager Kirsten Herold covered Memoranda of Understanding #1 ("Special Provisions Covering Lecturer III and IV Major Reviews in LSA") and the even more vital #2 (about offering full-time opportunities to Lecturers), as well as Article XXVII (on posting, hiring, and notification). But frankly, largely because I was the one who introduced it and presented our revisions to it (during my first, somewhat-daunting stint at any sort of bargaining table), I worried the most about Article XI, the article on appointments, the article some have said is the spine of the contract, since it spells out just what it means to be an Lec I, Lec II, Lec III, Lec IV, Adjunct Lecturer, or Intermittent Lecturer.

So here's some of what I said:

  • As with other articles, many of the proposed changes to Article XI corroborate that University of Michigan lecturers are not merely academic day laborers hired from bookstore parking lots. Instead, we are highly skilled, highly educated, highly dedicated professional scholars and pedagogues who deserve the respect, the commitment, and the concomitant compensation due the faculty of one of the world’s foremost universities. Some seek this respect reflected in more prestigious job titles. Some seek this respect reflected in more, quicker, or earlier communication about opportunities for advancement, notices of appointments, and the results of reviews and reappointment decisions. Some more simply seek more, quicker, or earlier such opportunities, reappointments, and reviews. All lecturers seek the same level of commitment from the administration that we, the collective heart of the University of Michigan, continue to offer its administration. Whether freshly-minted Lecturer Is or Lecturer IVs who have devoted decades to educating our students, we seek full-time, more dependable, better-paid employment in exchange for our ongoing role as the University’s chief source of tuition revenue.
  • Some academic units are having more difficulty than they might at attracting the best candidates from private industry or other schools, because these candidates don’t want to be known merely as “Lecturers.” Offering the opportunity for the unit to assign a more prestigious working title, like “Teaching Professor,” addresses this concern.
  • We’d like a ban on units deliberately underestimating the appointment efforts for Lec Is and Lec IIs in order to avoid the late-layoff penalty. For example, if an academic unit keeps giving 2-2 offer letters to a Lecturer who, semester after semester, keeps winding up with a 4-4 load, then that academic unit needs to cut out that lowballing and stop jerking this Lec around because it doesn't want to risk paying 17% of what they would have earned for teaching that class.
  • Some effective dates were changed from 2010 to 2018. Because, duh, it's not about to be 2010. These "expired" dates happened because during the last contract negotiations, in 2013, the teams didn't open up Article XI for discussion, so no one had a chance to update certain clauses and provisions.
  • When LEO's leadership surveyed us earlier this year, many people wanted to know why there was no clear track from Lec II to Lec III. So one proposed change (to XI.A.8) would help make the process of moving from Lec II to Lec III more transparent. We’d also like to remove any policies preventing internal hires, especially if the goal is to encourage and cultivate long-term educators who are already committed members of the University community and who are willing to embrace new professional challenges. In other words, maybe we can evolve from a largely two-tier system (I/II & III/IV) toward a more intuitive I-II-III-IV ladder.
  • We added “continuing renewal review” to the series of items early in XI.A.9 to address the needs of those who have passed two major reviews. The changes to the sentence after that, basically changing “will not” to “may,” are to enable a review to happen during a layoff, if the Lecturer and the department are both willing to have that happen. For if it’s a temporary layoff, why not enable the Lecturer’s ‘off-season’ to be a bit more productive? Later changes similarly would enable Lecturers to have a review while they were on leave, if it were cool with both them and their departments.
  • Since School of Business classes often meet in the Spring or Summer half-term, it makes sense to add them to the short list of academic units that count Spring/Summer teaching as semesters toward review.
  • We need to move toward making Lec Is feel less like migrant laborers and more like solidly valued members of the University community. We need to enable Lec Is to spend more energy on teaching students, less energy on hunting for more stable employment. Promoting year-long appointments for Lec Is not only reassures them, not only frees up their psychic real estate for pedagogical purposes, but sends a signal that the Admissions and Registrar’s Offices are competently doing their jobs by correctly anticipating in a timely fashion how many students, how many classes, and how much work will be available in the coming semesters.
  • It would be useful to provide a time limit for documenting such a serious decision as a termination. Both the terminated Employee and the Union want to know and deserve to learn the cause for termination, in a timely manner and without the need for continual nagging by union grievance officers.
  • Changing fall appointment decision dates from April 30 to "prior to April 1" gives Employees more time to plan their lives. For example, Ann Arbor landlords often start asking by about February if tenants, in this scenario hardworking U-M Lecturers, want to sign additional year-long, August-to-August leases. In fact, my own property manager asked my wife and me on October 18 (!) if we wanted to sign a lease for 2018-2019. I mean, yes, we’re certainly wonderful, responsible tenants that they want to keep, but that sort of early request still presumes that I have future work. If U-M doesn’t offer it to me, or to any of us Lecturers, we need to know earlier rather than later so we can start looking for alternate employment. Again, wouldn't the administration want us spending the end of the term focusing on teaching classes and turning in final grades, not job-hunting?
  • The most necessary change to provisions like XI.B.2.d.ii.c. is to establish that after an unsuccessful major review that leads to a remediation plan during a remediation period, the later review is a remediation review, not another major review, since we primarily want to make sure the Employee has made the necessary changes. As an analogy, it wouldn’t make sense for a student to perform poorly on an exam, receive extra instruction and support, take a make-up exam, and also retake the original exam on which they had fared poorly. In short, no more requiring a remediation review and another major review after remediation! At the end of the remediation period, assess whether the previously diagnosed problems have been solved, don’t go looking for a new set of problems. (Perhaps Stevens summed up the situation best when he repeated Cardinal Richelieu's quote — "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." If a unit doesn't like you, they can always find something with which to screw you. There's no need to give the unit two swings at the target.)
  • The change in language in places like XI.B.2.f.i. and XI.B.2.f.ii.a is to help establish one and only one Continuing Renewal Review, one final flaming hoop through which to jump before a Lecturer, having worked for – what, at least twelve years by this point? – let’s say twelve years, can finally have the same negligible job security of a U-M staff member who has passed their six-month probationary period! After twelve or more years a Lecturer has been engaged in successful service to the University, the Employer should put a ring on it. The lasting commitment should be honored without future strenuous mind games to see how much the Lecturer still cares for the Employer.
  • A couple of Implementation clauses have the same rationale as the provisions listed in the last point, and are designed to fix and honor past long-term professional relationships as well as future.
  • We’d like to change the definition so that being a Lec III or Lec IV may involve any one of a variety of factors, not the whole combination of service, research, and wide-ranging instructional capabilities. Regularly being able to tackle all three legs of the tenure-track tripod is fine, but being able to teach well in addition to any one of those factors listed here or in Appendix A should suffice for an Lec III or Lec IV. No more calls for so-called “unicorns,” superhuman simultaneous supergeneralists and multiple superspecialists who do all things at all times.
  • We’d like to have the interim review earlier in Ann Arbor LSA so that the Lecturer has more time to reflect, amend the performance of their duties, and prepare for the major review. No more cases of having the major review two days after the interim review, which has actually happened before!
  • We want the major review timeline for Adjuncts to mirror that of other Lecturers so that they can get their lump-sum payout faster.
  • We want to acknowledge that Intermittent Lecturers don’t always teach exactly one semester per academic year. If an Intermittent Lecturer does a lot of teaching, they should get to their major review sooner.
  • If a unit fails to conduct someone's review in a timely fashion, we want that person to get $500 per month missed and to be considered to have passed that particular review. This provision is intended to disincentivize not conducting an Employee’s review in a timely fashion. If people pass their reviews, they make more money. So if the unit hits an Employee in the wallet by blowing off a review, the Employee deserves some sort of financial compensation.
  • We’d like to bring the Continuing Renewal Review and remediation reviews in line with the two major reviews.
  • And finally, we’d like to delete XI.B.9.iv., an atavism left over from the first contract, from back in the days when people may not have been reviewed for twenty years. Now that performance reviews are much more regular phenomena, deleting this clause would help ensure each review prioritizes the period since the last review. For instance, if someone happened to get off to a rocky start over ten years ago, we don’t want that initial chapter in their relationship to the academic unit to haunt them in perpetuity.

The admin team had questions. I didn't really have answers. Luckily, I didn't need them. Especially after our team took breaks to consult and compile, Kirsten and Stevens, the respective grievance officers for the Ann Arbor and Flint campuses, were able to recall copious (anonymous) examples of Lecturers who had come to them with situations requiring the contractual solutions we've been offering.

A better, fairer, more equitable contract. We still want it. We'll still fight for it. And we still need everyone's support, whether inside or outside the bargaining unit. The admin bargaining team (the other folks) want next Friday off for a retreat. But then we'll be at UM-Dearborn on November 17, in Kochoff Hall B. After that, it's Thanksgiving weeeknd. But after that, on December 1, we'll be back in Ann Arbor, this time on Central Campus, at Palmer Commons in Great Lakes North. Bring yourself! Bring your colleagues! Bring your friends! Pack a lunch! Bring some grading! We've all been honored by the level of visible support we've already displayed. But with 1660 people currently in the bargaining unit, this marathon relay-race can accommodate a lot more team members. So come on by and run with the rest of us. We are all LEO!