What does a 12+ year career at the University of Michigan-Flint look like?

We'll be bargaining in Flint this Friday, with counterproposals from the University on salary. In this guest post, Stephanie Irwin-Booms, a Lecturer II at UM-Flint's English Department reminds us why much higher salaries--and greater economic justice for lecs at all three campuses--will be a big part of any final contract that LEO signs on to. Be there on Friday to keep the pressure on!

It is sometimes hard to look at an experience with open eyes. When I think about my 12+ years at the University of Michigan-Flint, I am often only using one set of glasses: rose or pitch-dark.

Here is the view through the rose-colored classes. I have fond memories of my years at UM-Flint. The faculty and support staff are friendly and helpful. I have developed bonds that will last longer than my years as an instructor. The English Department faculty and staff helped me get 4 weeks off for the birth of my first son when it fell in the middle of a semester, as an emergency, two months earlier than planned. They also worked with me to get an online teaching schedule during the next semester when they didn’t have to do either. The University of Michigan-Flint allows me to support my family with medical and dental insurance. With a 7-year-old Autistic son, I have had to use all of my deductible several years running for his ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapy. If I had a different insurance plan, I might have had to pay all of the cost out of pocket: instead of $3,000 in one year, it could have been $140,000.  I am the second longest running Writing Faculty member in our department, and I have plans to stay another 20+ years. Sometimes I end the story here. But this isn’t the whole story.

I started my time at UM-Flint in Fall 2000, before we had LEO on our side. I lost all winter classes three years in a row and was forced to drop UM-Flint as an option for several years. They were only offering me one or two classes in the fall, and I knew what that meant for the Winter. During those first couple of years, I felt disconnected from other employees and my department.

That did change in Fall 2006. I came back with 3 classes and had reasonable assurance that I would get classes in the Winter as well. As years went by, I wasn’t the instructor who got bumped anymore, and I built my reputation as a quality Lecturer. I have been a solid part of the Faculty since then, teaching a class during the summer as well. These changes were made possible because I was part of LEO.

I only took four weeks off when my first child was born, and I was even more calculating when I had the second. I planned for a summer birth, so I wouldn’t have to ask for time-off when it isn’t a guarantee for Lecturer I or IIs. I have always worked, so often the task of caring for my children fell on my support system: my mother-in-law and other close family. I know many who don’t have that option.

Today as a Lecturer II, I still make under $40,000 base pay after working for UM-Flint since Fall 2000. This means I have other part-time jobs to help me earn a living wage. I am the primary earner in my family, but my husband isn’t far behind. We both work what might be considered “overtime.” I have been an instructor for 7 colleges since I started my career in 2000. I have taught at over 20 different campuses in that time-frame as well. I am down to three now and have been for a while, but like many others, I stress over every semester and whether I will struggle to pay bills (including a student loan) and if I will be comfortable in my ability to balance my work life with that of a husband, 5 year old, and 7 year old special needs child.  

After my time at the University of Michigan-Flint, I see where we were and where we have yet to go. What do I deserve as long-running faculty member at a prestigious University? Will it be possible to be a Lecturer here and have that be my only job title? Can I do that and support my family? Will I ever move on to Lecturer III? Will someone value the education and hard-fought teaching experience I have developed in my career?