Rebuttal to SMTD Administration's Form Response to Letters of Protest

The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance (SMTD) has been sending out the below form email to concerned community members regarding the mistreatment of two long-serving Lecturers. Many people have contacted the school via various forms of media to protest retaliatory layoffs at SMTD targeting these Lecturers simply because they finally received raises to bring them to a living wage this year.

Read more background on the case here. We would like to offer a rebuttal and invite David Gier and other administrators to respond to the questions we raise.

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[Accessibility text—scroll down to skip] Dear Craig, 
On behalf of President Schlissel and the administration of the University of Michigan and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, I want to thank you for your letter of support for the status of LEO-represented lecturers at SMTD. 
Please know that we respect and value the contributions of our entire faculty and have a long history of hiring many talented lecturers who contribute substantially to the excellent educational experiences of our students.
We are, however, conducting a review of our entire instructional workforce, including all tenured, tenure-track and clinical faculty, lecturers and graduate student instructors. This review will include an examination of teaching loads and course enrollment. This is a normal part of what any school and college on our campus does on a regular basis. We will carefully follow the process outlined in the LEO contract, should there be any workload changes that affect lecturers. As the new dean at SMTD, I take my responsibility seriously to steward all of our school’s resources, including the valued members of our faculty – tenure track, clinical and lecturer alike – who share their talents and dedication each and every day to help our students thrive.
Thank you again for contacting me and sharing your thoughts.
Sincerely, 
David Gier, Dean
Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music

If SMTD wants to save money, it should consider setting the salaries of administrators far removed from the essential work of teaching at levels more commensurate with their modest contributions to their unit’s core mission.
— LEO Union Council

In the form letter, David Gier (“on behalf of Mark Schlissel and the administration of the University of Michigan and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance”) claims that the department is “conducting a review of [their] entire instructional workforce” and that “the review will include an examination of teaching loads and course enrollment” (emphasis ours). This statement raises at least three questions:


1) SHOULDN’T THIS REVIEW OF THE INSTRUCTIONAL WORKFORCE BE COMPLETED BEFORE DECIDING TO REDUCE THE TEACHING LOAD—AND INCOMES—OF DEDICATED, LONG-SERVING, HIGHLY EFFECTIVE LECTURERS?

2) IF ENOUGH OF THE REVIEW HAS BEEN COMPLETED TO MAKE CRITICAL STAFFING DECISIONS SUCH AS THIS, WHY HASN’T THAT PORTION OF THE REVIEW BEEN MADE PUBLIC AND SHARED WITH SMTD STUDENTS AND FACULTY?  

Those most affected by these changes surely have a right to know the criteria and reasoning employed to arrive at the conclusion that severely limiting student access to these excellent teachers is an improvement on the status quo.    

3) WHO LED THIS PROGRAM REVIEW AND AUTHORED ITS CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS? DID THIS GROUP INCLUDE ANY STUDENTS? HOW ABOUT LECTURERS?

The original justification for cutting these Lecturers’ classes—sent out in an email from the Chair of the Dance Department and since retracted—was that Lecturers have become too expensive due to the contract that our union negotiated with university administration in 2018.

The combined increase this year to the salaries of Missy Beck and Biza Sompa, the affected faculty members, was $14,188. By comparison, in a single year (from 2016 to 2017) SMTD administrator Christian Rafidi saw his salary increase by $32,671, from $183,690 to $216,361.

If SMTD wants to save money, it should consider setting the salaries of administrators far removed from the essential work of teaching at levels more commensurate with their modest contributions to their unit’s core mission. Or it could tie administrator pay increases to faculty averages.  Better yet, do both. Of course, if the program review was conducted largely by administrators paid like Rafidi, this approach to cost containment, however effective, will lack appeal.

In conclusion, we believe that the actions taken by the SMTD administration are a cynical attempt to punish their Lecturers and their union for winning a decent contract.   

The excuse put forward by Dean Gier smacks of administrative obfuscation and basic ass-covering as the school asserts its power over the lives of those who teach so many of its promising students.

leounion