Save Michigan from Brain Drain: Respect the Lecs!
These remarks were delivered by Lecturer Andrea Cardinal to university administration at a bargaining session on February 16, 2018
Firstly I’d like to acknowledge and give a very heartfelt thanks to the bargaining team and LEO staff. I have learned so much from you at these bargaining sessions, and I want you to know that as a unit, we appreciate your service tremendously. I want to assure you that your efforts on behalf o the lecturers and your dedication to this fight will not be for naught.
And thank you to the academic bargaining team for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today. Soon enough these meetings will conclude and we can go back to our regularly scheduled Fridays. But as Kirsten said at the conclusion of the re-scheduled bargaining on Monday, “this is not business as usual” so plow through we must. And we refuse to continue to be exploited.
My name is Andrea Cardinal and I am a Lecturer I at the Stamps School of Art & Design in Ann Arbor. I am also an alum of the University of Michigan, graduating in 2003 with a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Art & Design and a BA in the History of Art from LS&A.
I am the first person in my entire extended family to attend college. I was raised in and around Flint, MI where my father worked on the line at GM, as did much of my family, going back four generations—literally at the start of the automotive industry there. My mother worked at Wal-Mart for 25 years and because of her pittance hourly wage, I was able to afford to go to the University of Michigan with a generous financial aid package comprised of earned scholarships, need-based grants, and of course, loans (primarily unsubsidized). My parents were never without a job, they never missed work, and never lived above their means; literally the definition of “working poor.” Though we struggled, they instilled in me a strong work-ethic that I carried with me to Ann Arbor and I flourished here at the University.
At our “Big House” graduation, the keynote speech was delivered by then Governor Jennifer Granholm. Her overall message was simple: don’t leave. To a stadium filled with new Michigan grads, she was addressing the problem of “brain drain.” She implored us to go away for a time if we must, but to come back and foster our talents and expertise in the state of Michigan.
So here I am!
I am committed to this region. Even though I kept trying to leave! But the best opportunities and offers kept me here and shortly after earning my Master of Fine Arts in 2D Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art, I made the conscious decision to stay for good. I turned down an offer at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC, where I had a graduate internship, to continue my professional career and start a family here.
I am the sole proprietor of a freelance design firm, Tooth & Rag, that has been in Detroit for 12 years, focused primarily on exhibition design. My most recent contract win, which will begin shortly, is actually designing one of the wings of the new Natural History Museum here at the University.
And in 2011, along with two other UM alumni, I opened an artist studio and community space in the Northeast neighborhood of Detroit called Talking Dolls. We are in a light industrial building suited for all manner of fabrication and for 6 years I have directed an incubator residency for artists there, some of whom have then decided to make Detroit their permanent home. We have also fostered the practices of artists who have won National Endowment for the Arts, The Kresge Foundation, Knight Foundation, Creative Many, and Creative Capital grants. The space is a hive of activity where we issue experimental art and design infusing architecture, hip hop and electronic music, performance, and community organizing. I often take my students to this space to understand what a professional practice can look like. I have also hired former students consistently as paid summer interns.
In 2008 I took my first job as a college instructor at a for-profit school. I currently make the same exact amount that they paid me ten years ago. I have since taught at other universities in SE Michigan in addition to the University of Michigan, many times juggling full-time and a half schedules of courses between the universities. I am often given new courses I have never taught each semester because I am seen as adaptable and capable. I am one of the lecturers referred to by my co-workers who presented earlier in bargaining…I am doing the work of a Lecturer III and bringing positive visibility to the University in the Detroit art and larger communities, but I am being compensated as a Lec I, with no clear path to anything beyond a Lec II.
I am, gratefully, very, very busy. Yet I have still barely transcended the stratification of "working poor."
Because although my family of four falls within the very wide range of the federal definition of “middle class,” we still live paycheck to paycheck. I am still paying off considerable student debt and I am working three jobs in order to make ends meet. And my main source of income, as a lecturer, is contractual. I have zero guarantee of work from semester to semester, although I have been deemed irreplaceable by the administration of my school. But the reality is, by contract language, I am.
Your argument that we can continue to pay lecturers below a living wage because it is what the “market will bear” is not only morally unsound, it is missing a larger point. Not the point that I hope you have already absorbed within every fiber of your being—that we are worth more and you can more than afford to pay it, but the point that this is an opportunity for the University to take a leadership role in the national fight for fair compensation of contingent faculty.
Let’s do it. Let's actually be the leaders and best. Let’s set the market correction. Let’s be the pace car behind which peer institutions are attempting to keep up.
I know that I could leave academia and go back to design full-time and I would make significantly more than $60,000 per year. But why should I have to leave a job that I was made to do when you could just pay me fairly? I am a great teacher. And I am proud to serve my community in this capacity. And because my students know the value I bring to their education, they are willing to return the favor of support. They cannot tell the difference between their faculty—either TT or contingent, because we maintain the same standards and credentials. And the reality is, for our Stamps' students, most of them have primarily had lecturers—as we currently teach 65% of the total credit hours. They are abhorred when they learn about the two-tiered system, particularly with respect to compensation. Therefore, they are mobilizing.
Last weekend we held a poster and banner making workshop at our University’s gallery where over 100 people registered to learn about organizing and protesting in general, and the LEO bargaining specifically. We made ephemera that they are taking back to their schools and colleges, dorms and apartments. From the discussions with students since your response to our salary requests, they have attended the Regents' meeting on our behalf and are committed to attending the next open bargaining events. They are writing about the negotiations in their publications. And my students, of course, are making artwork. They are incensed by the systematic inequity and they are invested in ensuring their tuition dollars support their educators. They are paying attention to the administration’s responses to LEO and, as you’ve heard today, they won’t back down.
I am an artist and a designer because there is an enduring power in what we do. I have the ability to effect change through the visuals that I make. To energize like-minded individuals to mark themselves as allies. My students are learning this lesson directly from me. You may remember the posters I designed and hand-printed from the rally back in October. You may have seen the posters from the Regents’ Meeting last night. You will be seeing more of my work, more people activating my work, even if it is just one more job I have add to my list.