Dr. Mead said the faculty are engaged in the work of providing students with the quality education they expect and deserve Ė the primary mission of the University.† The faculty work hard to accomplish this goal and deserve recognition, respect, and fair compensation.† For years the productivity levels have consistently been the highest in the state, while the compensation has stagnated at or near the bottom compared to other Michigan 2A universities.† We are opposed to a contract that will take money out of our pockets largely due to the impact of moving to a new health care plan.
Given the concerns about declining enrollment, administrators should be concerned about those high NMU productivity figures.† Prospective students and parents pay attention to the student/faculty ratios and ours contradict the message that NMU is a place that students can expect close personalized faculty/student interaction.† Faculty time, energy, and commitment makes up that difference through mentoring, specialized studies, supervision of student research projects and internships, and participation in extracurricular programs and activities.† Too often they feel that this effort is not recognized or valued but simply taken for granted.† Over the years working in these conditions has taken its toll affecting the ability of providing students with the quality education they deserve.† This situation cannot be sustained indefinitely.† When considering the enrollments that we face, the administration should remember that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.† Faculty staffing matters are crucially tied to enrollment issues, particularly retention, but we are largely excluded from enrollment and staffing decisions and discussions.† We are asked to submit our recommendations, the department head sends it upward, and it might as well disappear into a black hole.† Eventually, decisions come back down with little or no explanation of the criteria or program evaluations upon which we are based.† Faculty in the sciences are not thrilled about the proposed enrollment bonus because they say they can barely manage the students they already have, yet this is an area targeted for expansion in the administrationís enrollment improvement plan.† Three years ago, Frankie McCormick, a chemistry professor, came before the Board trying to draw attention to the fact that her department could not offer enough organic chemistry classes to meet the demand.† We asked her for an update yesterday and she said she just had a conversation with a student who will be transferring from Northern because she couldnít get into an organic chemistry class.†
Productivity expressed as faculty equivalences or student credit hours measures work output not people Ė numbers do not explain themselves, those figures mask internal variations and obscure the things of those people who are actually doing the work.† For almost a decade, NMU has increased the proportion of instruction done by contingent faculty, part of a major national trend, because part time and temporary workers are perceived as cheap and expendable.†† They are paid per class at a much lower rate than full time faculty and lack job security since they are usually hired from term to term.† They must be very dedicated instructors to persist in spite of these problems.† At the same time, many NMU faculty teach overloads, sometimes semester after semester, year after year, and not usually because they want to but because they need to pay their bills and/or they are afraid that their students and programs will suffer as a result.
The current sticking point in negotiations is the new health care plan.† The problem lies less in the cost of premiums, but rather in the fight faculty will experience if they actually use their healthcare due to higher deductibles and coinsurance rates and caps.† The negative impact of faculty families is a huge concern for us, but a quarter of the faculty, the contingent faculty, arenít covered by the health plan at all.
The effects of all these problems on junior faculty are also of great concern since they represent the future of the university because students really relate to their youth and energy and enthusiasm.†
(Dr. Mead introduces Ms. Sara Potter, an instructor in the department of Communications and Performance Studies.)
Going into my ninth year at NMU I am not, as one would quote, ďfearless in the face of anything.Ē† Iím actually quite afraid.† Every time I go and drop off my rent check or pay daycare, I wonder if there is going to be enough money in my bank account.† And every time I go to buy groceries, I wonder if there is going to be enough money in my envelope to pay for what I have in my cart.† As the world around us has changed, NMU has remained the same.† During my time here I have seen my net pay after taxes and health insurance remain relatively the same.† As the cost of housing has increased, as the cost of daycare and academic services has increased, as the cost of groceries and gas and frankly all other services have increased, Northern has remained the same.† Under the current package, our families and livelihoods wonít keep pace with the continued changes.† Our net bottom line will actually start to reflect losses that as a whole many of us cannot resurrect.† We will instead be forced to put food back on the shelves, and Iím not alone.† Here at NMU we have expert faculty, we carry with us instructional techniques that set us apart from peer institutions, but you know that already.† You have what you promote as high quality academic programming.† But stop for a minute when you think of these high quality standards and ask yourselves what it is that actually makes high quality.† Is it a faculty that participates in high level scholarship and mentor their students to do the same like McNair and Freshman Fellows that I have been both a part of?† Or is it faculty that are so stretched thin that they donít mentor and they donít research with students because instead theyíve gotten a secondary job teaching on line through another institution?† Is it faculty that spend four hours on a Sunday night mentoring their student organizations, help them plan and execute a philanthropic event that will raise thousands for charity that you can put in your marketing campaign?† Or a faculty member that canít or wonít simply because theyíve become so disillusioned over time that theyíre going to spend time searching for better wages?†
While I represent just one of your faculty, I represent a growing problem.† Iím tired.† And frankly, Iím tired of treading water, thatís what we call it at our house, treading water.† Iím faced with a reality that after this new contract I will be worse off than I was in 2007 Ė I was 23 in 2007.† While my neighborhood and my neighbors next door see pay increases of dollars per hour over the next five years, our wages will actually go back in time.† I personally stand to lose about $1,700 a year; thatís a pay cut, not a pay raise.† And even though I always thought this is where I would dedicate my career and raise my family, I simply donít feel like I can live and work here under this current proposal.
Young faculty come here eager and productive and we bring with us grants from public and private sectors, connections of graduate faculty, graduate schools, doctoral programs, doctoral committees, we are newly published and actively seeks students to do research with us. We, they, are all the future of NMU and as they saying goes, ďif you build it, they will come.Ē† Really?† Iím afraid we havenít built much that would allure a top prospective, top of their class faculty candidate.† Iím afraid that once they see that salary line on the job posting or hear of our troubles with wage stagnations over the last decade that theyíll just simply flip to the next screen.† Will they come here when an offer from another institution just a few hours away is considerably higher?† I fear not.† We are already in a difficult spot to recruit.† We have geography, weather, job prospects for spouses and partners, and now weíre setting ourselves up for variables that will reduce this pool even further.† We have seen failed searches and Iím afraid weíll see more.†
Remember when I mentioned that high quality academic programming?† What happens when competing offers come into those young, eager and productive faculty with their grants and their publishing numbers and they hit the road?† What happens to those young scholars in our classrooms that come to Northern for that connection?† In my class we often talk about ripple effects on a system when policies are passed.† This would be an example of a ripple effect.† Your enrollment questions, your retention efforts, become part of that ripple effect and should be a major factor when you consider the role faculty play in both.
Many of you graduated from Northern and I would hope that you would easily tout your education as being salient and a factor in your successes.† Great faculty give students great experiences, and great experiences are shared.† What will happen when those students donít have great experiences because they feel that that love for NMU is fading from that favorite professorís eyes?† Remember that NorthWind article, the one about how the Northern student rallied to save a favorite professorís job?† Thatís right.† Iím afraid that when students hear and see more of our experiences, that that will act as a deterrent for them.
While our tuition rates might be cheap, itís not the only thing bringing students here.† High quality academic programs do.† Substandard pay rates over time will begin to yield substandard work and students donít come to programs and institutions like that.† Iíll also appeal to you Ė consider the donations that may be affected if students arenít satisfied with the quality of education.† Thereís an institution out there right now that has 2,000 students that actually filed an appeal to get their financial aid back because they donít feel that they were given a quality education.
So I stand here today acknowledging that there is still plenty of work to do but there must be a way to balance things out so the ones working the hardest for you donít take the biggest hits.† These repeated blows, year after year, will not only affect our ability to keep food in our carts, but will affect your ability to carry out those high quality academic programs youíve worked so hard to promote.† As a former alum Dr. Mark Lovell said, ďAt Northern faculty members were a constant source of support and mentoring and developed close working relationships with students.† Itís the one thing that makes Northern special and unique.Ē† We are indeed special, but we are not ďon clearanceĒ so to speak.† Thereís more to me than just numbers on a spreadsheet.† And thereís more to me, more to NMU, than just me.† There are hundreds of professors just like me and thousands of students in our classrooms and in our communities that are all afraid of what the future will bring.†