KALAMAZOO, MI – Contract negotiations between Western Michigan University and the union representing part-time instructors are moving to a mediation process, university officials said this week.
The university sought help from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on Monday, June 21, in the months-long negotiations between the university and the union, according to a press release from the university.
Negotiations began on April 16 and are continuing, on issues such as compensation, said Nancy Mansberger, director of academic labor relations at WMU.
Part-time instructors currently earn a minimum of $ 1,050 per credit hour, the university said. The union demanded significant increases in this rate of pay in the coming years, which Mansberger called “excessive”.
The current contract was negotiated in 2016, said Jasmine LaBine, president of the Professional Instructors Organization.
Part-time instructors don’t earn a living wage, LaBine said. Many employees teach at other establishments or work in retail to make ends meet. But all of the instructors work for WMU because they love their students and they love college, she said.
“Many members have taught for the university for decades, not just a few years, and most of our members have strong and lasting relationships with the university,” said LaBine. “But this longevity and commitment does not seem to be recognized time and time again in our interactions with the administrator.”
Part-time instructors are allowed to work a maximum of nine credit hours per semester or 21 credit hours per year, LaBine said. If teaching the maximum number of credit hours, a part-time instructor at the current rate would earn $ 22,050 per year.
While most instructors teach one course, LaBine said she teaches an average of three courses per semester, or nine credit hours.
A class requires 2.5 hours of teaching per week, but this does not include time spent grading, holding office hours, meeting students, developing courses, or doing other teaching tasks. , she said.
According to Mansberger, on average, part-time instructors teach about 15% of all WMU courses and 1.7 courses per semester compared to a full load of five courses.
“A common area of confusion is the inherently part-time nature of these positions,” she said. “These members of the WMU community help us deliver a high quality education each semester by balancing student enrollment needs with the faculty resources available in any given semester.”
According to a WMU survey of minimum rates at other two- and four-year establishments in the area, West Michigan currently pays nearly $ 200 per credit hour above the local market average of 852. $ per credit hour. According to the survey, WMU offers the second highest rate for part-time instructors among the institutions surveyed, the university said.
Data provided by the university does not identify the 20 institutions included in the survey. WMU will not share the names of the institutions because they were “granted anonymity as part of the investigation,” said Tony Proudfoot, the university’s vice president for marketing and strategic communications. Of the 20 establishments, 15 are four-year establishments and five are two-year establishments, Proudfoot said.
The president of the part-time faculty union said their members question the accuracy of salaries presented by other institutions and believe their peers are actually making more money.
LaBine said the union was “shocked” when the university asked for a mediator for the ongoing negotiations, saying instructors felt the parties were moving towards common ground.
The union’s first claim was a 43% increase for first level instructors and a 54% increase for instructors with a tenure-like status. The union also called for its members’ salaries to be increased two more times, first by 76% and again by 89%, over the next four fiscal years, the university said.
Mansberger called these demands “excessive, non-market and just not a burden that we are prepared to ask our students to bear.”
“We hope that mediation will speed up the process and lead to a mutually acceptable agreement in the near future,” Mansberger said.
LaBine said the first offer was not “what we expected to achieve,” and argued that adding 43% to a relatively “small” salary equates to a “relatively small” amount (in dollars). “.
“It’s really unfortunate that they seem to devalue the work we do with our students, the impact we have on our students,” LaBine said. “Calling any kind of excessive raise really means we’re not worth it. We don’t deserve any kind of security, any kind of living wage, no respect from the university.
LaBine said increasing instructor salaries does not place a financial burden on students. The union believes that the university is in good financial health and that the money could be redistributed.
“They make a lot of money with the courses that we teach, and we don’t see a lot of that money,” LaBine said.
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Union members are discouraged by the negotiations and find it difficult to continue in the profession while paying their bills, LaBine said.
“Western has the opportunity to be a leader in terms of changing the status quo around how (part-time) instructors are paid,” she said.
“The feeling that part-time instructors are just some sort of concert worker doing this for the sake of having fun is sort of the old-fashioned way of thinking about part-time instructors,” LaBine said. “We are a master’s level profession; most of us have been teaching for a long, long time. Some of us have taught very specific classes, and are the only ones qualified to teach those classes within our existing departments.
“There is a definite value out there that is unrecognized.”
Western part-time instructors plan to voice their concerns to the UMM board of directors at its 11 a.m. meeting on Thursday, June 24, she said.
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