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EMU-FT and EMU-AAUP Respond To EMU Budget Issues

Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University announced last weekthat a credit hour shortfall has caused a $4.5 - $5.5 million budget shortfall in this fiscal year.  To remedy that, up to 60 positions (both current employees and unfilled openings) will be eliminated across campus.  EMU's faculty and lecturers' unions responded yesterday with a joint press release saying that these issues are being driven by "bad management decisions."  Patrick Campion sat down with EMU-FT President, Daric Thorne, to discuss that message and what he sees as a vision for EMU's future.  

EDITOR'S NOTE: Transcript added 8:50 pm 02/01/2018

Patrick Campion:    I'm Patrick Campion for 89.1 WEMU. We have been following closely news from Eastern Michigan University related to enrollment, related to credit hours, and related specifically to budget. And last week you heard a conversation we had with their president, Dr. James Smith, regarding an announcement that a four and a half to five and a half million dollar cut is going to be made, in order for fiscal year '18 financial goals to come through. Primarily this is due to what they're looking at as a reduction in credit hours, the target was 478,000, they're now predicting it will be more like 470,000. And they've also announced that jobs are gonna be lost as a result of this, open positions eliminated, but also up to 60 positions across campus, between the two, being removed.

    With me today is the president of EMU chapter of the Federation of Teachers, Daric Thorne. Hello sir.

Daric Thorne:    Hello, how are you?

Patrick Campion:    I'm well, and so we're talking to you today as a result of a press release that came out yesterday, and just wanted to go over really quickly, for people that didn't see it. It's a joint press release from both the AAUP and the FT, which covers the teaching staff, for the most part almost, and the entire teaching staff here on the campus of Eastern, the faculty and the full-time and part-time lecturers. So, on Daric's part, he is the president of the Federation of Teachers, which is full- and part-time lecturers.

    And their press release was a take on what the university should be doing to address this budget gap, so Daric give me really quickly just a broad overview of your reaction when you first heard or saw the news that this budget cut was coming.

Daric Thorne:    Well, I'd like to say it was a surprise, but there have been rumors in the wind for some time that they were coming, but I will say that my reaction was definitely one of frustration.

Patrick Campion:    And I know that, yeah, what you're probably referring to is that around the beginning of this current fiscal year, Eastern Michigan University publicly announced that they were seeking those that were eligible for it to enter into early retirement and to take a buyout, and I don't remember specifically the number they were hoping would take advantage of that, but it ended up being much lower than what they were projecting there. So that was the beginning of the talk that some involuntary retirements, unfortunately is a bad way to refer to it, but that's essentially what's coming down the pipe.

Daric Thorne:    Yes, that's correct.

Patrick Campion:    So, I know that the budget has been a point of contention and a hot topic, not just recently, but for many years here on campus. And in a matter of fact, in the press release, you reference that the faculty senate put together a report about the state of the budget and resources here at Eastern, so tell me a little bit about that. When did that occur, and what was the result of that recommendation?

Daric Thorne:    Yeah, so I can tell you what I know about it. I'll first of all say that the Federation of Teachers, our full- and part-time lecturers are not a formal part of faculty senate, but we are occasionally invited out. We were not a part of the process that resulted in this committee's report, but in May of 2017, the faculty senate released, as I believe they do annually, their report from their Senate Budget and Resource committee. And this is, to my understanding, basically a committee which reviews how Eastern Michigan University is receiving their money and budgeting their money, and they provide some kind of basic oversight, although they have little formal control over how the money is spent, but they provide some oversight and criticism and feedback regarding how that money is spent.

Patrick Campion:    So, just to kind of describe it informally, it's kind of like an unofficial audit by representatives from the faculty?

Daric Thorne:    That's correct.

Patrick Campion:    And then they also take more than just making sure the numbers are correct, they look at that and say hey, here's where we think money could be allocated or moved around or spent better?

Daric Thorne:    Yep.

Patrick Campion:    Okay, so what was noted in here, from you, was that your position as president of the EMU FT, is basically the same as theirs, that looking at across the board cuts that, in your words, do not include athletics, administrative overhead, and serious solutions to student retention problems, as disingenuous from the start. So, looking at their report and from your own viewpoint, let's walk through those things a little bit.

    So athletics first, obviously that is a big topic here at Eastern Michigan University. What are your thoughts on the current state of athletic spending?

Daric Thorne:    Well, that's a-

Patrick Campion:    I know it's a loaded question.

Daric Thorne:    What's that?

Patrick Campion:    I know that's a loaded question.

Daric Thorne:    Well sure, it is a loaded question, and I think the report itself actually gives a couple of specific recommendations on that front, that I would have to go through here and find 'cause I don't have them memorized I'll admit, but the basic rule of thumb here is that if we're talking about cuts to staff, then we also have to be looking at where money is being spent. And there have been ... You know, we had a Vice report out last year regarding how athletics at Eastern Michigan University have ballooned and developed over the last couple of years. Not sure if you're familiar with that report, Patrick?

Patrick Campion:    Yes, yes, absolutely, and the HBO Real Sports report as well.

Daric Thorne:    Yeah, absolutely. There have been some complaints, and in fact the faculty senate report come out and talks about specific budget lines that have been moved around and added into athletics when it transitioned to an auxiliary back in 2016.

Patrick Campion:    Well I do know, and let's talk about that for a moment, that from the fiscal year '16 to '17, they were mandated, Athletics the department, to remove about a million dollars from their general fund allocation, so I know that they are being asked as a department, from the university, to make cuts. What I'm hearing, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that, from your perspective and the perspective of this faculty senate report, that's not enough.

Daric Thorne:    Well, the thing of it is I'm not even sure if it's enough because nobody's really talking to us about it. I mean, one of the principle problems that we have here, Patrick, is that we actually aren't part of this conversation. I reviewed the transcript and listened to the conversation that you had with President Smith, and he indicated that he'd been talking to unions that were affected by these layoffs, and it's kind of an amazing statement to me, because every unit is affected by these layoffs, both directly and indirectly, and a lot of our units are completely in the dark about this.

    The faculty union and the Federation of Teachers have no idea, officially, what percentages are being cut, where those cuts are coming from, how they're going to affect our programs. They don't really come out and have conversations with us about how they're allocating money, or even seek feedback into these things.

    And I also wanna be clear that these don't really appear to be discussions, as Smith has framed them, they appear to be discussions in the sense that they have a meeting, they're told this is what's going to happen, and there isn't a whole lot of discussion to be had about that.

Patrick Campion:    So as far as you're concerned, you don't know yet whether full- or part-time lecturers are going to be affected by this, because that's not a conversation you've had with the administration yet.

Daric Thorne:    So, to my knowledge, we're not going to be affected. We haven't been talked to about it ... We're not gonna be affected by it directly. We are going to be affected by it indirectly, in the short-term, as we lose support staff that we rely on for services that we use and our students use. In the long-term, decreasing credit hours at the university definitely have a direct impact, especially on part-time lecturers, and that's a reality that we're all aware of.

Patrick Campion:    Right, let's talk about that just for a second, too, for those that might not be aware. It's kind of a cascading effect, because full- and part-time lecturers are, and this is a vast oversimplification, they're in line behind tenure track faculty and professorial staff for classes if there's only one section of a course. And if you have three sections of a course, there suddenly reduced to two sections of a course, it's most likely that the full- or part-time lecturer staff would be the ones that are bumped out of that teaching position. Is that a fair summary of how that cascading effect works?

Daric Thorne:    Yeah, I think that's pretty fair. The order of assignment goes tenure, tenure track, then full-time, then part-time lecturers, and part-time lecturers basically fill the gaps where we need people working.

Patrick Campion:    Right, so the less credit hours, the less courses, the less sections of courses, it would stand to reason that it's going to primarily affect part-time lecturers first.

Daric Thorne:    Oh, absolutely, and so this semester, course are assigned, we're not going to see any layoffs this semester. But, come fall semester, depending on what the scheduled credit hours end up being, and what the actual credit hours end up being, we could definitely see some people lose work.

Patrick Campion:    Have you seen already, with this reduction in expected credit hours ... I'm assuming that sections of courses are not just set semester by semester, they're anticipating when they need to be scheduled and whatnot. Are you seeing from your represented staff, the full- and part-time lecturers already, that there were less people working in this current semester because of the drop in enrollment?

Daric Thorne:    So, I think your question has to be dressed in a much larger scale, because semester to semester can be difficult. There has historically always been a drop-off of semester credit hours offered in the winter semester, so we almost always see a decrease in part-time lecturers on campus in the winter.

    But if you look historically over the last two to three years, as the university has verified through their various statements and reports, as we've seen a decline in credit hours, yes of course we have definitely seen a decline in part-time lecturer staff on campus.

Patrick Campion:    Let's talk about the second point in that faculty senate report, which is administrative overhead. I know that that is, again, another topic that's frequently brought up, how much proportionally this university spends on its administration versus professorial and other instructional staff. Do you have, and was this report, when this was prepared, do you know, was research done about peer institutions and other colleges within our conference or within Eastern's size and scope and regional nature? Was it looked at how other universities stack their administrative costs in comparison? And then, past that, how other universities classify administrators, because that varies pretty wildly from place to place? Has a deep dive been done to look at how Eastern stacks up in the scheme of higher education as far as those costs are concerned?

Daric Thorne:    Well actually, so first of all, to my knowledge, I have no idea, but I do have to ask you a question, Patrick, is when you think of peer institutions, what comes to mind to you?

Patrick Campion:    It depends on which level you're looking at, and obviously the easiest ones are our MAC peers, which vary wildly because the institutions run in scope, the enrollment and whatnot, from a large degree, so Central, Western, Toledo certainly, because they're regionally the closest to us. But also, in my mind, I guess when we're doing comparisons we look at like Grand Valley, because they're also known as an institution that targets regionally, and is very geared towards education as one of the primary tenants of what they teach there.

    To a lesser degree, Oakland and Wayne State, just because they're right around the corner from us, and regionally would be affected the most by financial conditions within southeast Michigan like Eastern, so is that where you're getting at?

Daric Thorne:    Yeah, so actually, that, I think, is a fairly general understanding, anybody who kind of follows college and what universities are and where they rank, would probably come up with a very similar list to yours. When Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers, when we go into negotiations, the peer institutions that we look at for reference tend to be Western Michigan University, we look at Toledo, we look at Central Michigan. These are some of the same schools that you just named that we also look at. We also look at Oakland.

    So we have a very similar list in mind. Now, the degree to which the faculty senate looked into those comparisons, I couldn't tell you, but if I were doing those comparisons, as the administration, I would probably look at them, and I would also consider what their current financial situation is compared to Eastern's-

Patrick Campion:    Sure, yeah-

Daric Thorne:    -Make decisions about those cuts.

Patrick Campion:    You've got to look at their comparisons of professorial pay. You've got to look at their total annual budget. Obviously if ours $350 million at Eastern Michigan, and Central's I don't know off the top of my head, but it's $600 million, you would expect they would have a larger administration to accommodate a larger budget. Does that make sense?

Daric Thorne:    Yeah, absolutely. So we've also seen, and so I'd also be curious about this, and I would love to see the university respond to this, and I'd love to do this in a conversation with the university that I have yet to be invited to, but in the meantime one of my direct questions to them is, what about what we found to be an increase in administrative costs over time? We've seen, I believe, out in 2015 to 2016, we saw, and I might have those years slightly wrong, it might've been 2014 to 2015 we saw an increase of about $2.6 million for direct expenses on coaches, administrative salaries, and team travel at Eastern Michigan University.

    And we would love to see an explanation of why those costs were incurred? Why are we seeing ... Go ahead.

Patrick Campion:    I think that is a fair question, and I think that, beyond just the dollars and cents, I think that until recently, what hand been reported as the trend on the campus at Eastern, especially in Athletics, was an increase in staff, while many other departments were decreasing. An increase in budget, while many other departments were decreasing. And at a time where you're being asked to make cuts, disparity becomes a much larger issue, and frustration with an appearance of disparity.

    And I believe that's what you're getting at there, that we're looking at hey, our staff has decreased, in this department the support staff has decreased, so if affects our jobs. The number of courses being offered has decreased, so it affects the ability for part-time lecturers to get access to those courses. And we're being told across the board that Athletics, money went up. And hey, why are you investing over there and not over here? Is that kind of a fair summary of what could be causing that frustration?

Daric Thorne:    That is a fair summary of what's causing that frustration.

Patrick Campion:    And I don't think that's an unfair thing, especially at a time where there's been a public announcement that budget cuts are coming, everyone looks very carefully at their perception of fairness on this campus environment.

Daric Thorne:    Yeah, no, I definitely agree with you, but there's a little bit more I'd like to just add to that for context. In my department, I work in the Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology Department of Eastern Michigan University, we have one clerical worker in that department. She's a phenomenal resource to our department, and not only is she just a phenomenal resource, but she's an essential resource for that department. If we were to lose our secretarial staff, our one secretarial staff in that department, our department would suffer, not just because of the resources that the staff use, but because of how she interacts with students in the department and how she helps them out in getting overrides and providing information about who they need to talk to and coordinating the schedules.

    And that's just the tip of the iceberg. You have advising staff that fall under the professional technicals, which help our students get the classes they need to get to into, receive the advice they need in order to be successful students, who help us with retention rates, which is another massive problem at the university.

    And then of course you have our custodial and our groundskeepers, and our skilled trades folks, who are represented by [inaudible 00:16:57] on campus, and you're talking about people who keep our buildings clean, and keep the facilities in functioning order. And I don't know if you've had any conversations with people on campus over the last couple of years as we've been seeing cuts happening, but we know that buildings aren't being kept up in the same manner as they used to be, or at least that's the perception that we have. And that's not the fault of the workers, it's the fault of having fewer workers who are working as hard with more to do because there are less people to do that work.

    And it hurts our core academic mission, which is what we should be focusing on. And that's the core argument that we're making.

Patrick Campion:    Are you holding up then that, to a degree, Eastern Michigan University appears to be in a cycle of perpetual failure, that it is unable to meet financial goals year after year, and then things are getting sacrificed like upkeep, like investment in staff and whatnot, in order to just keep the place running, basically.

Daric Thorne:    I don't know if I would phrase it so dire as to say a cycle of failure, but it is a cycle that we've noticed and we have serious concerns about.

Patrick Campion:    Okay, so let's jump out that for a minute then. Obviously, the primary goal of the institution is to educate future generations. The nature of the interests of those students, where they are, how they'd like to be educated, the topics they're interested in, that evolves always. That's not a new thing, a new phenomenon, that the students coming through the university have vastly different interests now than they did 20 years ago, and 20 years before that.

Daric Thorne:    Absolutely.

Patrick Campion:    What's the next decade like at Eastern, and what role do the instructional staff that you represent, the full- and part-time lecturers, have in that? Is it a move to more online? Is it a move to consolidation of different divisions or different departments or different schools? Is it a changing the way that education is delivered at Eastern to be less tied to these brick and mortar buildings, which are hard to maintain, and more tied to new ways of delivering inside and outside the classroom? What's your vision as the president of the EMU FT for the next decade, and how would you recommend to your members that they make that happen?

Daric Thorne:    So that's an incredibly broad question that I would have a really hard time speculating about.

Patrick Campion:    Alright, you've got 30 seconds, no sorry. Yes, and I know that, trust me I understand that completely. I'm asking you to look into a crystal ball and provide a roadmap towards a brighter future, and summarize that, I get that. Okay, so let me simplify it. This is a yes or no question. Do you feel that fundamentally the way that education is delivered at Eastern needs to change in order to meet the future needs of those that'll be interested in pursuing higher education?

Daric Thorne:    I have a lot of problems with yes or no questions, I think the answer to your question is basically yes.

Patrick Campion:    Yeah, give me a larger answer if you'd like. I mean, I'm happy to hear a yes with a qualifier, or whatever you'd like, but-

Daric Thorne:    Well, the answer to your question is yes. I mean, the answer to your question is that yes, faculty, both part-time, full-time, tenure and tenure track, must always be aware of what's on the horizon, and be working to make that happen. We have a lot of people on campus, in my unit and in the tenure track and tenure units, that are interested in exploring what our students want, what do they need? Do they need more one-on-one service? Do they need more group coordination? Is an online component something that we would like to integrate more strongly into our programs? We're open to exploring all of those options.

Patrick Campion:    Okay, so let's branch out from there, the open to exploring piece, what is that contingent on? And let me just throw out my assumption, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, is it contingent on a better communication and working atmosphere with those that ultimately are responsible for making the decisions where that would go, the administrative staff, the executive administrative staff, and department heads, and people like that?

Daric Thorne:    Yes. The answer to your question is yes, and let me just follow up with that, and say that one of our concerns here is that there is a small cadre of people at the university who are making decisions that we don't have fully explained to us. And I can give you a list now, Patrick, of things that have been launched on us without notice. We have academic partnerships. We have the selling-off of our parking facility. We have the privatization of dining services on campus. We have this starfish program, which just came out, which I have people sending me emails and asking me what is starfish, it has to do with student retention, why hasn't someone met with us and had a detailed conversation about what that program is and what it's supposed to be accomplishing?

    We have a laundry list of items that just seem to come out of nowhere, that we're never a part of the conversation, that leave faculty and staff combined going, "What? What do you want us to do here?"

    What my vision is for the campus forward, if you want to know what my vision is, not my prediction but my vision, my vision for the Eastern Michigan University's campus is a more collaborative environment, where we aren't finding out about decisions, where we aren't the last to know, where we have a strongly democratic atmosphere that is embraced by both the administrators, staff, and faculty on campus that allows us to collaborate in good faith to develop a brighter future for the university.

    And that's what I would like to see on campus, that's what I think AAUP wants to see, and what our staff unions would also like to see, an opportunity for all of us to engage openly and democratically about how the university proceeds, instead of having a small cadre of people making decisions behind closed doors, dropping them on us, and expecting us to play catch-up. Which, first of all, we question a good number of those decisions. And second of all, how on earth are we expected to keep up with their expectations if we don't know what those expectations are, and we don't know how they're changing to begin with? It's a very concerning environment.

Patrick Campion:    Let's get to that, and let's say over the next few months, years, however long it takes, that a better relationship, a better communication path, a more transparent, a more democratic process emerges where those that are teaching are represented more fully, in your eyes, in the way that these decisions are made, and things are done in advance, and notification is given, especially for things that would impact them directly.

    Let's look at that, then, and we get to that place where you're working better together, and you're communicating better together. And that's the hope, because that is a great path towards a better future, when everybody's rowing in the same direction and knows what everyone else is doing. Do you get to a point where you start to look internally at the members you represent, and looking at those that are going to move forward with this and those that aren't? And what I'm getting at is, if it is proven that, through the work you've done together, that two different academic departments should combine to meet the needs of the students in the future, and that means losing instructional staff, is that a hard decision that people in your shoes are willing to make, if that working together is what everyone agrees may be part of a better solution moving forward?

Daric Thorne:    So, let's be frank about what the role of a union is on campus. A union's job is to represent its members, and to defend its members against violations of its contract with the administration. That is my basic role. We have legal requirements that, and I'm not gonna get too far in the weeds here with you, Patrick, but the reality is people, we have legal requirements to protect our members if they come to us, whether they're members or non-members. If we represent them and they have a violation of the contract, I have a legal obligation, and a moral obligation, to work and protect those members, and ensure that due process is in place.

    At the same time, part of our role on campus is to democratize the workplace. Part of our role on campus is to create an environment where the administration and labor can come together and say, we have worked out a common path forward, this is how we accomplish those goals. And while I will defend my people's work to the best of my ability, at the end of the day, there may come a time where we obviously cannot maintain a workforce, a contingent workforce, permanently.

    My larger goal is to see to it that part-time lecturers and full-time lecturers are making pathways into tenure and tenure track positions, and if we can come to agreements about how we can move people into those roles while maintaining the educational quality of the programs there, and talking about wages, salaries, benefits, and overall credit hours, I think that we have the basis for a conversation, yes.

Patrick Campion:    And so what you're saying is, you're not afraid to make the hard decisions as long as it's made in a trusting, and open, and as transparent as possible environment, and that you realize that you're being given the information you need in order to correctly make those difficult choices.

Daric Thorne:    That is absolutely the case.

Patrick Campion:    Daric, anything else you want to add moving forward here. I know that we're still in process with waiting for these final decisions to come down at Eastern Michigan University about what positions will be eliminated, and how that will impact staff. Is this just a wait and see game at this point, because you mentioned this is obviously going to affect the people you represent, or are you starting to have meetings or having discussions now in the interim just preparing people for what might happen?

Daric Thorne:    We're having conversations with our members about what might happen, absolutely. I'm also trying to engage, and successfully engaging in some cases, other unions on campus about what they need us to do. We do know for a fact that our unit is not directly or immediately impacted by the current rounds of layoffs, and so those layoffs are not really a fight that we are directly impacted by. But as I said earlier, we are indirectly impacted by them. And as the other locals on campus tell us what they need us to do to help them, or to work with them to achieve a stronger future for us at Eastern Michigan University, I'm always willing to have that conversation.

    And that invitation is extended to President Smith as well. I have read him say, and heard him say, on your program and other platforms, that he's open to conversations, and that he wants to have conversations. And that's been a standing invitation with President Smith for some time, we have been waiting to hear for him to engage us in a conversation, and we have an open door that has never been shadowed by his presence. So I look forward to hearing from President Smith, I hope to hear from him soon, and for the other locals on campus, the professional technicals, the clerical secretarial workers, and our [inaudible 00:28:54] folks on campus, I would ask them what do they need from us? I'm always happy to walk with them as they need.

Patrick Campion:    Daric Thorne, the president of the EMU chapter of the Federation of Teachers, tell us real quickly, if people would like to learn more about you or your organization, where do they go?

Daric Thorne:    Well, they can go on Facebook and look for Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers, they'll definitely find us there.

Patrick Campion:    Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your thoughts on this matter, Daric, we'll stay in touch as things develop here.

Daric Thorne:    Thank you Patrick, and have a great day.

Patrick Campion:    Thank you. This is 89.1 WEMU.

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