Political candidacy policy ruled not in violation of act, office professionals union loses case

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday Central Michigan University's political candidacy policy is not in violation of the state's Political Activities by Public Employees Act.

The policy, adopted in 2008 by the CMU Board of Trustees, requires employees seeking or holding political office to achieve administrative approval.

It was passed immediately following the resignation of Gary Peters after he won a primary election for the House of Representatives. Peters, a democrat from Bloomfield Hills, was a professor of political science and a Griffin Endowed Chair.

In Dec. 2009, CMU’s office professionals union (UAW) filed a lawsuit claiming the policy was unlawful.

In August, 2010, the Isabella County Trial Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the UAW. The court sided with the university in that the policy is consistent with Michigan law. The UAW’s appeal to this decision was argued before the Michigan Court of Appeals on Nov. 2, 2011.

Under the policy, employees who seek or hold a political position in any federal, state, county or local office, part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid, are required to present a statement from his or her supervisor and the vice president, provost or president of CMU. The statement must attest that “appropriate arrangements have been made to ensure that their candidacy in no way will interfere with the full performance of their university work and that their candidacy will pose no conflict with professional standards or ethics.”

CMU and the FA agreed to the political candidacy policy during bargaining for the 2008-11 contract, said Matt Serra, director of faculty employee relations.

When the FA asked to renegotiate the policy, the administration denied.

“The Faculty Association believed the policy was too vague and subject to the whims of a future administration which may selectively try to discourage some candidacies while passing on others,” said James Hill, professor of political science, in January. “The administration refused to negotiate the policy, arguing that we silently agreed to it when we ratified the old contract."

As compromise, the administration allowed the FA to bargain the procedures that would be used to implement the policy. A special faculty team was created to do so, chaired by Hill.

The team drafted a procedure, which included criteria for administration to use. It stated decisions could not be made based on an employee’s political party, likelihood to win and their office sought or appointed to.

It also included an appeals process, details of application deadlines and clarified between a conflict of interest and a conflict of commitment.

The administration and FA tentatively agreed on the procedure at the beginning of the fall 2010 semester, Serra said. But the procedure has still not been implemented, because two university unions have yet to approve.

The supervisory technical union has also not approved the procedure, said Kevin Smart, director of employee relations.

Hill said Peters’ campaign did not hinder his ability to serve as a professor at CMU.

“Mr. Peters was an excellent chair who spent the same amount of effort as every other chair who succeeded him,” he said. “I am quite proud to say that a former Griffin chair went on to become a member of Congress, and unsuccessful efforts to try to force him to leave earlier than the primary were short-sighted politically and strategically.”

Peters serves the 9th congressional district, including Macomb County. After his district was eliminated, Peters announced he will run in the 14th district against Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit.

“U.S. Rep. Peters is proud of his work at CMU and thinks that everyone has a Constitutional right to run for public office,” said Jared Smith, communications director for Peters.

The policy is difficult to swallow for some political science faculty, especially since public service is part of CMU’s vision statement.

“I find it curious that the board [of trustees] and the administration want us to be service-oriented but then adopt a policy that makes it more difficult for faculty to run for office than it does for them to make money in the private sector,” Hill said. “It is particularly frustrating for those of us in political science who believe running for office is not just a right but a responsibility of all citizens who care about our democracy and want to have a role in influencing our democratic process.”



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