Joint Union Council Town Hall levels scrutiny against administrators over layoffs

Nearly 100 students, faculty and staff attended the Joint Union Council Town Hall Meeting on April 19, which included discussion on Central Michigan University's impending budget cuts and layoffs.

The town hall was organized by the Union of Teaching Faculty to give instructors a chance to ask questions and give answers ahead of Friday's Budget Forum. That meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in French Auditorium.

Concerned faculty members and students filled the floor of the Bovee University Center auditorium on Wednesday, as the open panel discussion included insights and worries about CMU's $20 million budget deficit. They also shared thoughts on the expected 4 percent base budget cuts and layoffs that will affect at least two dozen university employees.

Panelists included David Jesuit, chair of Political Science and Administration, Wafa Hozien from Educational Leadership, UTF president Brian Coleman, AFSCME president Karen Witer, and UAW Local #6888 president Jamie Cotter, representing office professionals.

Members of CMU's administrative team were invited to attend and saved with two seats for top administrators along the panel. The seats remained empty throughout the town hall.

Among their chief complaints was the administration's mishandling of the crisis, Jesuit said. He added that laying off staff is not the best option.

“Somehow they’re not prepared for this and we come up 9 and 8 percent cuts and layoffs, and not filling staff positions, it doesn’t add up.” Jesuit said. “Their approach to me, is a flawed approached.”

Subsidies to University Athletics was also a heavy topic of debate, with some faculty members and staff expressing feel that their budget wasn't being cut enough. They also expressed concerns that University Athletics was getting too much breathing room in cuts from academic colleges. The university did not disclose direct cuts to athletic programs in a press release announcing Friday's Budget Forum.

“These tuition increases are funding essentially a part of the university that doesn’t generate revenues.” Jesuit said. “We’re pouring money down a black hole, and we’re gonna cut the parts of the university that relate to the core mission, and lay people off who are a part of this community, in order to fund this athletics program.”

For instructors and employees, many of them felt like administrators were more concerned with money management and approaching the college as a business, rather than a place of academic excellence.

“I don’t think our leadership has any foresight,” Jesuit said. “If they’re proposing cuts like this to the core mission of the university, I don’t think they know what we’re about because they’re gonna change our identity as a university.”

After receiving a question as to why is the deficit was happening, and why it was so large, Witer said she didn't know, noting that panelists were seeking the same answers.

“Accountability is one of the things that they (the administration) professed to be their core values,” Witer said. “Integrity, transparency, honestly, (we're) not feeling any of that. We are definitely going to make a presence on Friday, and these same questions are going to be asked.”

Neil Christiansen from the psychology department was vocal throughout the meeting. Christensen brought up the fact that no administrative salary cuts were announced in the press release. He felt this was wrong because their positions produce no revenue for the university whatsoever.

“The administration is blaming the budget problem on reduced credit hours,” Christiansen said. “Therefore its making cuts to the academic colleges, but the academic colleges are actually the ones generating revenue, they’re giving the biggest cuts to the colleges that generate the most revenue.”

Christiansen explained that when a business cuts areas that contribute the highest amounts of revenue, that business will suffer. In his view, that is what views the university is doing.

“These are supposed to be people (administration) who have degrees in accounting and finance and don’t they know that?” Christiansen asked. “I think they do, I think the cuts are ideological driven. I think they’re not business driven at all. They don’t put a value on general education, and so they’re taking a big cut out of (the College of Humanities and Social, and Behavioral Sciences), where (general education) lives.”

Waterford senior Autumn Gairaud spoke during the session, introducing the idea of students and faculty working together to address layoffs. She questioned what a united front would look like.

“What we are we actually going to do?” Gairaud said. “I know there are plenty of student leaders and activists on campus that would love to coordinate and be apart of those things, but those things have to be communicated to us to show up.”

Although the topics were not pleasant, the energy in the room was optimistic. Audience members cheered each other on after making striking statements and venting how they felt.

Moving forward, faculty and staff are asking what happens next following Friday's forum. They examined their next steps, with sociology professor Mary Senter suggesting that all faculty members attend the next week's Board of Trustees meeting with prepared questions to demand answers. Members at the town hall agreed and clapped in favor of the idea.

The CMU Board of Trustees meet at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 27 in the President's Conference Room. The room is located on the top floor of the UC.


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