Faculty, staff labor unions at CMU are calling for a movement to oppose layoffs
As administrators finalize budget plans, labor unions at Central Michigan University are forming a resistance to oppose layoffs.
Union leaders met Monday as the Joint Union Council, with representation from the Faculty Association, the Union of Teaching Faculty, AFSCME and the UAW representing office professionals. The goal of the meeting was to discuss actions that might sway the university away from layoffs.
Announcements on layoffs are expected sometime in May.
The Joint Union Council's next steps include organizing dialogues with key administrators, speaking at upcoming Board of Trustees meetings, and enlisting student groups like Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE) and Central Michigan Action to help share their plight.
The next Board of Trustees meeting is at 8:30 a.m. on April 27 in the Bovee University Center President’s Conference Room.
Administrators are contemplating at least nine strategies that would deflate CMU’s projected two-year $20 million deficit — a situation President George Ross said was “certain” to include layoffs.
Members of the Joint Union Council are hoping to sway university officials to reduce the school’s largest subsidies — University Athletics and the College of Medicine — before laying off faculty members, office professionals and custodial-maintenance staff.
In order to do so, the Joint Union Council will have to fundamentally change the thinking of administrators when it comes to diagnosing the deficit’s root cause. Ross has consistently said the deficit is the product of low student credit hours, decreases in high school graduation rates and reduced state funding to higher education.
Members on the Joint Union Council believe the opposite is true.
Political science instructor David Jesuit is a member and former president of the Faculty Association. On Monday, Jesuit said the core of the deficit has to do with poor spending choices. He is concerned that while academic colleges are turning steady profits, the university continues to subsidize areas that are known for generating a net loss.
“We’re not in the business of making money, we’re about education,” Jesuit said. “We understand that we need a healthy financial system to have a healthy university financially to share knowledge. My questions are why are (our subsidies) growing and where does our money go?”
Diagnosing the root cause
Journalism professor Ed Simpson said that with the budget in mind, the university does not appear to be experiencing either a revenue or student headcount crisis.
“Clearly there is more money coming into the university than ever before,” Simpson said. “The crisis is on the expense side. They’re trying to make cuts in areas where money is coming in, so we have a disconnect between what they’re saying on one hand and what they’re doing on the other.”
An example: CMED was the only academic center that wasn’t expected to make a profit this year, according to the CMU’s 2016-17 operating budget. Its projected revenue was $16.8 million this year, with $24.2 million in operating expenses.
The university used $7.3 million in subsidies to help boost funding for the college. Barrie Wilkes, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services, said in October that CMED would most likely not see cuts because they are seeking reaccreditation.
University Athletics was expected to make $6.7 million in revenue, but spent $29.2 million in operating expenses in 2016-17, according to the budget. The university used $22.4 million in subsidies to boost University Athletics’ bottom line.
Joe Garrison, director of Financial Planning and Budgets, told Central Michigan Life in March that budget numbers are based on estimates and can fluctuate throughout the year. Wilkes added that athletics would not be immune to potential cuts.
For Jesuit, the millions of dollars in subsidies are alarming and so are the increases in spending in the president’s division, which more than doubled from $6.3 million in 2015-16 to $13.3 million this year.
Jesuit said on Tuesday that he and other union members are hoping to make a breakthrough with administrators.
At the very least, if they can’t convince university officials to change their minds, Jesuit hopes they can justify impending cuts to staff, course sections and increases in class sizes —all of which have been proposed as ways to balance the budget.
“I’m concerned that we’re getting away from the core mission of the university,” Jesuit said on Tuesday. “Let’s at least have a real discussion about these cuts. We’ve been given no justification that this will work.”
Union leaders are attempting to meet with Wilkes during a Joint Union Council session to start that dialogue.
Call it a crisis
Joint Union Council members also disagreed with Ross’ characterization of the deficit. In his remarks to the Academic Senate in March, Ross implored faculty, staff and students to stop calling the deficit “a crisis.”
Jesuit said he and other instructors feel the word “crisis” was an appropriate way to describe a $20 million loss that might end in layoffs. Last month, Wilkes told Central Michigan Life that the university was working on ways to find savings without a major reduction of staff and faculty.
Yet some academic colleges and departments have confirmed their plans for layoffs and reduced course selections.
Sue Murphy, an English instructor, said the College of Humanities, Social and Behavioral Studies will most likely lay off at least nine fixed-term faculty members in May.