Letter to the editor: support for faculty from a future educator


Photo courtesy of Ashleigh Dubie

Oakland University student Ashleigh Dubie.

Ashleigh Dubie, Contributor

Oakland University Vision Statement:

Oakland University will unlock the potential of individuals and leave a lasting impact on the world through the transformative power of education and research.

I am currently a part of the Oakland University student body; I am in my fifth year in the English Secondary Education program and have worked as a student employee for the past three years. I have worked for years to help our community grow through work on a land acknowledgement. In this pivotal moment of contract negotiations between the university and the faculty, I feel immense shame and anger towards my university. The faculty the administration has pitted themselves against has helped me become the person, student, and future educator that I am; they have helped me find my voice and my place in society. I recognize that I owe almost everything to them, so why can’t the administration do the same? 

I have been informed of the current contract negotiations from a variety of sources, including the faculty, OU AAUP, representatives of the administration, and the University Communications and Marketing Team. I am utterly disheartened to see the faculty being treated in such a disposable fashion; however, I am not fully surprised. Across the country and across grade levels, teachers and professors have been routinely reminded that they are not worth fair wages for their immense labor. Due to the fact that educators serve their communities, people often take them for granted. Institutions treat educators as an afterthought, as a resource that will never run dry. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I see the administration doing. They are taking more out of the faculty than they are putting in, as shown by the budget decisions over the past year and statements put out on behalf of the administration. 

Although student enrollment was down this past year, tuition still was raised for students, Oakland received federal funding to assist with COVID-19 hardships, and a brand new administration position is being added for this upcoming school year. The addition of this position is problematic due to the fact that OU already has more vice presidents than Michigan State University, which has more than twice the number of enrolled students. While the administration gets to add to their numbers and receive pay raises in some circumstances, they are seeking to slash healthcare and retirement benefits for faculty on top of forcing a 14% pay cut on average. Furthermore, they are seeking to take away autonomy from faculty by limiting their control over course scheduling and workload policing statements. 

A campus communication in the form of a university-wide email blast was sent out on August 30th on behalf of Oakland University as a whole. The university claims “many bargaining issues have been resolved as a result of respectful and productive negotiation discourse,” but this statement is intentionally framing the current negotiation status as being something other than the statuses of these other vague “issues.” To imply that the OU AAUP, the faculty union at Oakland, is acting in a way that is not respectful or productive is simply not true. Educators, laborers, fighting for their right to benefits and fair pay is not counterproductive. After reading this email, I felt gaslit by the university and by the administration’s bargaining team. For students who have not been keeping up with the bargaining diary or the proposals being presented by the administration, this letter was likely designed to pit them against the faculty and mislead them away from the reality of the situation. 

Through another email blast on September 2nd at 6:05 am, the University as a whole announced that the faculty is striking due to the contract negotiations. They failed to note in this email, however, that the contract set in place had expired at 1:00 am this same day. All they cared to assert was that students should still be attending classes (requesting that they break the picket line) for at least 15 minutes, that students are still responsible for completing assignments at this time, and that “public sector strikes are illegal under Michigan law.” Interestingly enough, they did not include this statement, or any regarding the legality of the current strike, in the social media post they released around the same time. To be extremely clear, the University is attempting to undercut the credibility of this strike, and the faculty participating in it, by claiming it is illegal. They are further trying to divide the community they claim to serve, all while attempting to save face with alumni and parents.

This entire situation has shocked me because of how much the administration is undercutting Oakland’s own vision statement. Oakland University claims to strive to “leave a lasting impact on the world through the transformative power of education and research,” and yet aims to bleed their own faculty dry through pay cuts and benefit slashes. I wonder how the university will transform the world through education without a strong faculty actually driving that. Education cannot be sustained on administrative pay raises and position additions. While these positions may benefit student success in direct (but more often in indirect and abstract) ways, there is no university without the faculty and there is no education without the faculty educating our community. 

I have been consistently reminded by a faculty member in the School of Education and Human Services that this country needs good teachers. At Oakland University, we have them. The faculty members that I have met throughout my five years have been some of the best teachers, researchers, and, most importantly, people I will likely ever meet. I implore the administration to recognize that, and frame the negotiations on that key point. 

The administration has an opportunity, a distinct choice, at this moment. They can choose to foster a community at Oakland University that values educators and uplifts the entire commonwealth, or they can suffocate the faculty and demonstrate how little community truly means to the Golden Grizzlies. The choice the administration makes will have a lasting impact on how prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, and other higher education communities view Oakland University.