Photo courtesy of Megan Jones
I write this letter as both an alum of Oakland University (BA, Creative Writing, 2018) and as a graduate student and teaching assistant elsewhere, hopeful for a future career in academia.
Coming into my first year at OU, I was an extremely quiet young woman, lacking in confidence and nearly constantly anxious. I took refuge, though, in my coursework. The classroom was a place where I was, for one of the first times in my life, truly comfortable. This is owed not to institutional bureaucracy, nor the soaring tuition rates that seem to go straight toward administrative pocketbooks, but to the countless faculty members who invest themselves wholly into their students day after day, semester after semester. Their devotion does not end with the assigned 1 hour and 27 minutes two times per week. When they’re not engaging in the classroom, instructors are holding office hours, grading, planning for the next semester, writing recommendation letters, advising, organizing events, securing esteemed authors for campus readings…the list goes on, and so, too, does the work.
And yet, the Board of Trustees refuses to properly acknowledge this work by fairly compensating the faculty who compose the beating heart of the university. The Board has proposed such unimaginable steps as cutting dental and vision benefits, annually increasing the contributions faculty would pay toward their health insurance plans by 5%, and significantly reducing the university’s contributions to faculty retirement funds. They cite a shrunken budget, and yet have managed to maintain (and consistently raise) administrative wages and benefits. The problem, then, is not the availability of funds, but the refusal to allocate those funds where they matter most.
As I write this, I consider my own students—a group of mainly freshman enrolled in their first required composition course. I consider the effort they are already putting into their work, even as our semester is just beginning, and my desire to always meet them, as well, with my own effort and enthusiasm. These twenty-four students are always on my mind, making me proud, concerned, grateful—even when I am not lesson-planning, grading, or leading class discussions.
In my few semesters of teaching freshman composition thus far, I have come to realize even further the amount of work and emotional labor that my own professors have put into their students for their entire careers. The many inspiring faculty members at OU have transformed me from an anxious young adult into a much more confident and sure writer and academic. Ten years ago, I could not have imagined standing in front of a classroom, twenty-four sets of eyes on me, engaging with students as we explore writing strategies and rhetorical concepts together. The immersive and deeply supportive education I received from professors across departments at OU led me directly to the path I am on today. It was not, to be clear, obtained by the endless construction or the swelling administrative pay rates, for which, it would seem, the funds are abundant.
If OU wants to continue to cultivate an inspiring environment of education and engagement, it must first invest in the core of its success: faculty. The university simply cannot ignore the necessity of competitive wages for all lecturers, nor the duty of providing benefits to ensure that the invaluable faculty members can comfortably lead their lives. The university, too, cannot expect its instructors to continue their intensive work for an institution that does not provide fair compensation for the astounding amount of mental, physical, and emotional demands required of faculty.
OU instructors—like the many who helped transform my personal and academic life, inspiring me to follow in their footsteps—consistently and tirelessly invest themselves in their students. It is time that the contracts ensure equal investment in the faculty that makes the university what it is.