Letter to the editor: My response to today’s OU email communication

Kenneth P. Mitton, Contributor

We all got another OU communication email today providing a warped spin on the nature of negotiations between my association (AAUP) and the university.

The email tries to indicate that it is unfair that professors have a free tuition benefit arrangement, while other employees do not. BUT, it fails to mention the critical point which is that the FACULTY VERSION of the tuition benefit is structure to be ZERO COST to Oakland University but it is not designed to be ZERO cost for other OU employees. Now, other OU employees do have tuition benefits, but because their system is not designed to be ZERO-COST, it is true extra money into total compensation benefits to their base salary.

Why is that? Because the faculty and OU, in cooperation, set up the faculty tuition benefit decades ago. It was brilliant for a smaller university that has a hard time recruiting top-notch young professors in competition with those who offer more pay. BRILLIANT because of its zero-cost design.

Most colleges and universities have some form of tuition benefit for faculty and employees. At Western University (London Ontario) our favorite cafeteria ladies used their tuition benefits to put all their kids through Western and get many of them off to med school. Polish Moms work hard for their kids. Professors at UMich have tuition benefits too. However, tuition benefits to faculty at UMich and most other colleges are an extra cheque given to the employee. At Vanderbilt, faculty do not even need to spend it at Vanderbilt. They can use it to cover most tuition at an expensive school in NYC. Those are true costs to a university, financial benefits given to the employee. That is also how tuition benefits work for all the non-faculty employees at Oakland University who have some form of tuition benefit. (They have that benefit. They deserve that benefit. They need to keep it too.) Their kids take an OU class and OU writes some part of that cost off. That is NOT how it works for faculty.

As a former vice president and president of the OU-AAUP and bargaining team member in 2015, I am well aware of how the contract sets up the faculty tuition benefit.

OU’s faculty tuition benefit is clever and historically designed to help OU compete in the recruitment of faculty and cost OU nothing by this design:

1. Faculty agree to teach tuition benefit students by allowing an extra seat to be added to the class seat cap, and faculty agree to take no extra compensation for these extra tuition-benefit students. (i.e. We agree to teach tuition-benefit family members for free as a service of one professor to another.)

2. If there cannot be an increase in the course seat CAP, (i.e. physically limited lab bench spots), then the tuition benefit student can be bumped out of the class for a regular paying student, or they can decide to pay the full tuition for that course. OU can give them that choice. (It is up to OU to enforce that rule, but it is in their power based on the last contracts we have had to date.)

3. The tuition benefit student pays a fee equal to 10% of tuition to cover any of OU’s actual administrative costs.

Summary: unlike other OU employees who get tuition benefits as an extra financial benefit on top of compensation that has a real cost for the university, the faculty tuition benefit system is the little recruiting tool that costs OU nothing and helps us compete for many young faculty hires.

It is also a zero-cost benefit OU could give to Special Lecturers, who are now limited in credits they can benefit from, unlike full-time faculty, despite the fact that they are about 1/3rd of the pool of faculty who mutually agree to “teach each other’s kids for free”. OU has always resisted our request to let your SLs have the same benefit even though it would cost OU no true expense because SLs donate the free teaching too.

Then, on top of all of that, the faculty provide teaching for the tuition benefit service to non-faculty employees who get some tuition benefits even though most of them do not deliver any of the “teachings for free”. The faculty provide that teaching and we have never complained about that. We are happy to do this service.

I invite any OU administrator to discuss this with me live and prove to me the faculty tuition benefit costs anything but net ZERO to the university.

OU’s dance with equity.

Another bit of spin in my email from my employer today was that OU wants “equity” so faculty should have their health care benefits decreased to match lower benefits other OU employees are stuck with.

Balderdash. If OU wants “equity” then I call on Oakland University to let all other university employees pay the same rate as faculty by decreasing those employee’s health care contributions to the same rate as faculty have now. OU has already increased the faculty’s share of health care contributions over every contract I have been part of since 2001!

OU speaks of “equity” in official communications while leveraging “inequity” to wrangle compensation away from one employee group at a time, pitting one group against the other. Decreasing compensation to one group, then using that as a reason to knock down the other, and back and forth, and so on.
That is NOT how “equity” should be used or associated with any University’s brand if they do not want to tarnish that brand. I like my university and the current fight of our faculty in bargaining is very much essential to keeping Oakland University’s brand nice and golden.


Kenneth P. Mitton