Photo courtesy of Elijah Sanders
To The Administration of Oakland University,
This is not the letter I had hoped to write. These are the words I’d hoped I would never have to say. As I write this letter there is a knot in my stomach because I fear retaliation from those in power. I fear what might be said about me as a result of these words. The last thing that I want to be labeled as is a troublemaker, but I was taught to do what is right and what benefits the underprivileged, and so I cannot sit quietly any longer. I have tried to find a way to stay out of this fight but I cannot help myself. I cannot keep going without stopping for a moment to raise my voice with righteous indignation one final time and join this fight in the name of justice, equity, fairness, and truth. My name is Elijah Melvin Sanders. I am an undergraduate student at Oakland University where I have been attending since my freshman year. For most of my life I have been confined to a wheelchair but I haven’t let that stop me. Over several years here I have become a distinguished, well known, and well respected, student leader. I served in the Oakland University Student Congress from October 26, 2015-September 28, 2020, I was a member of the Oakland University Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega International Service Fraternity (Alpha Zeta Omicron Chapter) for several years, I helped draft the Bereavement Leave Policy at Oakland University with the student group known as Actively Moving Forward. I’ve sat directly across from Former OU President George Hynd as his guest at Sunset Terrace, I’ve sat in countless meetings with the Senior Vice-President for Student Affairs Glenn McIntosh, and I’ve even had the privilege of working with the Oakland University Alumni Association to connect with over 150 alumni of Oakland University, the list of which goes all the way back to 1973. To top it all off I am now preparing for graduation and am looking very seriously at the idea of returning to Oakland University as a Graduate Student in the School of Education and Human Services where I will be studying as a candidate for a Masters Degree in Teaching in Secondary Education.
I say all of this to tell you that Oakland University has a deeply rooted place in my heart. I have come to adopt many of the students of this university as friends; I view many of them as family, as a community. And so it pains me to tell you that I am ashamed. I am ashamed of the raw deal that the administration is giving to its faculty. I’m ashamed because I find that my university has failed to negotiate in good faith and would shame people for executing their right to protest by calling it “illegal” rather than working to improve the lives of the people who make Oakland University the family environment that I once thought it was. But perhaps I was wrong. The administration says that it “regrets that this faculty union strike is taking place, particularly given that public sector strikes are illegal under Michigan law. The university’s negotiating team urges faculty to teach and requests that non-faculty employees urge faculty to do the same.” I do not claim to see inside the hearts of those in the administration, I do not know their true intentions, but I can tell you this—as long as the administration of Oakland University continue to short change the faculty membership when it comes to things like pay raises and health benefits, their statement of “regret” rings hollow and amounts to little more than meaningless words.
And I must ask those in power—is this your idea of community? Is this a community where we enrich our students and teach them right from wrong? Or is this a community where we ask our students to work hard and reach for the stars while also turning our backs on the people who teach them how to make it in the first place? My second question is this: you say in your statement that you “urge faculty to teach and request that non-faculty employees urge faculty to do the same”. Once again I wonder—is this your idea of community? A place where good, honest people are backed into a corner and pressured to take an unfair deal at the urging of their fellow workers all of whom are simply trying to make ends meet? Is this your idea of community? A place where undertaking job action in the name of better working conditions is called illegal and where bright and hard working students are kept away from classes that we paid for simply because the administration refuses to heed the demands of faculty who simply are seeking the resources needed to live comfortably and without stress or strain from day to day? It pains me to say that the university which I love so deeply has become a shadow of its former self, it hurts me in the core of my soul to say that the family which I’ve built here now seems broken. And all I’m asking is that the family and the community which is so close to my heart is able to find its way back together again. And yet even with all of the pain that I feel I also feel hope.
I feel hope because the problems that are before this university can be solved. I feel hope because I know that our problems can be solved if the administration would only understand that attempting to be economical by placing undue burdens on the backs of its workers and giving them almost nothing in return is never a sound business model and will only lead to failure in the long run. I feel hope because I know that we can begin to rebuild this community and start moving forward if the administration would only do the right thing and come back to the negotiating table in good faith, we could rebuild and begin again if only the administration would meet the faculty half way and honor the vision of this university by aspiring to rise above differences, by putting students first, and by providing for a contract that is designed to meet people’s needs rather than kicking the can down the road or putting the important issues off for another day.
It is time that we have an honest conversation with ourselves. It is time that we face these issues head on. It is time that the administration stop making excuses and come to understand that their delay and denial tactics do more harm than good. Or is this their idea of community? A place where they can say “no, no no” and hope that we as faculty, as students, and as a community, will eventually get tired and go away. It is time that we admit a hard truth once and for all, it is time for us to admit that without students and faculty the campus of Oakland University would be nothing. It is time to admit that without students and faculty our campus is little more than empty, useless, office buildings that take up space. Perhaps the administration believes that the faculty and students will lose our courage, that we will eventually be weakened, and allow ourselves to be swept under the rug. Perhaps that is their idea of community. But it is not my vision of a community. I do not believe it is your idea of a community and I have a message for the administration: WE WILL NOT BE MOVED, we are tired of being passed over, pushed around, and short changed, and we will stick together for as long as it takes. We will win this fight, we will secure an equitable, fair, and honest contract, and we will begin moving forward again.
You may ask why it is that I am so confident that we will win this fight. It is because I believe in the words of Congressman John Lewis who once said “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something, do something, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” We will win this fight because this fight amounts to good trouble. I stand with the faculty because their cause is righteous, I stand with the faculty because their cause is just, I stand with the faculty because their cause is our cause, I stand with the faculty because I love my university but something has to change. Faculty and students are human beings with bills to pay, families to provide for, and lives to live. They deserve so much more and much better. At the end of the day I stand with the faculty because I stand with my fellow students and because we are going to emerge from this experience and rebuild this community into a better, stronger, and brighter OU for today, for tomorrow, and for all time to come!!!