My experience walking the AAUP picket lines


Tanner Trafelet

Picketers gathered near the Squirrel Road entrance of OU on the first day of classes on Thursday, Sept. 2.

The heavily covered contract negotiations between Oakland University administration and the OU American Association of University Professors (AAUP) resulted in two days of missed classes for students. That is, if your professors were in the AAUP and chose to participate in the labor strike, classrooms were left empty on Sept. 2 and 3. 

On Sept. 2 and 3, I was supposed to have class, but instead found the classrooms devoid of professors. As of Sept. 5, an agreement has been reached between administration and the AAUP, so I may now have professors in the courses I am paying OU for. 

During these days off, I decided to walk the picket lines at OU and see what the professors were really protesting for. I had many conversations with professors I had never met before, and even caught up with one I wasn’t expecting to conversate with. 

I was duly informed by several professors that they were not allowed to offer official comments ‒‒ as a result of AAUP directing all official inquiries of the professors to spokespeople ‒‒ and so I started talking to students present. 

The levels of knowability regarding the contract negotiations varied greatly, from some students being well informed, and some, similar to me, being cautiously distant, but still hoping that both sides bargain effectively enough to reinstate classes. 

“My name is Brady Jacot, and I’m a sophomore studying theatre, music and communication. I’m here to support the faculty, specifically in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD), because the SMTD is like a family. Everyone takes care of each other, and we must give back to them [our professors] as they have given so much to us,” Jacot said. “I just want to see everyone happy. I don’t know a ton of specifics, but I know there’s economic problems that need to be solved for everyone to go back to normal.”

Many of the students 8I spoke with had similar perspectives, in that the utterly precise details of the contract negotiations were unknown to them. Students also commented on how, conversely, protests and the ensuing labor strike would not have occurred over a small disagreement between OU’s administration and the union faculty. Rather, that this point had been reached because of a radical attempted restructuring of the relationship between faculty and their employer. 

“I’m Ethan Bradley and I’m studying philosophy and political science going into my fourth and final year. Right now, I am protesting to protect the benefits and working conditions of our faculty at OU,” Bradley said. “I want to see these language demands that the university is making get shut down…things like taking away the department chair’s ability to schedule classes, drastically affecting the effectiveness of tenure, so every professor can effectively be [fired] at will.”

A primary concern communicated to me by students was they hoped these negotiations would not set a precedent for future bargaining between professors and the university’s administration. The basic wish to consume the product (classes with instructors in them) provided by the service provider (OU) was common, given that the classes missed on Sept. 2 and 3 cost money.

“I’m Alex Rye, a senior in the English department,” Rye said. “Especially after everything they’ve [the professors] done with the last year’s pandemic ‒‒ to keep us educated and classes going ‒‒ it’s ridiculous how OU slaps them in the face like this. In the end…they are just hurting the students and themselves.”