AAUP speaks out concerning budget


Northern faculty concerned about President Les Wong’s public mention of a possible salary freeze want to convey a different message to students and the larger community: NMU faculty are already the lowest paid in the state, despite the fact that they’re also the most productive.

The NMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is hosting an informational table outside of Starbucks in the LRC this week to bolster that message and to offer the faculty union’s take on the budgetary challenges NMU faces.

Ronald Sundell, associate geography professor and president of the NMU chapter of the AAUP, said one of the union’s main concerns is the lack of information given to the faculty about the budget proposals.

“When President Wong asked faculty and staff if they would be willing to take a salary freeze, our initial feeling was (that) until we know the details, we can’t really answer that,” Sundell said. “What else are they going to cut? Are they going to take cost-saving steps within the administration? Before we know all the steps they are going to take, it’s hard to state our exact position.”

Graphs compiled by chemistry professor and union data analyst Lesley Putman show that the salaries of NMU professors, associate professors and assistant professors are the lowest when compared to similar universities in Michigan. These include Ferris State University, Eastern Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.

Also shown is the student-to-faculty ratio, calculated by dividing the total number of full-year students by total number full time faculty. NMU’s student-to-faculty ratio is larger than at other public universities in the same class.

Based on the higher education budgets proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan House of Representatives, and taking into account the operation costs and enrollment of the university, the administration has estimated a $4.6 million short fall of funding for the 2010 fiscal year.

President Les Wong said that the strategies being devised now are only looking ahead to help expected shortfalls, and that the administration will do all they can to preserve salaries and positions.

Wong said that a salary freeze would take care of about $2 million of the estimated $4.6 million, and would save positions from being terminated.

“We have heard from numerous employees who said if a freeze would save their jobs or the jobs of their colleagues, they would be willing to do it,” Wong said. “There are a lot of questions that cannot yet be answered, so it is fair for people to be hesitant . we want to make sure we sustain our efforts with the curriculum and students, and one way to do that is to freeze salaries.”

He said the administration has made sure to be straight forward with faculty and students about the upcoming changes that may be made.

“I have met with the union twice . continually I’ve said ‘we need ideas from you,’ and we also held the community forum about the budget,” Wong said. “I feel we’ve been pretty clear on laying out the process to everyone.”

Putting together a plan of action may prove more difficult, with the economy looking grim, it is impossible to tell if things will get better or worse.

The NMU administration has been working on budget reduction scenarios for the 2010 fiscal year.

Wong’s public comments on the scenario have raised the prospect of a campus-wide salary freeze, as well as the termination of some positions within departments.

State appropriations for NMU and other public universities are still unknown, so Northern administrators have not yet finalized a budget. Still, AAUP members are concerned, particularly because the union and administrators are about to enter contract negotiations. Faculty salaries, health care and other benefits will all be on the table this summer as the two sides try to come to terms. More broadly, the union is concerned about preserving shared governance, the principle that faculty and administrators will work together for the good of students and the university.

“People need to understand that the AAUP is not like an industrial union,” said Marcus Robyns , chapter historian and secretary of committee O, in charge of the organization and outreach of the AAUP. “Faculty unions have basic factors that are scared within higher education, which includes shared governance so that faculty has control over courses and a say in the budget.”

Cindy Paavola, director of communication and marketing, said the changes that need to be made must affect the core budget of the university rather than one-time funding.

For example, if Northern were sell a piece of property or equipment, it would only sold the problem for a limited amount of time.

She added that although it may seem like the AAUP and administration are at odds, they both have the university’s best interest in mind and will reach a compromise.

She added that after doing budget cuts for eight consecutive years, the only decisions left to make are hard ones.

“We want to save as many positions as possible . we value our employees, they add to the quality of this university,” she said.

“Students need to know that even though it may seem like the faculty and administration are disagreeing, we all still care about quality of education over anything else.”