BOT holds special meeting, hears student and faculty statements, discusses financial statements

Akasha Khalsa, Opinion Editor

NMU’s Board of Trustees (BOT) held a special meeting via Zoom, beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28, in which they approved the audited financial statements for the previous year, assessed the next year’s budget and heard many student and faculty members speak on topics of interest to the community.

“We are aware that there were comments made about trustees not appearing in person. However, we were on campus less than a month ago for a public meeting and we had comments at that time, so at this point in order to preserve the resources of the university we are meeting over Zoom,” BOT chair Tami Seavoy said at the start of the meeting.

Before any financial statements were assessed, many students and professors addressed the board. Many of their comments centered on funding for the sciences, and especially on ensuring fair compensation and teaching conditions for faculty.

“For the last 4 years, my colleagues and myself have presented information about departmental needs,” Assistant Professor of chemistry Alexander Wilson said. “The lack of sufficient timely action is now causing negative impacts on the student learning experience … This will be an enrollment issue. The faculty are frankly overworked and underpaid in my department, and I am sure this is not the case only in my department but elsewhere on campus. Over the past year, I’ve asked myself if I should remain at Northern.”

Associate Professor of Psychological Science and former Director of the Student Leader Fellowship Program echoed this sentiment in his own statement.

“You are the leaders in the most positionally powerful leadership roles at this university. You have the ability, and in fact, the responsibility, to influence the social conditions that either support or thwart our ability to experience these critical wellness nutrients,” Barch said. “I’m here to tell you that the faculty, staff and students at this university do not feel loved by you, we do not feel understood and we certainly do not feel valued or appreciated. If you missed the president’s forum last night I suggest you watch it to see some of the symptoms of the diagnosis I am making.”

Barch went on to ask the Board of Trustees to intervene in the ongoing contract negotiations process.

“Order the new executive team to offer a faculty contract that has a starting place in year one completely removes the 2020-21 contract concessions made by the faculty in good faith to get us through COVID,” Barch said. “Offer a contract that gives base salary raises across the board to keep up with the cost of living increases and provide individualized raises to move the underpaid closer to their market value.”

Chemistry professor Kathryn Newton addressed the BOT from her classroom.

“We need our sacrifices over the last year and a half to be acknowledged and respected with a contract that returns the real dollar value of our compensation to pre-pandemic levels,” Newton said.

Two of her students also addressed the Board, echoing her concerns. Other students also chimed in to share their own negative experiences which they claimed have happened as a result of underfunding and a lack of respect for their professors. 

“I can tell you as a student that I desire for my money and money sourced for my benefit to be used appropriately by being used first and foremost given to the people with this institution on their back. The faculty deserve to be compensated fairly, as they are what makes this university great,” junior medicinal plant chemistry major Delaney Brynn Anderson said.

Following these comments, the BOT approved the audited financial statements for the year ending on June 30, 2021.

Joshua Sullivan, an auditor from Rehmann accounting and advising firm reported that there was an increase of approximately $21.2 million in the university’s total assets, as well as a decrease in liabilities totaling approximately $8.7 million. This resulted in a net change of $32.3 million.

“We came away very satisfied and appreciative of not only just the work on the audit but the financial stewardship that has been shown by this university during these uncertain times, and we should be grateful for the fact that we are in a position where we have the opportunity to invest significant funds in our people, our facilities and our programs going forward,” Trustee member and President of the Veridea Group Mahaney said. “It’s not easy to balance a budget, let alone end up in a net positive position.”