Faculty at Eastern Michigan University on strike

Just a week after classes began at Eastern Michigan University, faculty were not in the classrooms but instead out on the picket line, fighting for a fair contract so they can get back to what they love best: serving their students. 

Caren Putzu
Caren Putzu

Members of the Eastern Michigan University chapter of the American Association of University Professors voted 91 percent in favor of authorizing the strike by more than 500 tenured and tenure-track faculty. They cite the administration’s repeated failure to bargain in good faith.

“It’s truly unfortunate that the EMU administration’s failure at the bargaining table will cause delay and disruption for our students,” says Mohamed El-Sayed, professor of engineering at EMU and president of EMU-AAUP. “We will not be in our classrooms, … but our negotiating team will be at the bargaining table. We’re looking for solutions that support our students and set the stage for quality education at EMU for the long term.”

EMU’s instructional budget has been slashed by $11 million since 2017, according to EMU-AAUP, and faculty wages are among the lowest in the Mid-American Conference; for four years they have failed to keep pace with inflation. Faculty ranks have thinned by about 25 percent in the last five years.

Now the administration wants to diminish healthcare benefits: It has proposed increases high enough to cancel out small pay raises, adding up to an overall decrease in compensation. To make matters worse, those healthcare costs are some $5,000 higher than what administrators themselves pay for similar plans.

Eastern Michigan University strikers
credit: @JulieMSchmid via Twitter

These high costs are no joke to faculty members like Caren Putzu, whose expenses included not just the usual costs like housing, transportation and healthcare but also student debt. Like so many academics, Putzu took out student loans to earn the credentials she needed to do her work. Her union helped guide her through applying for student loan relief—a process recently made more accessible due to policy changes the AFT and its affiliates fought for—and, just as her local went on strike, Putzu learned her $96,000 in student loan debt had been erased. “Of course I’m supporting the strike,” she says from the picket line. “We deserve fair pay and healthcare for everyone. Isn’t that what union solidarity is about?”

“The faculty at EMU are dedicated, highly qualified individuals that truly make a college education at Eastern a worthwhile investment,” says Hannah Aleman Taylor, an educator who graduated in 2021. “Their support continues past the bounds of a degree program and helps to create connections to enable student and alumni to succeed in their fields.”

“Since beginning my program, my professors have played a huge part in not only my growth as a future music educator, but who I have become as a human being,” says music student Katy Suminski. “They deserve to work under terms that allow them not only to survive but to thrive and continue being the immensely passionate educators we know them to be. Discounting their efforts is a huge misstep on the university’s part, and it is my hope that these words of support help remind EMU who it is that makes this place truly great.”

“Our message to EMU students, parents and alumni is simple,” says Matt Kirkpatrick, associate professor of English language and literature at EMU and chair of the EMU-AAUP negotiating team. “EMU faculty are standing up for you and for quality education. But the EMU administration has let you down, raising their own salaries while trying to reduce our compensation, and repeatedly failing to bargain in good faith.”

EMU-AAUP’s contract expired Aug. 31. The strike is scheduled to continue indefinitely.

To follow the spirited demonstrations and bargaining developments, see EMU-AAUP’s Twitter account and follow the hashtags #FairContractNow and #TruEMU.

[Virginia Myers]