Support the AAUP

WHY I SUPPORT THE UNION  Rebecca J. Mead (History Department), NMU-AAUP President

BeckeyWhen I went to graduate school I already knew that finding a full-time, tenure-track job would be difficult. By the time I finished, the “corporatization of the university” was well underway, making the challenge far more difficult. I became involved in efforts to organize a graduate student union, which ultimately succeeded after I finished school, and those activities involved a lot of discussion to explain why such an organization was necessary. After graduation, I spent several years teaching as an adjunct at four universities in two different states. When I interviewed for my job here at NMU, the existence of a strong faculty union was a big factor in my decision. I knew that the financial advantages would far outweigh the small cost of dues; more importantly, I felt more secure knowing that there would be someone “watching my back.” Luckily I never needed to seek the union’s help to deal with an individual problem, although that is what our chapter personnel spend a lot of time doing. I also knew that academic unions are committed to defending the larger principles of shared governance, academic freedom, and tenure, all of which are subject to attack or erosion if we are not vigilant. Recently we have witnessed the spectacle of Michigan becoming a Right to Work State. I ask myself why some interests spend so much time, money, and energy trying to weaken these organizations? The answer is simple: because they give workers collective power and voice that they would not have otherwise. A few days ago, the new governor of Illinois issued an executive order barring public sector unions from assessing “fair share” contributions, a fee which covers the cost of providing services to the members of a collective bargaining unit even if they choose not to become members of the union. The action seems designed to send the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, where several judges have already indicated their interest in overturning existing laws which authorize this practice. For the full story, with more discussions of its implications, see A union is only as strong as its membership. As a democratic organization, it depends on members’ contributions of time, money, and engaged involvement. A weak organization cannot win much at the bargaining table or enforce the resulting contract as effectively as a strong union group, a situation which would hurt us all if we let it happen.


David H. Wood, Ph.D., Distinguished Associate Professor of English, NMU Honors Program Director

David-WoodI came to NMU in 2007, fleeing a non-union, tenure-track position in another state, and attracted by any number of extraordinary things about the Upper Peninsula: the lake, the town, and the university. But the AAUP, for which I now serve as the English Department’s Faculty Council Representative, played an outsized role in confirming my decision to choose NMU, as its powerful presence and storied history speak to the sincerity of its members and our immense dedication to our students, our town, and our region. The AAUP’s long tradition at NMU, reaching back to the 1970s, has led to working conditions which, while not ideal, have been hard-fought-for, conditions we have been entrusted to guard zealously in these perilous times. Such conditions, to be frank, have enabled me to thrive here at NMU— in my teaching; in my academic research; and in my service as NMU Honors Program Director— in ways that I never thought possible back in 2007. It is absolutely crucial during this heated time of contract negotiations that we honor our union’s past by making our voices heard both loudly and clearly, that we seriously consider how fleeting those elements can be which we hold so dear: from clear promotion and tenure requirements, to the financial increases associated with fulfilling such requirements; from fair, on-load remuneration for mentoring graduate thesis work, to our attractive retirement benefits; from health care costs that are equitable for all, to the principle of shared governance itself. Our negotiations with administration must be productive, and must begin with the premise that our hard-earned AAUP benefits, as motivators of what led many of us here in the first place, must be preserved. Here’s for the “Eh, Eh, U.P.”! I hope for a long, long career here in the glorious Upper Peninsula, and I am convinced that it is our union that will strive to make that goal a reality.


Shelley Russell, Ph.D., Professor of Theatre, Communication and Performance Studies

SRussellMake no mistake. Our union keeps us moored to a more productive, better protected future. Some of us have been at NMU long enough to know what happens when the union is not strong. We have worked hard to form this powerful cord of professional goals among varied disciplines, and to weaken that link means a return to thin, easily broken individual threads. America’s past provides so many sad reminders here. There may be the occasional issue with the group trying to defend the rights of the one. But to weaken our union connection here at NMU means a step backward. The strength of us working together is seen in the success of our students and the growth of our professional connections internationally. And these individual achievements reflect the power of conscientiously cohesive efforts. I work in a department which includes several different disciplines. Perhaps partly because of our union affiliation, we support and celebrate the work of our colleagues, rather than feel the need to compete with them.


Martin Reinhardt, Ph.D., Chair/Assistant Professor, Center for Native American Studies

ReinhartI have been a faculty member in Native American Studies at NMU since 2010, and it has been one of the most rewarding experience in my life thus far. Prior to being part of the faculty, I had the privilege of also serving as the director of the Center for Native American Studies. This mixed faculty and administrative experience provides me with a healthy perspective on the relationship between these two groups.

In Anishinaabe Ojibway culture, we are taught that we must live in balance with the world around us. Education is for life’s sake, and the good life is only attainable by living in harmony with the other beings with whom we share existence.

There are forces at play on our campus that are leading us down a path of discord and disharmony. While some of these forces are new, some are rooted in the foundation of our University. It is important that we understand current issues against a backdrop of history so we can see how current and historical events are related.

NMU was founded during a time when my ancestors were being disenfranchised from our traditional homelands. NMU’s complicity in the exploitation of Anishinaabe lands by non-Native peoples and the subsequent subordination of our way of life remains to be accounted for.

Multiple generations have been party to educational interactions on our campus since its founding. Some have witnessed the worst and best types of behaviors that we as humans exhibit toward one another and other beings.

In our generation, we are witnessing “a radical defunding of state institutions of higher education” according to Julie Schmid who serves as the executive director for the AAUP. Schmid explains that this defunding comes with stagnation of faculty salaries, increased tuition, and overuse of contingent and adjunct faculty. We are also seeing more and more attacks on academic freedom and collective bargaining. All of which are clearly happening at NMU.

AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum asserts that faculty unions are at a critical crossroads. He states that “our profession and values are under attack through assaults on collective bargaining rights and shared governance, abuse of non-tenure track faculty (both full-time and part-time) and the consequent erosion of tenure.”

In the past, NMU faculty have been willing to share the burden of decreases in enrollment by paying more for our health care and agreeing to forego increases in our salaries. In return, we expected to be treated fairly and to have a significant role in leadership decision making at NMU, especially as it relates to teaching. We are now witnessing an unwillingness on behalf of the administration to negotiate at all in the collective bargaining process. This is happening at a time when we are also seeing a clustering of funding in upper level administrative positions.

I have recently proposed that a minimization of compensation for our work as faculty should logically result in the minimization of participation in NMU activities. It is time that we as faculty come together in a unified effort, reach out to the other unions, and demonstrate our collective displeasure for the direction our administration is taking our University. Respect our existence or expect our resistance.


Mary Pelton Cooper, PsyD., Professor of Psychology, Licensed Psychologist

MaryPCAlan Greenspan, in 1997, said that the basis for corporate economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively.
The Board and their administrators seem to want faculty insecurity because they don’t understand the inherent diminishing effect on quality of education from that model.
Due to their limited training, they have scant awareness that everything we do is accomplished in relationships that are effective only if trust and respect are mutual. The total failure this year to deal with challenges from the student newspaper, along with the final embarrassing outcome, is an example of a heavy handed business model applied to a university setting.

The students have been harmed emotionally, and they will go away with a cynical, embittered attitude. Dehumanizing practices at the top levels generate dehumanization at all levels. Our faculty association is imperfect. However, that is our responsibility. When we see a problem and ignore it, we become responsible for maintaining that problem. As a collective, we are able to stand up to dehumanizing behavior that comes from within our ranks, and we are also able to speak truth to administrative power. We can stand up to administrative ignorance and we can resist destructive strategies.

Some of our best and brightest faculty developed the NMU AAUP chapter. They gave us the retirement plan that has attracted high quality faculty. We owe it to them and to ourselves to improve our union when necessary, and stand together as a union to protect the integrity of this university. If they take our resources we will fight ignorance with wisdom and language.
Going on strike?? I’m in!


Phil Watts, Ph.D., Professor of Exercise Science, Health and Human Performance

Phil-2008-master-224x300I have been a member of the NMU AAUP Chapter since joining the faculty in 1978. There have been significant times when the collective voice of faculty, made through AAUP representation, has been critical for sustaining shared governance and academic quality. Personally, I have also experienced a few occasions when the AAUP representation did not work in my favor, and one instance where I felt devalued by an AAUP action. Still, AAUP organization is much better than the alternative of having no voice in the lifestyle we call academia.




Helen Kahn, Ph.D., Professor, School of Clinical Sciences/Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

helenI was a faculty member at non-union university before I came to NMU. There was disparity in teaching loads and assignments across that university, but the tenure and promotion requirements were the same for all faculty beyond one’s own department. I view our NMU-AAUP dues as an investment in collective bargaining at a very reasonable cost. Our working conditions and compensation are negotiated for all of us by our union. Our contract negotiation team keeps us informed, and I like having access to the data they present to us. You may not be a data geek like me, but our union allows us, everyone of us, a voice in the process. When we stand together, we all reap the benefits.



Jessica Thompson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication Studies

Jes-ThompsonA large part of my decision to come to Northern was because it was a unionized campus. During my on-campus interview, I was immediately impressed with the working conditions and benefits available. I had been an assistant professor at Colorado State University, and I witnessed outrageous abuses of power in tenure, promotion and retention decisions. Without collective bargaining, there was no mechanism to advocate for academic freedom and justice, or even negotiate a fair wage, a reasonable retirement plan or anything beyond the most basic health insurance plan. The non-unionized system pitted intellectual equals against each other, forcing them to compete for limited resources; in the end I was overworked, resentful and disheartened with academic life. Joining the faculty and the AAUP at NMU has rejuvenated my spirit in the institution of higher education. Here, we have a community of passionate professionals, and I deeply value the privilege we have to organize and be a collective bargaining unit. I guess you could say, I’m “Fearless in the Face of Right to Work!”


Dwight Brady, Ph.D., Professor, Communication and Performance Studies

DBrady-267x300Like many of my colleagues, I came to NMU because it was my first choice. I turned down an offer from a research one school in Virginia because the path to promotion and tenure was too rigid and hostility among faculty was evident even during the interview process. I was about one week away from accepting a tenure-earning position at another university here in Michigan, when I interviewed at NMU. Even though the financials were similar, it was the working conditions that helped clinched the deal for me. NMU faculty teach a three course load, and the other university was on a four course (3 credit/course) load per semester.

In making my decision, I also considered the requirements for promotion and tenure. Thanks to strong self-governance at NMU, creative projects like documentaries counted toward promotion in my discipline. This has allowed me to pursue a number of productive collaborations with students and our Public Broadcasting staff at NMU.

Had the union not negotiated the aforementioned working conditions and self-governance issues in prior contracts, I would likely be at a competing university in Michigan. I am glad I came to NMU, and on July 1, I will be more than happy to continue paying my dues to the NMU- AAUP.


Dr. Lesley Putman, Ph D, Professor of Chemistry, NMU AAUP Data Analyst

leslieThe amazing benefits I have enjoyed while employed here (the best retirement package of all public universities in Michigan) would not be possible without the union. Why would a university choose to give such a good retirement package if no other universities are that generous with retirement? They wouldn’t. Our contract is a package deal and we agree to do things we may not want to do and in turn can enjoy some benefits they don’t want to give us.

Just the process of negotiating our contract every few years benefits us. Having been involved in several negotiating teams, as grueling as the process can be, it is an opportunity to educate the administration about what we do and what is important to us. I’m always surprised at what they don’t know about our jobs. Without the union, the administration would make decisions just based on the bottom dollar and what they perceive as important.


Sirpa Heide Nelson Contingent Assistant Professor English Department

Sirpa_0-150x150I support the union because solidarity isn’t just a concept to me. Having lived in France, I learned that there is no equality without unions. The union makes me feel strong, connected and informed. The union cares about the working conditions of contingent faculty like me. The AAUP helps remind me that we are all equal.




Jeanne M. Lorentzen, Ph.D. Department of Sociology and Anthropology Northern Michigan University

There is a general social trend in which workers (including faculty in higher education) are being compelled to work more and more, for less and less. This trend has increased dramatically in the last decade, in large part because the loss of union membership has resulted in the falling status and power of unions to get workers’ demands met. Certainly all organizations are flawed, but I choose to strongly support unions in general, and my union in particular because without it (meaning all of its members, not just the executive committee) I would have unfairly been denied tenure.


Monica L. Nordeen, LMSW Counseling & Consultation Services

I LOVE my Union and I hope to remain a full partner in it after the new contract is completed!
If you would like to be included in this list of testimonials, send your comments to Dwight Brady at

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