Assertions & Responses

EMU Administration responses to assertions in email regarding 3/15 rally

The email circulated on Monday, March 12 by the EMU AAUP regarding a rally on Thursday March 15 contains a variety of assertions and statements that merit correction or clarification.

Those assertions include:

Assertion: “We finally have concrete information about how mismanagement and poor business decisions by EMU administrators will affect our jobs, our students and our university.”

Response: Budget information at Eastern is widely available and shared regularly. For example, it was widely shared that additional budget reductions would be needed when EMU passed the budget this year, in Higher Learning Commission documents from EMU that were widely disseminated this past semester.

More recently, the information regarding specific job actions came from a campus message last week, a communication that represents a continuing effort to keep the campus informed about job changes resulting from the budget cuts. These efforts include campus messages from the president, a November 2017 budget forum, regular updates to the University Budget Council, which is composed of EMU faculty and staff; and meetings with administrators and department heads.

Assertion: “EMU is challenged by declining enrollment and poor retention and graduation rates. Instead of listening to students and meeting their needs, EMU administrators have cut back on course offerings across the campus. This makes it much harder for students to graduate, giving them less reason to come here in the first place.”

Response: EMU has enrolled large classes of first year students in recent years and has moved aggressively to improve retention and graduation rates in a variety of ways. These efforts include significant investments in advising and support services, in living/learning communities, in online graduation evaluation software and strong support of transfer students. The impact of such moves is underscored by significant increases in student satisfaction with EMU’s professional advising staff support in the past few years. Nonetheless, as the trend of fewer students graduating from Michigan high schools continues, public universities across the country will continue to face challenges with enrollment and must therefore adjust resources to reflect those challenges.

Regarding class scheduling, it would be fiscally irresponsible not to adjust class sizes and offerings to budget realities. EMU’s class sizes are, in many cases, far smaller than its peers. The intent is not to limit opportunities, but to create less redundancy and more efficient administration of classes as revenues decrease.

Assertion: “Instead of building on the strength of online course offerings developed and taught by EMU faculty, EMU administrators have outsourced our online degree programs to an out-of-state company. Academic Partnerships, based in Texas, now collects 50% of tuition revenue from students in EMU online degree programs.”

Response: While frequently repeated by the union president, this characterization is false, a fact highlighted by a recent favorable arbitration outcome for the University.

Specifically, in partnering with Academic Partnerships (AP), EMU is INDEED building on the strength of existing programs. No new academic programs are added without faculty input and oversight, as guaranteed in collective bargaining agreements.

AP’s function with EMU is to recruit students nationally to enroll in EMU’s existing online programs, such as the RN to BSN program and the master’s in educational leadership. Through AP’s efforts, Eastern is now recruiting online students from around the nation – mid-career students it would not otherwise get through its more limited marketing resources. AP receives a marketing fee equal to 50 percent of the revenue from the new students it actually recruits for Eastern. In other words, through AP’s marketing efforts, EMU is realizing revenue it would not otherwise get and all marketing expenses are incurred by AP. It’s important to note that the recently received report from the Higher Learning Commission singled out EMU’s efforts to grow online enrollment as a positive element in its plans to grow revenues, counter present enrollment trends, and expand educational opportunities to non-traditional students.

Assertion: “EMU administrators are moving to outsource critical student services and operations – first dining, now parking. This will inevitably result in higher costs and a lower quality of services for students. How will that help our enrollment and retention problem?”

Response: The union president mischaracterizes the results and prospects of these relationships. Dining costs to students have not significantly increased and overall student satisfaction has increased. EMU took great care in creating partnerships that brought professional expertise to services that are not a part of the core academic mission of the University.

Evidence of our dining partnership’s success came in a 2017 student survey at Eastern that identified strong improvements over pre-Chartwells dining offerings, which were also measured in an earlier survey. The latest survey identified improved student satisfaction in terms of taste, speed of service, availability of healthy options and price/value. These survey results illustrate that students like the change to Chartwells, and are enjoying the increased offerings on campus.

The parking agreement also markedly benefits students, as it caps parking rate increases at significantly lower levels than in recent years. Annual increases will be capped at 5 percent for the first five years of the agreement – compared to an annual 17 percent average increase for students since 2010. After the initial five years, in 2022, the maximum annual increase will be 4 percent or the average annual increase in the Consumer Price Index for the preceding five years, whichever is greater.

The agreement also significantly enhances the University's parking operations – resulting in improved services, more capital investment/improvements to parking facilities, and more jobs for our community.

Regarding jobs, LAZ Parking has indicated it will hire eight employees compared to the five positions the University had in its parking operations. All current staff has either hired on with LAZ or moved to other positions at the University. LAZ already has conducted an employment fair on Eastern’s campus to recruit more student workers.

Assertion: “We need to cut administrative bloat, and make smart investments in our students. Instead of reducing the number of employees, we need to “right size” athletic spending!”

Response: EMU budgets are lean at all levels. In statewide budget metrics, EMU has received high marks for its relatively small administrative staff relative to its peers.

In addition, the athletics budget forms less than 10 percent of the University’s operating budget, and Athletics budgets have taken, and will continue to take, cuts to their operating budgets just like other units. But let’s also remember that our varsity athletes ARE EMU students, and many athletes are walk-ons or those with partial scholarships who represent an economic gain for the University – they would not attend Eastern were it not for the chance to compete at the NCAA level.

Assertion: “Thanks to our advocacy, administrators have been forced to say publicly they will not hire low-paid online “coaches” to teach our students.”

Response: Although extensively repeated by the union president, EMU did not seek to hire coaches to teach courses. The University has extensive collective bargaining agreements that structure the hiring of all instructors of record.

Assertion: “We have put the brakes on a complex financial transaction to outsource EMU parking lots. The Ypsilanti City Council was asked to put a rubber stamp on EMU’s plan to privatize our parking lots. Instead, after hearing from students, faculty and staff, City Council members voted to postpone a decision until they receive more information – and until EMU does a better job of consulting with stakeholders.”

Response: This statement mischaracterizes the sequence of events, along with what was heard at the City Council meeting this month. The University first announced its plans regarding the Parking system in May 2017. The parking agreement was discussed and approved by the EMU Board of Regents at its regular, public meeting on December 15, 2017. The City Council meeting focused on the issuance of tax exempt bonds and not the agreement itself. The parking agreement details have been repeatedly shared with campus and the media.

Why does this matter come before City Council? Because the federal Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 requires the financing and issuance of tax exempt notes be approved by a governmental entity having jurisdiction over the area where the project assets are located (i.e., Ypsilanti City Council).

It is important to note that the City Council's actions in this process are only related to the issuance of tax exempt bonds, not to approval of the project itself, which as noted has already received Board of Regents approval and will proceed. If necessary, non-tax exempt bonds will be issued that do not require City approval. If this were to happen, Eastern's upfront payment would be decreased, impacting the University's efforts to address the Higher Learning Commission mandate that Eastern implement plans to improve its financial position.

It also would affect planned capital improvements to academic and student buildings on campus that were announced previously, including renovations to Sill Hall, the Rec/IM, the Quirk/Sponberg Theatre building and the Science Complex, to expand lab space for the new neuroscience and fermentation science programs in that building. Funds from the parking agreement will be used to support financing those projects.

We respect the Ypsilanti City Council's actions to gather more information about Eastern Michigan's new parking arrangement, and again emphasize that the agreement significantly enhances the University's parking operations for students, faculty and staff.

Assertion: “We are pushing back on the attempts of the administration to reinterpret the contract and force faculty to teach overloads without overload pay.”

Response: The University will adhere to conditions of all collective bargaining agreements, as negotiated.

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