As part of the West Michigan Federation of College Educators, we represent roughly 1,500 teachers in the Kalamazoo area. To ensure that our elected officials share our values of support for higher education and support for collective bargaining rights, we sent questionnaires to several candidates for local elected office this year. We asked the following questions:

1) In 2001, Michigan appropriated roughly $6,700 per student to higher education, by 2012 that number dwindled to $3,600 per student. Michigan should return to 2001 funding levels as soon as possible, to ensure that every student in Michigan has access to affordable, high quality higher education with a wide variety of course offerings, small class sizes and well-qualified, well-compensated instructors. Do you agree or disagree?

2) All employees have the right to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions, health care and other benefits, including enhanced job security and equitable treatment for all higher education faculty, including part-time instructors and graduate teaching assistants. Do you agree or disagree?

3) The collective bargaining rights of any employee should not be abridged by local, state or national law, nor should anyone benefit from the provisions of a labor union contract without paying a fair share cost for the administration of that contract. Do you agree or disagree?

After reviewing the responses at an open meeting on June 5, our Political Education Committee made recommendations to the WMFCE executive board and two weeks ago we voted to endorse the following candidates:

State Senate (20th District):  Sean McCann
State Representative (60th District):  David Buskirk & Jon Hoadley (both endorsed by AFT-Michigan)
State Representative (61st District):  John Fisher
Kalamazoo County Commission (#1):  Vicki Devould Buchanan-Cohn
Kalamazoo County Commission (#2):  Kevin Wordelman
Kalamazoo County Commission (#3):  John Taylor
Kalamazoo County Commission (#11):  Jamie Jager

We hope if you live in any of the districts listed above that you will consider supporting these candidates. Thank you for your consideration and for your support.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at presidenttauaft@gmail.com.

Yours in solidarity,

Eric Denby
President, Teaching Assistants Union

The American Association of University Professors at WMU published a report analyzing WMU's financial situation and their priorities. The data is a bit overwhelming but it is worth taking a look at. As you will see, any claim by the administration suggesting that WMU is unable to afford investing in the quality of the education is unfounded.

Greetings TAU members,

As many of you may be aware, the Graduate College recently organized a professional development seminar for graduate students for this coming July. The cost to graduate students is $200 (with a limited number of $100 scholarships available) for the 5 day seminar on teaching. Clearly, the Graduate College recognizes the importance of professional development for graduate students, however the execution of this seminar left me with many questions. Why hold a teaching seminar in July when many graduate students are not taking classes? Why make the seminar so expensive to very poorly paid graduate students? Why not ask GSAC (now GSA) and TAU to help fund this worthy endeavor, in addition to the limited number of scholarships offered by the Office of Faculty Development?

The TAU executive board agrees that professional development for graduate students, particularly focused on the often overlooked area of many of our careers — teaching, is extremely important. As such we would like to see professional development opportunities offered at WMU that are within realistic reach of a majority of graduate students.

The TAU executive board is holding a strategic planning session on July 10th to discuss how the union should focus it’s efforts in the coming academic year. We encourage anyone who is interested in coming up with a TAU-member headed strategy for graduate student teaching development to attend the TAU strategic planning session on July 10th from 12pm-4pm (Room 157, Bernhard Center). In addition to graduate student teaching development programs, we will also be discussing some of our goals for next year's contract negotiations, research professional development grants, how to better support international student TAs,
and many other issues important to creating an effective and supportive union.

We need the input of all TAU members in order to achieve our goals of creating a union capable of adequately supporting our members. Come meet the executive board of TAU, the candidates for the contract bargaining team, and many other members of your union. Bring your ideas for how to create a stronger union! If you plan on attending please RSVP.

See you all at noon on July 10th!

Sincerely,
Codie Stone on behalf of the Teaching Assistants Union Executive Board

Eric Denby, TAU President
Remarks before the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees
June 10, 2014

Greetings. I am Eric Denby, masters candidate in the History department and president of the Teaching Assistants Union. At your last meeting we asked you to act to charge all graduate assistant tuition at the residential tuition rate. We are here again today to ask you to adopt a fair tuition policy for your graduate assistants and we are disappointed to see that no action has been taken.

Nearly every day we hear from graduate students around campus worried about the effects of budget cuts in their departments, the struggle to make it through the summer without funding, and the fear that they won’t receive full funding next year. And then we see stories in the media about increasing administrative costs in higher education and exorbitant salaries for athletic coaches, who are often the highest paid employees on campus. It’s easy to worry that universities in Michigan and elsewhere are losing track of their core mission; that our focus and our dollars are slipping away from academic priorities and into other things.

Graduate assistant tuition is one area where this board can make a difference today by reinvesting millions into academic programs. And the best part is: it wouldn’t cost taxpayers or our students a dime.

Every year you decide how much WMU should spend on academics and the provost divides those funds among colleges and departments. Because graduate assistants at WMU -  like other schools - receive tuition remission, colleges are “charged” for graduate assistant tuition and must “pay back” about $5 million to the general fund, or one-third of the total graduate assistant allocation. Let me repeat, using last year as an example: you budgeted roughly $170 million for instructional expenses, the provost allocated just under $15 million for graduate assistants and our colleges “paid back” $5 million into the general fund for GA tuition.

While only one-third of our graduate assistants are non-residents, non-resident GA tuition accounts for $2.5 million per year, half of the total GA tuition budget. You could change this today by voting to charge graduate assistant tuition at residential rates.

If you did act today, and GA tuition were charged at resident rates, you could save our colleges more than $1.5 million next year. $1.5 million could be reinvested into our graduate programs to fund new assistantships, to make student health insurance more affordable and to make our graduate programs more globally competitive.

Without your leadership, we don’t expect anything to change, and our academic budgets will continue to subsidize non-academic expenses like coaching salaries. Please contact me any time if you would like to discuss this matter further. We need your help. Thank you.

(to view the memo provided to the board, click here)