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Faculty Strike at Oakland University in Michigan

Faculty at Oakland University in the suburbs of Detroit went on strike September 2 against administration efforts to increase healthcare costs, slash retirement benefits, and cut compensation. Some students joined the picket line. A tentative agreement was announced today.

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ROCHESTER, MI — Faculty members represented by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at Oakland University (OU) in Rochester, MI went out on a two-day strike to oppose the OU administration’s proposal to increase the cost of care, slash retirement benefits, and cut compensation. This proposal is particularly egregious because faculty have been working under strained conditions and adjusting teaching modalities for the past year and a half amidst the ongoing pandemic. Considering the fact that OU increased student tuition by 4.2 percent, the university administration’s demand for cuts lacks any credible justification. The administration has even forbidden professors from pivoting face-to-face classes to online during the fall semester, despite the Delta variant raging across the country.

On the picket line, students and faculty gathered to protest against these new proposals by the OU administration, which only bring more instability and precarity to the university’s frontline educators and to students. As negotiations took place, the university — in a warning to students —  used its emergency alert system to urge students to cross the picket line and attend classes as usual. 

Students standing in solidarity with faculty have pointed to the support they’ve felt from their educators, especially during the last year. As one student noted, “The professors make up OU. They sacrificed a lot to teach during the pandemic.” Understandably, students recognize the administration’s treatment as a blatant slap in the face after educators made countless adjustments during the pandemic, including shifting the entire curriculum online while continuing to conduct meaningful, impactful lectures and classes. 

Karen Miller, president of the OU AAUP, outlined a few overarching demands faculty raised in negotiations: control of curriculum, control of layoffs, pay that covers inflation; and the end of merit pay, which the union opposes. The OU union leadership maintains that the educators in each department are the best stewards of their curriculum, while most administrators — who attempt to gain unilateral control over classes — have never taught a university class.

The OU AAUP chapter has 880 members, primarily tenure-track faculty, special lecturers, and special instructors. There are about 300 part-time lecturers who are not represented by the AAUP and do not have a union of their own. 

One striking faculty member told Left Voice, “We are witnessing the further corporatization of OU at a time when educators across the country and at all levels are being attacked for trying to contextualize persistent injustices. Rather than defend its stated mission, OU has simply decided to pile on.” 

A Tentative Agreement (TA) was reached between the union and the Oakland University administration on Saturday, September 4. While the details of the agreement are not immediately clear, the union sent a statement to the membership that the TA will be presented at a General Membership meeting of the union in the next couple of weeks.

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