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Part-Time WMU Instructors Protest Contract Impasse

Andy Robins

Part-time instructors at Western Michigan University are protesting a breakdown in contract negotiations.

The university has asked the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to arbitrate the dispute. Rob Zimmer is a spokesman for the Part-Time Instructors Organization. He told university trustees on Thursday, June 24, that Western isn't treating its members fairly.

"Some among the leadership of WMU are guided by a belief that we are little more than a temporary, disposable, contingent workforce whose contribution is limited to a few 'gateway' courses and that we're undeserving of equitable consideration. Nothing could be farther from the truth." Zimmer says so-called "gateway" classes are critical to the university's future.

"These are the courses that students take when they're exploring their futures. And if any of us thinks back to our early college days, we can probably recall either hearing about or experiencing first-hand the impact that a bad experience can have on a student's decision-making."

The university's labor negotiator told MLive that the union's request for a significant pay increase is, in her words, "excessive." But Zimmer says that's not true.

"At less than one percent of the budget, this is hardly the case. This is a misleading narrative that pits part-time instructors against students and families. We are some of those families and some of those students may well be our children."

WMU officials say the university's part-time instructors are already paid more than the "market rate" in the region.

Tuition, Room and Board Rates Rising

Tuition at Western Michigan University will go up this fall. University trustees approved the 3.2 percent increase for undergraduate students recommended by the administration. Western President Edward Montgomery says the move is necessary.

"The decision to set these rates is not taken lightly and made after careful consideration and comprehensive analysis. We understand the significance of these costs on our students and their families, and our operations team worked very hard to ensure that any cost changes are made with an eye on keeping and providing a quality education."

The university's vice-president for business and finance, Jan van der Kley, says the increases are relatively modest.

"Being mindful of pressures on our students and families, this is one percent lower than the tuition restraint language that's currently being proposed by either the governor or the State Senate."

The tuition increase will cost a typical student an extra $417 a year. Western is also raising room and board rates as well as rent at two of its three campus apartment complexes. The university did not raise tuition or room and board rates last year because of the pandemic.

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.
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