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Member Organizing Institute Corner

Taylor Monday, Organizer

Kicking off the 2019-2020 AFT Michigan Member Organizing Institute, 6 members from the Teaching Assistants Union at Western Michigan University were trained how to have a 1:1 organizing conversation in early October. During training, members connected to the idea of honing in on their personal union story to help them build relationships with other teaching assistants on campus. In the 3 weeks since training, the 6 members have completed about 20 hours of 1:1 organizing conversations. Out of conversations with 11 teaching assistants, 8 of them decided to join the union!! An awesome example of our collective union power. Great work!(Photo: TAU Member Organizer Juan Ramirez (L) with two new members)

Campus Free Speech Bills Introduced in Michigan House

Julie Rowe, Legislative Mobilization Coordinator

In April, two bills aiming to regulate the handling of free speech at colleges and universities were introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives. House Bill 4435, called the Campus Free Speech Act, would limit a university’s ability to restrict “expressive conduct” in public areas if the restriction is:

·       necessary to achieve a compelling governmental interest and is viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral

·       leaves open ample alternative opportunities to engage in expressive conduct

·       allows for spontaneous assembly and distribution of literature

·       does not quarantine speech to zones

House Bill 4436 would create the College Campus Intellectual and Expressive Freedom Act, which would require public institutions of higher education to develop and adopt a policy on free expression. The bill outlines eight specific statements institutions must adopt.

HB 4435 still awaits action in the House Oversight Committee. In August, the Oversight Committee made some minor changes to HB 4436 and voted to send that version to the House Judiciary Committee for further review. It is unclear how likely it is that either bill will be considered by the full House. Many lawmakers and Governor Whitmer’s administration have significant concerns about the legislation.

AFT Michigan, along with the Michigan ACLU, the Michigan Association of State Universities, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the Michigan Community College Association, and many other organizations, is opposed to the bills.  

Click here to read the bills and the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency analysis of the legislation.

Stagnant State Funding for Community Colleges and Universities Continues in Final Budget  

Julie Rowe, Legislative Mobilization Coordinator

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed budgets appropriating funds to Michigan community colleges and university on September 30. While the governor made nearly $1 billion in line-item vetoes to the state budget, very little was cut from higher education institutions. She did strike a $35 million line item that provided grant funding for Michigan students attending private colleges and universities in Michigan.  

The budgets for Community Colleges and Universities developed by Republican legislative leaders fell far below the funding proposed by Governor Whitmer. Republican lawmakers only allocated increases of 1 percent for universities and community colleges, which fail to keep up with inflation or take into account decades of disinvestment.

“If we were giving out awards for budget work, Republicans wouldn’t even get a participation ribbon. It’s very clear they’re not taking their duties to fund higher education seriously,” AFT Michigan David Hecker, said in a press statement. “The measly increases for universities and community colleges outlined in this budget fail to address the huge problems of the student loan crisis and the decades of disinvestment we need to make up for to improve higher education access and outcomes. Their budgets don’t even come close to the funding outlined in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal, which Republicans ignored for months while they went on vacation.”

Click here for details on the community colleges budget and click here for the universities budget.

In 2001, the state spent $1.95 billion on Michigan’s public universities. Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be $2.75 billion today. In this year’s budget, the total universities’ budget will be $1.67 billion. In 2001, the state spent $320 million on community colleges. Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be $462 million today. Yet the Republican Legislature passed a budget with total community college funding of $408 million.

On September 6, The Century Foundation issued a new report documenting that Michigan has some of the highest public tuition levels in the nation—largely due to sharp cuts in state funding. Some disturbing trends include:

· State lawmakers have reduced per student funding for university operations and grant aid to students, leaving Michigan students and their families to shoulder the cost of college, despite increasingly fragile family finances. For lower-income families, the total cost of attendance after aid averages about one-third of household income for a public university, and one-sixth for a community college.

· Access and affordability vary greatly by geography, race, income, and age, underscoring the importance of financial accessibility across institutions and for nontraditional college students. State grant aid is virtually unavailable for adults, and the financial burden for a median-income Michigan family can increase by as much as 50 percent from one county to another.

· Student debt is rising: student loan borrowers graduate from Michigan bachelor’s degree programs with more than $31,000 in debt, on average, and since 2000, the average student debt burden among graduates of public universities has increased 43 percent.

Clery Reports Detail Sexual Assaults on Michigan Campuses

Jon Curtiss, Organizer & Field Rep

The federal Clery Act, signed in 1990, requires colleges and universities to publicize information about crime — including sexual assault — on and near their campuses. According to recently released Cleary reports, several Michigan campuses reported increases in reported sexual assaults in 2018. (Clery Reports delineate sexual assault into four categories: rape, fondling, incest, and statutory rape.)

•       CMU reported 12 rapes in 2018 rapes, up from 5 in 2017.

•       EMU reported 20 rapes in 2018, up from 9 in 2018.

•       Ferris saw an increase in reported rapes from 3 in 2017 to 7 in 2018.

•       MSU reported 1,037 rape cases in 2018 — most of which are attributed to Larry Nassar (In February, the U.S. Department of Education concluded that MSU violated the Clery Act for years, posing a threat to the campus).

•       UM reported 45 rapes in 2018, up from 18 reported in 2017.

•       WMU saw a decrease — with 7 rapes reported in 2018, down from 13 cases in 2017.

•       Wayne State also reported a decrease with one rape reported in 2018 and 9 reported in 2017.

At last year’s AFT Michigan Convention, we created a committee to focus on sexual assault on campus, which is creating recommended best practices for our institutions. If anyone is interested in the committee’s work, you can contact Julie Rowe at

2019 AFT Higher Education Conference

Sonya Alvarado, Field Rep

This past weekend, the AFT Higher Education Leadership Conference took place at the Maritime Institute near Baltimore, MD. Members from LEO at University of Michigan, P&AA from Wayne Community College, AFO and the Federation of Teachers at Henry Ford Community College, Association of Adjunct Faculty at Macomb Community College, and GEU at MSU attended.

The focus of the conference was “Navigating the Trump Years and Beyond.” Michigan was well represented in the presentations. Erin Lavin from LEO presented a workshop along with Carly Smith from the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY (New York) focused on building mass membership mobilization in contingent faculty locals that leads to big wins at the bargaining table. Sonya Alvarado from AFT Michigan worked with the Associate Director of the AFT Legal Department, Angela Thompson to develop a workshop on Title IX issues around mandatory reporting, investigations, and the potential changes to Title IX proposed by the DeVos-led Department of Education.

(Photo, L to R: Lynn Boza, HFC-AFO, Jodi Monday & Rick Fenwick, AAFMCC)

(Photo, L to R: Samson Kobbah, Pam Jones, and Daniel Martinez of WCCCD P&AA)

AFT Michigan leaders gained a wealth of important information and ideas on topics ranging from using social media effectively, protecting members on visas, the challenges of dual enrollment, the rise of online education and corporatization, to funding issues in higher education. The networking and sharing of stories gave our leaders who attended a renewed energy to come back and work hard for their members in these difficult times.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

David Hecker, President

At the federal level, the Higher Education Act has probably the biggest impact on our colleges and universities. As part of the reauthorization process, the U.S. House is proposing a set of reforms aimed at making college more affordable and accessible. AFT President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement on behalf of our union applauding the introduction of the bill, which we’ve excerpted below:

“The College Affordability Act is a big step toward making higher education a realistic possibility for everyone who aspires to a college education. House Democrats have stepped up with a proposal that meets the needs of the struggling and the striving by creating a genuine pathway to college affordability, revamping loan forgiveness so it is there for people who need it, and increasing the investment in colleges and universities—institutions that have long suffered terrible disinvestment. Together, this set of reforms will bring many families closer to the dream of a college degree without the associated crushing debt.

“Today, 41 states spend less on higher education than they did before the recession, making degrees more expensive than ever. Add to that the $1.7 trillion of student loan debt, and you have a generation of strivers who have taken the entire burden of college education on their shoulders. Meanwhile, the secretary of education has made it worse by betraying the interests of the very students she’s meant to protect—so much so, she’s facing multiple lawsuits from attorneys general, educators, borrowers and the AFT, which is suing on behalf of our member borrowers…”

You can read Randi’s full statement here

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