Clarifying facts in civil case filed against NMU

Fritz erickson

We live in a world today that is quick to jump to conclusions, never mind the facts. This was certainly the case last week with the announcement of a lawsuit brought against Northern Michigan University by four professors regarding salary and other gender equity issues. It was somewhat disconcerting and, frankly, disappointing to see how fast some assume the claims made in a press release from Sterling Attorneys at Law were true, before hearing from Northern. Let me be clear. Issues of fairness and equity are central to how I was raised, how my wife and I raise our children, how I live my life and I do my job. To suggest otherwise is at best offensive. As long as I am the president of this amazing university working with some extraordinary faculty, staff and students that commitment will not wane. Now that I have that off my chest let me get to the facts.

To point out all of the inaccuracies and falsehoods I have heard since the suit’s announcement would take more space than this column allows, and it might also make me look as if I’m trying to discredit those who have filed suit, which is not my intent. Good people can disagree. However, it is important that the public be aware of some key points about employment at NMU as it relates to the lawsuit.

Most concerning to me was incorrect information that the Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found Northern to be in violation of pay discrimination. The EEOC has not found Northern in violation of any pay discrimination now or in the past. To date, the EEOC’s involvement was participation in a conciliation meeting to resolve these complaints. Unfortunately, this was not possible. There has been no formal ruling by the EEOC on this case.

Please understand that Northern’s faculty salaries are determined by academic rank, years of service, degrees and teaching area (Classification of Instructional Programs classification, or CIP), and are based upon negotiated formulas with the faculty unions, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the NMU Faculty Association (NMUFA). NMU officials not only comply with the collective bargaining agreements in setting salaries, the University confers with the respective union on salaries, which helps ensure this fairness.

Degrees and rank matter in the academic academy, as they do in other professional fields. In academia, terminal degrees are weighted more than other degrees in determining compensation. Possessing or not possessing a terminal degree will definitely impact faculty salary no matter how many years of service or what courses one teaches over their tenure.

As part of the AAUP’s master contract, Northern has a joint faculty-administration committee that reviews for situations of “salary inversion.” Salary inversion is when a faculty member with longevity ends up making less than a newly promoted faculty member for the same academic area (CIP classification). When inversion situations are identified, salary adjustments salary adjustments are made. This did indeed happen for one of the faculty involved in this case and financial compensation was made to accommodate the salary inversion.

Allegations of any type of discrimination are a serious matter and warrant careful examination. Northern’s Equal Opportunity Office performed a review of the claims made by the four faculty prior to their filing suit. This is standard operating procedure at the university.

While it is Northern’s policy to not comment on pending litigation, I felt it was important to clarify the misperceptions and missing information that has arisen as a result of the Sterling Attorneys press releases and filings. Northern will continue to work in good faith toward a resolution of this issue and, more broadly, as has been our policy for many years, to treat every member of the NMU community equally and fairly. It is who we are.

Thank you for your continued support of NMU.

Editor’s note: Fritz Erickson is president of Northern Michigan University.