NMU convocation a mix of new programming, controversy

Members of the Northern Michigan University faculty walk out during Wednesday’s fall convocation at Jamrich Hall. The faculty union and administration so far have not been able to come to an agreement on a contract for the faculty. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University’s fall convocation on Wednesday was a mix of new programming as well as ongoing frustration.

President Fritz Erickson and other university officials and faculty made presentations at the annual event in Jamrich Hall, but this convocation had a different feel to it.

The NMU-American Association of University Professors union and administration still are negotiating over base salary increases and other forms of compensation. NMU-AAUP and the university’s administration were unable to come to an agreement before the one-year contract expired on July 1.

Mediation between the two parties began in July.

Speaking at Wednesday’s convocation was Norma Froelich, an NMU associate professor and chair of the NMU Academic Senate.

“This is always an exciting time, with some anxious, nervous excitement, but a lot of enthusiasm, too,” Froelich said.

However, she acknowledged having no enthusiasm for the 2021-22 year this summer.

“In chatting with other faculty, I find I am not alone in that feeling,” Froelich said.

That struggle included having to “revise, revise, revise again” during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, as well as seeing racism and anti-LGBTQ attitudes nationally.

At NMU, though, Froelich pointed out that the top reason for the lack of faculty enthusiasm for the new academic year is that it’s been working without a contract since July 1.

NMU faculty salaries average 9% below the average for Michigan public universities, she said.

“In 2020, we accepted significant pay cuts and cuts to support our professional development as our part to help litigate an expected pandemic-related financial catastrophe,” Froelich said. “The catastrophe was completely inverted thanks to millions of dollars in state and federal aid and to the efforts of faculty and staff to maintain enrollment.

“Now it appears that the NMU administration and its board of trustees would prefer to see many of those cuts made permanent.”

She said NMU faculty wants compensation returned to 2019 levels.

Froelich stressed that students and parents who listened to her words need not worry.

“Rest assured, we’ve got you,” she said. “We the faculty believe in ourselves, in our staff and in our students.”

Froelich’s speech was met with a standing ovation from faculty in the audience, which walked out of Jamrich Hall when Erickson took the podium.

“I deeply appreciate the comments that Norma has made and the collective commitment that we have to this institution, and I think there are real opportunities for us to move forward, and I certainly respect the rights of everyone to express themselves,” Erickson said.

NMU administration released a statement on the issue on Thursday.

“The administration remains optimistic for a timely resolution to the contract negotiations and moving forward a productive fall semester,” the statement reads.

Classes begin on Monday.

Strategic plan updated

Erickson also provided updates on the following six post-pandemic priorities added to the strategic plan:

≤ Career tech and engineering facility: An outside shot at private funding that would have raised the possibility of a new facility “did not pan out,” so NMU will proceed with its original capital outlay project to renovate the existing Jacobetti Complex. Cosmetology and hospitality management programs will make a temporary move to the Northern Center in January.

≤ Transform the College of Business with a rural economies focus. A task force is creating and engaging a rural economies external advisory group, along with a Rural Economies Teaching Institute and a Rural Economies Academic Delivery Institute — both working titles — to develop action plans ready for first-phase implementation by May. On a related note, NMU is actively developing plans to build a new College of Business facility, located where McClintock is now.

“We anticipate this would be funded almost completely through private giving,” Erickson said.

≤ Collaborative Sustainability Initiative: A task force working toward the goal of NMU becoming carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner will begin meeting in September.

≤ Reimagine Equity and Inclusion: Erickson will review and share with the Executive Council recommendations from the President’s Committee on Diversity and the President’s Committee on Gender and Sexuality. “We may be able to implement some of the low-hanging fruit ideas, the ones that don’t need chief diversity officer input,” he said, referencing the current vacancy in that position. He is putting together a search committee for a new chief diversity officer and plans to use the transition to restructure the area.

≤ SISU: The Innovation Institute at NMU: Co-directors Bill Digneit and Jes Thompson gave a presentation on SISU at the start of convocation. The institute will lead the initiative for expanding online educational opportunities and developing new academic programs.

≤ Integrated Health and Counseling Services: A group leading the effort to combine the two operations in one location will be seeking campus input.

“We have accomplished a lot of the original goals and initiatives in the plan, so an updated plan seemed most appropriate,” Erickson said.

Erickson also announced new focus areas at NMU: equity in systems and processes, and mind/body wellness. The two new strategic outcomes, which Erickson said will guide university decision-making and the implementation of new initiatives, are supporting sustainability and carbon neutrality, and supporting the rural agenda.

Erickson announced that Dale Kapla has agreed to serve as interim provost when Kerri Schuiling steps down in January. The provost search committee has been meeting over the summer and selected executive search firm R. William Funk and Associates to help with the process. Erickson said the goal is to have a new provost in place by no later than July 1.

Welcome Weekend

Northern Michigan University will put some fun into Welcome Weekend activities to kick off the new academic year. A rented 60-foot tall classic Ferris wheel will operate from 3 to 11 p.m. today and Saturday between Jamrich Hall and the C.B. Hedgcock building, offering free rides to students and employees and their families, as well as the general public.

Other Welcome Weekend activities include a silent disco Friday evening, as well as DJs and dancing, a sodalite rock hunting tour and an outdoor showing of the movie “A Quiet Place Part “ on Saturday.

The annual Fall Fest will be held over the first two days of classes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the academic mall on Monday and Tuesday. Monday will focus on student organizations while Tuesday will showcase local businesses and nonprofits.


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