Educators Say Students Deserve Better Than Teacherless Classrooms; Out-of-State Firm Providing “Coaches” Accused of Paying “Slave Wages”
YPSILANTI, Michigan – The leaders of unions representing faculty and full-time and part-time lecturers at Eastern Michigan University announced a print and advertising campaign calling for a halt to a contract with a Texas firm to provide controversial online degree programs, now being offered entirely online with no in-person classroom instruction.
The unions also announced plans to begin the process for rescinding faculty approval of at least one EMU entirely online bachelor’s degree program, to be discussed at the EMU Faculty Senate meeting at 3 pm today. In addition, EMU-AAUP members have filed contract grievances, stating that the University failed to consult with faculty before offering new academic programs.
“The EMU administration has taken a wrong turn,” said Judith Kullberg, president of the EMU Association of University Professors (EMU-AAUP).
“Without consulting faculty, EMU administrators have contracted with an out-of-state company to offer EMU-branded degrees entirely online,” said Kullberg, a Fulbright scholar and professor of political science who teaches comparative politics and international relations at EMU. “It appears that much of the actual student contact hours for these online degrees will be provided by online ‘coaches’ who don’t work for EMU and are paid extremely low wages. Our students deserve better.”
“Online instruction has a place in higher education,” said Daric Thorne president of the EMU Federation of Teachers (EMUFT “But it should never completely replace the outstanding teaching and scholarship we offer right here on campus.” Thorne is a lecturer in the EMU Sociology Department, teaching statistics and research methods.
In November 2016, EMU President James Smith signed a contract with Academic Partnerships, a Texas-based private company, to market EMU-branded online degree programs. EMU and Academic Partnerships are currently marketing and delivering a completely online EMU Nursing degree. More programs, including entirely online Bachelor’s degrees, are scheduled to launch in January.
Academic Partnerships will receive 50 percent of tuition and fees from these online degree programs, reducing EMU revenue at a time when public universities are receiving less support from the state of Michigan.
Academic Partnerships operates a “strategic partnership” with another Texas-based private firm, Instructional Connections, which provides “online coaching support to university partners.” Instructional Connections is specifically identified as a “strategic partner” in EMU’s contract with Academic Partnerships.
Comments from current or former Instructional Connections contractors, posted at Glassdoor.com, include:
“I would not recommend…NO room for you to express your opinion and provide true feedback to students.”
“[L]ow wage, long, long, long hours… at the computer teaching and answering email… weekly meetings that you are NOT compensated to attend… I absolutely hate this job!”
Daric Thorne contrasted the poor working conditions of these coaches to the commitment of EMU’s instructors. “Our members love our jobs, and we bargain for fair compensation so we can devote the time and energy required to provide effective teaching,” said Thorne. “We don’t want to see EMU students become guinea pigs for an uncontrolled experiment in teacherless classrooms.”
“The feedback about Instructional Connections on Glassdoor.com is certainly a cause for concern,” said Kullberg. “As an educator, however, I don’t think anonymous comments on a website are the proper standard for full evaluation of a new academic program,” said Kullberg. “The problem is, we haven’t had any real evaluation of Academic Partnerships and its role at EMU – and we desperately need one before moving forward with this agreement.”
EMU-AAUP asked EMU administrators to confirm, in writing, that ‘coaches’ will not be subcontracted to provide student contact hours for these online degree programs. The University refused.
Because EMU administrators have failed to be fully transparent about online degrees offered under the EMU brand by Academic Partnerships and Industrial Connections, union leaders say, it is not possible to assess whether these programs meet EMU teaching and scholarship standards. As a result, EMU-AAUP and EMUFT are calling for a halt to the EMU-AP contract pending a thorough review by EMU faculty and other university stakeholders.
“We have a responsibility – to our colleagues, to our students, to EMU alumni and to Michigan taxpayers – to raise questions until we get solid answers,” said Kullberg. “The future direction of a public university like EMU should be discussed in the open, not behind closed doors.”
EMU-AAUP represents more than 680 faculty members at Eastern Michigan University. EMUFT represents more than 100 full-time EMU lecturers and library staff, and over 600 part-time EMU lecturers.