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Labor > News Hits

Adamany's history lesson

 

Published 9/8/1999

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When you ask some union and academic leaders at Wayne State University whether they are surprised Detroit Public School teachers went on strike last week, they will say, "absolutely not." And when you ask them why not, they will give one answer: "Dr. David Adamany."

"He had a history of not being able to settle issues through negotiations," said WSU psychology professor Marlyne Kilbey, president of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT).

During Adamany’s tenure as WSU president from 1982 to 1996, six contracts were negotiated with AAUP, and the union went on strike four times, according to Jan Thompson, AAUP-AFT executive director. Some of those strikes lasted only a few hours, she said.

Before Adamany came along, says Thompson, the only time the faculty went on strike was 1978. "We were not a striking union," she said. "But we are now."

Adamany told the Metro Times the AAUP only struck three times during his tenure and that during the 1994 strike most of the faculty crossed picket lines.

While WSU president, he added, 45 contracts were negotiated and 40 were settled without a strike.

Some say Adamany also damaged university morale. "He is an extremely difficult individual," said Seymour Wolfson, associate professor of computer science and the university’s Academic Senate president. Wolfson said that when the 80-member senate weighed in on university-related issues, Adamany made it clear their views were not welcome.

"He treated us like dirt," said Wolfson. "Sometimes we would get a 10-page memo telling us how wrong we were."

According to "A Study of Morale at Wayne State University: 1996," 52 percent of the 752 respondents said they had very little confidence in Adamany; 26 percent said they had confidence in him. (All 1,800 faculty were sent surveys; with 285 union members and 397 nonmembers participating.) The survey states that it was widely understood among professors that "there will be retaliation against anyone who speaks out against presidential policies," that Adamany’s administration had a "micromanagement style… at all levels of the institution," and that "the system of rewards (for salary increases, promotions and granting tenure) is seen to be unfair."

Adamany does not give much weight to the union-commissioned survey, pointing out that "only 40 percent of the faculty responded and 60 percent of the 40 said they were unhappy." Adamany says teacher retention is a better measure of morale.

"We had very few professors leave the university," he said, pointing out that fewer than 2 percent took jobs elsewhere during his tenure. He also says that the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which determines accreditation for universities including WSU, reported in 1996 "that faculty morale was high except for union and academic senate leaders who were unhappy."

Current contract negotiations between the AAUP and current WSU President Irvin Reed offer a stark contrast to past negotiations, say critics of Adamany.

Kilbey said negotiations have been very amicable. Unlike Adamany, she said, "Reed smiles, Reed looks people in the eye, Reed relates to people, he likes people."

Most issues have been resolved, though there is conflict over pay raises and union representation. The union asked for a 5.75 percent pay increase and the administration offered about 2.8 percent the first and second years and 3.3 percent the last two years. The offer was rejected. The union also wants the administration to require new faculty to pay union dues for one year. Currently, faculty are not required to pay the AAUP fee though they are represented by the union. After the first year, new faculty could choose whether to continue paying union dues.

Marilyn Williamson, WSU interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, agrees contract negotiations have improved since the previous administration.

"We had genuine conflict when Adamany was president. We had a terrible strike in 1988," she said. "After that strike things got a little better, but they were often quite bitter negotiations," said Williamson. "I think the tone has improved a lot, partly because of the change in administration and resolve to treat one another better."

Just how contract negotiations will progress for the Detroit Public Schools is anyone’s guess.

"The picture is changing constantly," said Adamany, who wondered how true reform and the teachers union will coexist. "They are not incompatible, but it makes it more difficult to achieve change," he said. Adamany’s strategy: "You have to bargain very hard in the first contract."

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