NMC union is response to deaf bureaucracy, says faculty

Feb 22, 2016

NMC President Tim Nelson heard more than 30 minutes of criticism of his administration last night in a presentation from the faculty during public comment. The college is negotiating its first contract with full-time faculty after a union was formed last year.
Credit Peter Payette

Instructors at Northwestern Michigan College say union negotiations are at an impasse, and at issue is how much say the faculty has in how the college operates.

The faculty formed a union last year and is negotiating its first contract.

Members voiced their frustration on Monday night at a meeting of the board of trustees.

In 2007, Jerry Dobek designed a new ceiling inside the State Theatre in Traverse City. He used fiber optics to make an exact replica of the stars and constellations you would see in the Traverse City sky in August. He calls it a “true night sky.”

“So if you peeled the roof off of the State Theatre, that’s what you would see during August 11th at 11:00 pm above the State Theatre,” he explains.

Dobek runs the observatory owned by Northwestern Michigan College, and teaches astronomy and math at the college.

He was excited to tell NMC’s Board of Trustees about his work at the State Theatre, and thought it would reflect well on the school. But when he got to the meeting, Dobek found out the board no longer heard updates from faculty. That monthly report had been removed from the agenda.

“So it was left for me to do an update to the board during the public comment portion,” Dobek says. “It just felt kind of strange doing it that way and not feeling like I was part of the process here.”

Dobek says changes like that at NMC have him and his colleagues feeling left out and wondering if college officials care about what happens in the classroom. Last year, full-time faculty members formed a union and are now negotiating their first contract.

Monday night, faculty gave a detailed account of their concerns to the NMC board of trustees. Faculty members took turns—in three minute increments due to the time limits of public comment—describing an administration they say makes all the decisions.

Philosophy instructor Mella McCormick says in 2014 they were told all the governing committees at NMC had become advisory.

“Committee members could advise but all the decisions would be made by President Nelson,” McCormick said.

A lot of the criticism focused on NMC President Tim Nelson. McCormick told the trustees he doesn’t listen.

“President Nelson regularly held town hall and listening session meetings, but those meetings were for questions only,” she said. “There was no meaningful dialogue.”

Most of the presentation focused on why a union was formed, but there were allusions made to the ongoing negotiations that suggested they were taking too long.

None of the trustees responded to the faculty comments Monday night. They did meet in closed session to discuss contract negotiations.

After the meeting, President Tim Nelson said he didn’t want to get into a he said, she said exchange with the faculty.

“We’re negotiating in good faith and we would like a contract as soon as it's reasonable to get one done,” he said.

Representatives from the college and faculty meet Tuesday to continue negotiating.