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Speakers at Board of Trustees address issues at Tech

The Board of Trustees met last week on Feb. 25. Turnout for public comments was unusually high and some issues were brought to light. Following this, all actionable items were passed.

The board approved 2023 board and room rates, including a 3.47% increase on the standard double occupancy rate in Wads and McNair, as well as an increase in the Experience Tech Fee. For the upcoming fall and spring semesters, the fee will be set at $99 for undergraduate students and $80 for graduate students.

11 speakers spoke during public comments, five of which were from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing Michigan Technological University’s service and maintenance employees. AFSCME members spoke of staffing issues, unfair wages, gender inequalities, and mismanagement. 

David Robb, the cook in Wadsworth hall was the first to speak. Robb spoke about how when he first got the job there was a lot of competition, but it’s different now. “Part of my job has become convincing people to stick with their job. They’re all saying why don’t I just go somewhere else? They get tired of it. They want more money. I got to just keep telling them, please stay here, give it some time. Just hang in there.” 

This staff shortage leads to food quality issues as they have to close stations, putting pressure on the kitchen which impacts the students. Robb then proposed an across-the-board raise of $2 an hour to help compete with other jobs at Walmart and Calumet Electronics.

We also heard from the custodial staff. D’Neen Kerttu, a custodian since 2018, spoke of unlivable wages and a $6 wage gap between men and women. Jim Newman, another custodian, spoke of skeleton cleaning crews and overtime work as imperfect solutions to staffing problems. “We need to have those positions take priority, and it makes the other areas suffer.” 

Following AFSCME, five members of Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action, from undergraduate to Ph.D. level, spoke to the board. Each member related divestment from fossil fuels, as well as investments in green technology and in socially responsible actions to the values that MTU claims to hold— leadership, community, scholarship, accountability, possibilities, and tenacity —and how doing so would support these values. The last public speaker was Riley Powers, speaking on behalf of more than seven students about barriers to receiving accommodations created due to the changed policies. They ask that these policies be reserved as it puts those with disabilities at risk of not completing their education.

After public comments, the board approved several items including a Master of Science degree in Manufacturing Engineering and two updates in the employee handbook. The first update adds section 2.5 on the Role of Innovation and Commercialization to say that faculty who deal in these activities will not face any penalty or adverse effects for doing so. The second update adds section 2.6 on the Role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion which makes it clear that MTU values diversity, but it does not require faculty to actively participate in activities supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging.


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