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Faculty union intends to fight EMU over online degrees

Jan 31, 2017

More details have emerged about Eastern Michigan University's contract with Academic Partnerships, a company that helps universities offer degrees online.

On December 21, 2016, Eastern Michigan University disclosed that it had entered into a five-year contract with Academic Partnerships, an outside group that will help the university launch four online degrees.

"This on-line marketplace is really one where we can assist primarily working individuals who would have a difficult time accessing ground-based courses because of their work and family commitments," EMU's Vice President for Enrollment Management Kevin Kucera told Michigan Radio.

The news sparked an uproar among faculty at EMU, says faculty union president Judith Kullberg. She says she first learned about the contract by hearing the story on Michigan Radio. 

That's despite the fact that the contract with AP was entered into months before, on September 1, 2016. 

The contract provides that Academic Partnerships will market and recruit students for online degrees from Eastern Michigan University.  It lists four degrees to be launched in the summer of 2017, and ten other degrees to be launched in the fall of 2017.   

The contract says EMU faculty will provide the materials and administer the online courses. But Kullberg says, at other universities, AP has used a subcontractor which employs "coaches," who do the actual work of administering tests and grading.

EMU has not disclosed what online students will pay for their degrees, but Kullberg says it will almost certainly be significantly less than for traditional degrees.

"You can easily see that the online programs, because they're so much less in cost, would begin to undermine enrollment in traditional programs," she says.  She says many faculty fear the deal is the first step towards EMU becoming a "diploma mill."

EMU has agreed to pay AP half of the tuition and fees paid by students recruited by AP. Kullberg says that's likely to make the agreement a revenue-losing proposition for EMU, not a revenue-producing one.

Kullberg says she believes the faculty union's contract with EMU requires the administration to negotiate the terms of the Academic Partnerships deal. On January 18, Kullberg sent a letter to EMU President James Smith demanding formal negotiations about the contract. From the letter:

Please be advised that the Union will view the unilateral implementation of any provision of the University's agreement with AP affecting any member of the EMU-AAUP bargaining unit as an unfair labor practice, which will result in the filnig of the appropriate charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

Michigan Radio's Stateside show has requested an interview with EMU President James Smith about the controversy.

The agreement between EMU and Academic Partnerships can be viewed here