In January 2011, the president of Northern at the time, Les Wong, accepted a 4 percent salary increase. It was a tricky move because the budget was tight, but he had turned down a raise in 2008 and the Board of Trustees argued that he needed to take the 2011 raise in order to keep the position competitive.
This is similar to a controversy that took place on campus in 1981, thirty years previous. Through a series of articles and editorials in The North Wind, the controversy played out between students, faculty and staff, and administration. The president at the time was John Jamrich, and the increase to his salary, presented by the Board of Control, was 12.4 percent.
In the two weeks after the announcement, at least three organized protests were held. Those who protested felt that Jamrich should turn down the increase or donate it to the university. In addition to protesting, students collected 2,000 petition signatures and 200 letters written to Jamrich in opposition.
“They chanted and raved against the idea that a university president would accept a raise when the economy of the state and university is in a poor condition,” says a North Wind editorial.
The reach of these efforts went beyond just NMU and Marquette. The Iron Mountain Daily and Milwaukee Sentinel were mentioned as having written articles about this situation. And it wasn’t just students who were vocal. So were faculty and staff.
What stands out to me the most is a letter to the editor a chemistry professor wrote that calls for a new NMU president. A bold statement, for sure, it shows the range of people’s protests. The professor cites more than just the raise, he felt that the university’s academic integrity was at risk and that the university wasn’t growing from a president who had led for so long.
“In my opinion, President Jamrich was a good chief executive during his first 8-10 years in office. … I believe Northern Michigan University is ready for a change in leadership. Northern needs a new president, someone from outside of the university who will bring new ideas and experience and expectations for this university.”
Jamrich’s response was that he didn’t believe he should have to turn down the raise. He believed that protestors would never ask faculty to turn down their contractual raise, and he felt his situation was similar.
Regardless of whether Jamrich should have rejected the raise, the student newspaper’s editorial wrote that this was an example of the power of the student government. For students, it was primarily ASNMU that was organizing the protests and petitions. It was the ASNMU president and representatives who met with Jamrich and other administrators to discuss reasons for not minimizing or waiting on the raise.
“Your student government gives you a great opportunity to make yourself heard. Show the administration, not only of NMU, but as state and national as well, that you are not going to sit there and let incongruencies float over your head. Support your student government, the student voice.”
Written by Lucy Hough