Faculty union elects new president who accepts with apprehension
By NATALIE WRIGHT
Amid brewing tension between Washtenaw Community College’s teachers and administration, the faculty union has elected new leadership.
Maryam Barrie reluctantly assumed the role of president of the WCC Education Association on March 6 after her predecessor Jennifer Baker decided that her time in the position had come to an end after a four-year tenure.
Baker announced her decision not to run for reelection in an email to union members on Feb. 6, citing the “strained” relationship with the administration as the leading cause. Though she has done everything in her power to improve the situation, she said, the relationship remains in decline and she has exhausted all of her options.
“It is extremely difficult and exhausting to work in an environment where my integrity and good will toward this college are, at best, received with skepticism and disregard by the upper administration,” she wrote.
So, Barrie stepped up to fill Baker’s shoes – shoes that aren’t very appealing at the moment, she said.
“Really, no one wants to do this job right now,” Barrie said. “I couldn’t really say that I wanted this, but I am willing and I hope I will do well for our members, the school and our students as we move forward during this really challenging time.”
Though the strife between the faculty and the administration has quieted this year, it has not dissipated, she said.
“I think we just have less expectation that they’re going to listen to us,” Barrie said. “It’s no longer a big surprise when that doesn’t happen.”
Breege Concannon, newly elected second vice president of the WCCEA, echoed this sentiment.
“It’s not been as frantic as it felt last year, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less of a problem,” she said. “People have been kind of more resigned to more of the same, I think.”
Yet, despite Barrie’s reservations, other union members convinced her that she is the best person for the job with her 29 years of experience at WCC and her experience within the union, especially in contract negotiations.
And when the time came to vote, Barrie’s only competition was Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, who received one write-in vote.
Barrie will bring a much different leadership style and personality to the position than Baker, Concannon said.
“She’s very calm,” Concannon said. “Even her voice is very calm. She can diffuse a conversation just with her voice.”
It makes sense that Barrie used to work as a poet.
Her calmness and pensiveness are apparent upon stepping into her office, which she has festooned with Tibetan prayer flags, pictures of the Hindu god Ganesh, photos of her children and clusters of artificial flowers.
Barrie’s personality is definitely an advantage for the faculty moving forward through the tension, Baker said.
“She is absolutely the best person to take this position on,” she wrote. “She is thoughtful, wise and measured in her approach to issues and she has the respect and the support of the faculty.”
And Baker added words of encouragement in her note to the faculty, for the organization moving forward under Barrie’s leadership:
“As we move forward through whatever changes and challenges we face, may we remain united, with a clear unwavering commitment to always act in the best interest of our students.”