Mary Ellen Riordan, EMU Roles and Perspectives Interview, 1972


Mary Ellen Riordan, EMU Roles and Perspectives Interview, 1972



EMU Roles and Perspectives was taped television program broadcast from the campus of EMU, and produced by Robert Hoexter (1930-1978). Hoexter joined the faculty at the EMU School of Education in 1964, and served as Coordinator of Graduate Advising from 1969-1971. A member of the Faculty Senate from 1973-1976, Hoexter was elected vice-chairman from 1974-1975, and chairman, 1975-1976. In this episode of Roles and Perspectives, Hoexter interviews Mary Ellen Riordan, President Emerita of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Local 231, AFL-CIO. Riordan blazed the trail for collective bargaining rights for teachers. This action resulted in the Michigan Legislature adopting the 1965 Public Employee Relations Act that gave teachers and all public employees the legal right to collective bargaining. Detroit was second only to New York in obtaining collective bargaining rights for teachers, a trend that would sweep the United States five years later. At her retirement, Ms. Riordan was president of one of the largest local unions in the nation, totaling more than 12,000 members. Before Riordan, no other union headed by a woman had exceeded several thousand members. In this discussion, Riordan answers the public perception that unionized public school teachers simply show up at 8:30, and leave at 3, exhibiting no passion for the job. Riordan details what it is that teachers are going home to: grading papers, contacting parents, organize lesson plans, making dinner for their families, etc. The aggression shown by teachers’ unions is not necessarily a reality, but more a fixation by the media to generate headlines, claims Riordan. While the media wants to talk about teacher salaries contributing to the struggling US economy, Riordan claims that what they should really be talking about are the enormous class sizes, lack of supplies, lack of textbooks, poor lunch programs, and the safety of students walking to and from school in Detroit.

Interview Date



Mary Ellen Riordan, Detroit Public Schools, class size, Detroit Federation of Teachers, teachers’ unions, education legislation, teacher insurance

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Mary Ellen Riordan, EMU Roles and Perspectives Interview, 1972