Open letter from the WMU-AAUP: A call for greater transparency, shared governance, and consideration for all WMU employees

The following open letter to administration was widely shared by the WMU-AAUP on March 26. Given the frenzy of email activity that week, some in the WMU community missed this important communication. We include it here along with an update: To date, the Chapter has received no formal response from administration to the letter as a whole or to any of the specific requests made in it.

The WMU-AAUP recognizes the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenges require that we rely on our values, and therefore we refer to the Preamble of the 2017-2020 agreement between Western Michigan University and WMU-AAUP. “The University serves as a model of shared governance, civil discourse, and inclusiveness. The faculty are essential for the success of this model.” At this unprecedented moment in time, honoring this principle is more important than ever.

Many WMU employees learned from their supervisors last Friday not to expect work for the next five weeks, or to expect drastically reduced hours. Efforts to protect students during this crisis are both legally and morally required, yet employees’ physical and emotional well-being surely matters as well. How many of these employees, including some students, will be willing and able to return to WMU if and when administration deems them “essential” again? What will be the impact on WMU’s reputation with students and their families, and on prospective employees of all sorts?

To date, decisions involving curriculum, curriculum delivery, and future fiduciary practices in response to the pandemic have been done behind closed doors. Decisions relating to the educational process should be made after consultation with the faculty and academic staff through their unions and through campus governing bodies. Financial exigencies used to justify harsh decisions about employment should be communicated transparently and completely. There was a clear message sent to the administration by means of the employee survey, that transparency, communication, and collaboration were lacking, but strongly desired. Currently, as these concerns are being ignored, we demand that WMU administration act immediately in response to the following requests:

  • Immediately appoint WMU-AAUP members to the task force itself, honoring the principles of shared governance in so doing. We also recommend the appointment of representatives from all other employee groups.
  • Call a virtual meeting of the task force with the expanded membership.
  • Provide a complete and detailed report of the financial situation that has justified these measures, as well as share the numbers of WMU employees impacted by these measures, on a partial pay or no pay status.
  • Consider alternatives that protect the jobs and well-being of all WMU employees, at a time when, in the words of President Montgomery: “we are in this together.”

We are surprised and deeply saddened to witness the dismissal of our colleagues, to hear that they are being asked to deplete their sick and annual leave, and then take unpaid leave. Although the 80 hours of additional COVID-19 leave pay (the minimum required by the Department of Labor’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act), provides an extra two weeks for a full-time employee, the employment insecurity will likely extend well beyond that period. Even more concerning, there are still questions about how employees deemed “nonessential” could possibly be expected to pay for COBRA if the shutdown continues.

We are alarmed by the decisions made that impact the most vulnerable employees and students in our WMU family, and we stand in solidarity with them. We fully support the statements of the PSSO and APA, along with the principles for COVID-19 response put forth by the national AAUP. We strongly admonish the lack of transparency guiding the decisions resulting in the reduction and elimination of the ‘non-essential” and “conditionally essential” employees. We must work together, to both clarify challenges and create solutions, that do not irreparably damage this university that we all love. As we work to protect students, we must also protect the employees who make WMU work.

WMU-AAUP Chapter
814 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49008

WMU faculty member helps found “Feed the Fight Kalamazoo”; urges WMU colleagues to donate or volunteer

A WMU faculty member has been at the heart of efforts to simultaneously support local healthcare efforts and the Kalamazoo economy. Dr. Sally Hadden (History), together with Jodi Michaels (executive director of Colleagues International) and Adam Strong-Morse (local entrepreneur) have started a group called Feed the Fight Kalamazoo. It launched publicly and delivered its first meals this past Monday. As of today, FTFK has delivered over 700 meals to Bronson Health Center, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Family Health Center, and is working to develop additional partnerships. The meals are funded by public donations so restaurants are financially compensated for their efforts. More information is at FTFKalamazoo.org.

Feed the Fight began in Washington D.C., but each city group is independent, so all money raised in Kalamazoo stays here. The process is as follows: the public donates to FTFK (tax deductible, 501(c)3), FTFK places an order with a restaurant to purchase the meals (the number matching the request we get from hospital or KDPS), and then the meals are delivered to the hospital or KDPS and distributed to workers. It’s effective, Dr. Hadden says, because “restaurants get income, people at home get to support both restaurants and frontline workers by sending them free meals while remaining socially distant, and frontline workers against Covid19 get support directly from the communities they serve and live in.” FTF Kalamazoo is a non-profit organization, run solely on a volunteer basis, and all funds go to purchase meals.

WMU faculty questions highlight need for collaboration with faculty in university decision-making

Below is a partial compilation of questions expressed by Chapter members in recent weeks through emails, social media, direct conversations, and comments from various meetings. Do you share any of these concerns? What would you most like Chapter leaders to know about how WMU’s response to the pandemic is impacting you, your families, and your students? What can we all do to better ensure that faculty and staff are included as collaborators in WMU’s ongoing decisions during these volatile times?

Please attend today’s virtual all-Chapter meeting (Friday, April 17, 1:30-3) prepared to share your thoughts about the issues below, as well as your particular questions, concerns, and good news with Chapter leadership and other faculty colleagues.

WMU-AAUP member concerns (a partial list, culled from emails, social media comments, direct conversations, and comments made at various meetings)

  1. WMU will receive 15.5 million dollars as part of the federal stimulus package related to the pandemic. What will the WMU-AAUP do to ensure that there is transparency, and that the voices of faculty and other employees will be included, in WMU’s allocation decisions?
  2. When will decisions be made about how Summer II and Fall classes will be conducted? What steps is the Chapter taking to ensure that faculty will be involved in this decision-making?
  3. In its March 26th open letter to WMU about staff lay offs, the WMU-AAUP made specific requests, including that WMU “immediately appoint WMU-AAUP members” to a task force charged with collaborating in future decision-making, and that WMU “provide a complete and detailed report of the financial situation that has justified” staff layoffs, and “share the numbers of WMU employees impacted by these measures.” Did WMU admin respond to any or all of these demands? If not, what steps have been, or will be, taken by the Chapter to ensure that these WMU-AAUP requests, and those made in the future, will be taken seriously by WMU?
  4. How is the Chapter addressing the impact that admin’s policy decisions have on faculty research, for example, grant preparation support and access to campus facilities?
  5. How was the decision made to move summer classes online? Given the contractual issues involved, was the Chapter consulted first? How? What was the Chapter’s response?
  6. How has the employment of bargaining unit faculty been impacted by admin’s decisions, for example, term faculty contracts that have been frozen, or term position conversions that have been halted? What plan does the Chapter have for following up on this given the devastating impact on term faculty colleagues and their families?
  7. How has the work of individual faculty or faculty groups been contributing to the pandemic response efforts? Do we have a way of acknowledging and celebrating the efforts of faculty who are using their expertise to help address the pandemic?
  8. How is the Chapter following up on faculty concerns about both students and instructors being properly resourced with respect to distance education, e.g., access to high quality teaching and learning tools, and appropriate measures to ensure cyber security and the protection of intellectual property rights?
  9. Assuming there continue to be restrictions on large gatherings, what backup plan does the Chapter have for catalyzing member engagement, for example, effectively organized virtual meetings, or alternative forms of direct action, e.g., protests, should these become necessary as negotiations proceed?

Being deemed a “non-essential” WMU employee is a gender issue, women’s caucus argues

The letter below was written on behalf of the women’s caucus of WMU’s College of Arts and Sciences in response to decisions made by WMU in recent weeks that have dramatically impacted many staff employees.

April 15, 2020

Dear Dean Korestky, Provost Bott, and other WMU leaders,

The College of Arts and Sciences Women’s Caucus exists to “promote an academic culture of inclusiveness at Western Michigan University in research, teaching, service and administrative work.” Because of that mission, we are writing to express concern about the impact of hours reductions announced at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly given our commitment to retaining women employees at WMU, the steering committee feels compelled to advocate for our colleagues who have been deemed non-essential or conditional essential. We are troubled by the economic impact of their loss of hours and by the way that the cuts invalidated their centrality to the operations of the University. The setback to employees’ leave balances and, in a number of cases, to paychecks is significant. And the harm to their morale is difficult to overstate, especially as these drastic measures arose at the beginning of what everyone predicts will be a protracted public health and economic crisis.

To our knowledge, WMU is taking a rare approach to the crisis by reducing staff hours in draconian ways. While the original and extra COVID-19 leave WMU provided (now at 160 hours) is offsetting the impact for some employees, we recognize that the majority of the most affected College of Arts and Science employees are the academic departments’ office coordinators, most of whom are women. We know that a number of these employees are the main wage-earners in their household and they rely on WMU for health care coverage for themselves, their partners, and their dependents. The message the cuts have sent is one of extreme insecurity. Understandably, they worry: when will the pay and benefits run out? How do we plan for the coming months, far less the near future, when our employer is so quick to sacrifice our security?

We are asking for your response to this crisis and the impact being felt both in financial terms and in terms of morale and well-being. We have read the President’s and other statements about the difficulty of the decision, the generosity of WMU’s COVID-19 leave, and the relief options available for employees in desperate situations. We recognize that the AAUP Solidarity Fund is attempting to address the financial hardship that has been created, and we appreciate the swiftness with which faculty set it up and are collecting and distributing relief funds. We also hear that administrators are making financial contributions to people in need, which is a generous personal reaction, but not an institutional solution. We remain disappointed that WMU leadership is willing to leave loyal and dedicated employees in the position of requiring private charity or state or federal relief. And we are dissatisfied with the responses that avoid sincere reckoning with the permanent damage done, apparently in pursuit of some kind of fiscal responsibility.

Because we are a body that advocates for women and gender equity at WMU, we are seeking more insight specifically into the gender, racial, or other discrepancies that are being produced, reproduced, and exacerbated by the administration’s decision to cut employees’ hours.

  1. How many WMU employees have been deemed fully non-essential and been granted no hours? What proportion of these employees are women? people of color? employees at the lowest end of WMU’s Staff Compensation System? What steps are being taken to avoid furthering gender, race, and class inequities at WMU?
  2. How many WMU employees have been deemed conditional non-essential and have received a reduction of hours? What proportion of these employees are women? people of color? employees at the lowest end of WMU’s Staff Compensation System? What steps are being taken to avoid furthering gender, race, and class inequities at WMU?
  3. How does WMU plan to repair the damage to employee morale caused by the hours reductions, and in particular, the message it sends to women and other disadvantaged groups about their work’s value to the institution?
  4. Will you agree to participate in a virtual meeting on the topic of “Ensuring Gender Equity During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” co-facilitated by the Women’s Caucus Steering Committee, inviting WMU constituents to express concerns and ask questions with reassurance that they will not be retaliated against for expressing frustration, anger, and skepticism about WMU’s handling of the situation?

We recognize that administrators are making decisions in the middle of very stressful, insecure times. And that is why it is absolutely imperative that the people with the most power, and frankly, the biggest salaries, in the institution should be prioritizing the well-being of those who are disadvantaged. Extracting savings for WMU operations at the expense of our least-compensated, non-unionized employees strikes us cruel and unnecessary.

We are proud to be connected with a college that has, with Dean Koretsky’s leadership and Dean Enyedi before her, a strong commitment to fairness for women and other underrepresented group. We appreciate how CAS leaders have engaged in numerous efforts to address patterns of inequity College- and University-wide, and we also have hope that our still relatively new Academic Affairs leadership with Provost Bott is equally committed to non-discrimination and justice. Please let us know, as ethical WMU leaders, how you will guide WMU as an institution to ensure that our colleagues’ lives and livelihoods are not made more precarious because of their choice to work here.

Respectfully,

Steering Committee of the Women’s Caucus

College of Arts and Sciences

How successful are we at WMU at expressing our research-intensive values?

How many undergraduate students know the difference between a research-intensive university and one that is overwhelmingly teaching-focused? Even if students can recite some of the differences, how many of them even care? Further, to what extent are faculty members in touch with the reality of how well our university actually measures up to the values and mission associated with being research-intensive?

At universities like WMU that identify and market themselves as both research-intensive and focused on undergraduate education, these may be especially important issues to grapple with. After all, if we, ourselves, are not clear about how well our institution fulfills its claims to be research-intensive, we can’t help students appreciate this quality. As we reflect, then, here are a few reminders of some criteria generally associated with being research-intensive.

Such universities:

  • invest in faculty scholars and researchers, providing workloads, facilities and other resources (e.g., library, equipment, grant preparation, and travel funding) that facilitate and nourish such activity
  • place a high value on attracting and supporting promising graduate students across a broad range of disciplines; while such students may directly contribute to the teaching mission, their identities as scholars is primary
  • facilitate and encourage individual faculty efforts to incorporate their research into their teaching by, for example, providing grants and release time
  • foster and maintain specialized undergraduate majors and internships, instead of supporting only the most popular, fashionable ones
  • eliminate institutional roadblocks that impede interdisciplinary collaboration, for example, team-teaching or joint research projects

When considering our university, how would you respond to these questions? What other criteria are critical for assessing a university’s designation as research-intensive in ways that might matter most to faculty and students? And what other questions should we be considering when we ponder the future identity of our university as research or teaching-focused?

Talking with new faculty: What does the WMU-AAUP do anyway?

Though departmental and disciplinary cultures vary, one thing most faculty new to WMU share is a lack of clarity about what our faculty union is and how it impacts campus life. This is partly because the WMU-AAUP is an unusually vigorous, well-established, well-organized faculty collective bargaining unit when compared to those that may exist at other colleges and universities. With that in mind, here’s a brief summary that might to help us respond to new colleagues’ questions:

What does the WMU-AAUP do for faculty here at Western?

Because the WMU-AAUP can focus and harness the power of the entire body of Board-appointed WMU faculty, we are a formidable advocate for colleagues in countless ways. In many situations, the WMU-AAUP is the only line of defense between a faculty member and the considerable might of the WMU administration.

A few examples of what we do:

  • push for salary increases, reasonable healthcare costs, and many other benefits, through the grueling contract negotiation process
  • support individual faculty who believe they’ve been treated unfairly and/or in ways that violate the WMU-AAUP Agreement
  • hold regular workshops to help faculty colleagues succeed through the promotion and tenure process
  • exert a powerful influence in WMU’s culture of shared governance through our participation on key committees, as well as ongoing formal and informal conversations with administrators

How can new colleagues best support the union?

  • sign and submit your dues card, and join the over 90% of WMU faculty who’ve already done so; this will ensure your access to all WMU-AAUP faculty services
  • attend our Faculty Barbecue on Sept. 5th at Montague House
  • attend our New Faculty Luncheon on September 20 with your department’s AAUP representative (Association Council member)
  • attend the all-Chapter meetings held each semester and offer your input
  • follow the WMU-AAUP on this blog, our enews, Facebook, and Twitter, and visit the WMU-AAUP’s website for quick access to critical resources
  • stop by our regularly scheduled morning coffees and happy hours (dates announced in our emailed enews)
  • stop by and see us at Montague House! we love to meet our new (and longtime!) colleagues

What’s the mission of the AAUP in general?

“The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities.”