A message from the WMU-AAUP President and Vice President
With key financial articles now under discussion at the negotiation table, the WMU-AAUP is continuing to flesh out a comprehensive and contextualized picture of WMU’s actual financial state and its spending priorities. It is with this in mind that there will be a special Zoom meeting on July 6 at 10 a.m. for all WMU-AAUP members.
Having already demonstrated WMU’s robust financial health, even well before the stunning news of the $550 million donation (a link to one of the reports is here), the WMU-AAUP has been engaged in an ongoing, systematic process of securing additional information. This has included big picture metrics as well as specific spending priorities. We have, for example, sent requests to WMU about how much the university is paying for:
1. The controversial “rebranding” initiative, described in this recent story in the Western Herald. According to WMU’s initial response, the budgeted amount for implementing the “new visual identity” in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 is about $670,000. It is not yet clear what, specifically, this will cover, but this article in the Western Herald suggests that the actual expense will be ongoing and open-ended.
2. The services of a national law firm, Dykema Gossett, with a reputation for union-busting, to represent WMU in its negotiations with WMU employee groups, including the WMU-AAUP and the PIO (these legal fees are in addition to WMU’s already-impressive stable of in-house attorneys). Our request was sent on June 8, but, as of this posting, WMU has not yet provided the information. For more about the anti-labor reputation of the law firm WMU has chosen to be its advocate, see here and here.
3. The services of the non-academic, corporate consulting firm Designvox, contracted by WMU to help facilitate/implement the administration’s academic (“interdisciplinary”) restructuring plan. Based on information we received on Friday — see here that our FOIA request was “partially denied” —Western paid this non-academic firm, see here and here, to review proposals related to curricular and program changes developed and submitted by WMU faculty.
We intend to make additional requests about WMU’s spending priorities, such as administrative salary and compensation packages, expenses related to Lawson Ice Arena, and various cosmetic changes on campus during the alleged financial crisis, e.g. new furniture and carpeting even as academic support programs in those same remodeled spaces were reportedly discontinued.
Unfortunately, although this spending information should be ready at hand, the university does not always seem eager to share it. For example, in response to the WMU-AAUP’s June 8 FOIA request for their external legal firm expenses, WMU first told us they would need more time, and then sent a bill in the amount of $160.69 for a “deposit” before they would agree to begin providing information they could easily send in an email. As those who have worked with Freedom of Information Act requests understand, the law permits both a certain amount of foot-dragging and the charging of fees, which often functions to discourage requests from member-funded organizations like ours.
Rest assured that the WMU-AAUP will continue to seek access to the information we all need to separate fact from fiction with respect to WMU’s claims about its finances and spending priorities. As we have seen, and in especially dramatic fashion this past year, WMU is often remarkably clear about what it does NOT consider to be a high spending priority: staff job security, part-time instruction, faculty research, advising, salary equity, graduate funding, and many other aspects of our core academic mission. Only by continuing to shine a bright light on what WMU decides IS a high spending priority — the many things it continues to say “YES” to even as it stubbornly and repeatedly says no to its academic mission — will negotiations be based on reality rather than fantasy.
As we continue to fill in this financial picture, here are several things you can do: Keep an eye on your email, regularly visit the Chapter blog here, send a non-WMU email address to firstname.lastname@example.org, and, if you’re a WMU-AAUP member, plan to attend the all-member Zoom meeting on July 6 at 10:00.
With determination and in solidarity,
Cathryn Bailey and Natalio Ohanna