a message from the WMU-AAUP President and Vice President

During the past year, WMU-AAUP members have come forward in extraordinary numbers with questions and concerns about unfair treatment by administration, including violations of the Contract and casual disregard for Departmental Policy Statements. In response, at nearly every meeting of the Association Council, Executive Committee and full Chapter, we have emphasized the importance of using all of the tools at our organization’s disposal to push back against an abnormally high level of unfair treatment that is transforming some colleagues’ once-joyful careers into misery. Among these tools are:

1) collaboration with administration: Where can we clear up misunderstandings and find common ground to work together toward mutually beneficial goals? This strategy involves informal conversation and advocacy with administration, especially the Director of Academic Labor Relations, who reports directly to the Provost. In normal times, this is our go-to approach.

2) workload appeals and grievances: Following the carefully outlined steps in our Contract, how can we resolve disputes with the administration that seem to be resistant to more informal adjudication? While it is formalized and governed by the WMU-AAUP Contract, in normal times, this process too is collegial and effective. In normal times, both parties agree to exercise intellectual honesty, to entertain alternative points of view, and to be open to accepting conclusions supported by reason and evidence.

3) legal channels: When incursions by the administration appear to be in violation of the law, especially labor law, the Chapter, or its members, may make legal challenges, for example, by filing an Unfair Labor Practice complaint.

4) collective actions and pressure from Chapter membership: Because the WMU-AAUP is, first and foremost, an academic collective bargaining organization, ultimately, our power to demand and achieve fair treatment from our employer is rooted in our members’ ability and willingness to act with unified determination when necessary.

In normal times, disputes arise between WMU-AAUP faculty and the administration, but these have tended to be sporadic and resolvable through informal means. In fact, it has not been uncommon for some university administrations to boast about their ability to avoid grievances, lawsuits, and campus protest by prioritizing healthy academic labor relationships. In normal times, WMU’s administration has embraced its share of responsibility to avoid the expense of time, energy, money, and morale that campus labor conflict inevitably creates.

Unfortunately, these are not normal times. As described in a recent AAUP national report, “COVID-19 served as an accelerant, turning the gradual erosion of shared governance on some campuses into a landslide.” Here on our campus, this erosion is visible in many ways, including the numerous violations that have recently led to faculty complaints and formal grievances:

  • explicit administrative commitments to treat most faculty research and service as “optional” or as “voluntary work” in order to assign heavier teaching loads
  • the misconception that department chairs and directors do not need to assign credit hours for research or creative activities to tenure-track faculty members because “tenure is not required for employment”
  • repeated violations of Departmental Policy Statements (the core of our shared governance at the departmental level) justified by the false, but apparently commonly held administrative view, that “the DPS is merely a suggestion” that can be ignored by administrators at will
  • the unilateral creation by WMU of policies that are in violation of, or in conflict with, the WMU-AAUP contract
  • administrators’ increasing use of the professional misconduct process, in violation of Article 22, to shame and censure faculty members by bringing spurious, or trivial, charges against them
  • the assignment of workloads to Fiscal Year faculty that are in violation not only of the workload procedures but also of basic fairness and the right to contractual annual leave
  • the creation of a hybrid faculty-administrator position (Associate Director of Academic Labor Relations) which has forced faculty to share and discuss highly confidential professional concerns with another faculty member
  • a new interpretation of the Contract by WMU’s Director of Academic Labor Relations, according to which, despite the obvious conflict of interest, Deans themselves can determine whether or not the very grievances brought against them have merit or not

Although we continue to believe in the power of using the full range of the tools to advocate for, and protect, members, the success of most of these Chapter strategies depends on the existence of a baseline relationship of respect between administration and the faculty. Though the WMU-AAUP Contract emerged from a historical context that included some tension and disagreement, it was also assumed that both sides would collaborate as partners to solve problems. In a meaningful sense, then, the success of our grievance process too depends on the existence of a genuine respect for shared governance.

We can both recall a time when the Office of Academic Labor Relations and the Provost worked in good faith with the Chapter to solve problems with the best interest of our university in mind. Generally speaking, both sides recognized our common ground and valued collaboration even in the midst of disagreement. Unfortunately, what we see now is an approach to academic labor relations that often seems more focused on demonstrating power than on what is fair, reasonable, and good for our campus community.

Our Contract, agreed upon by both Western and the WMU-AAUP, is intended “to promote orderly and peaceful labor relations for the mutual interest of Western Michigan University, its employees, and the Chapter.” But with so many new and egregious incursions and violations occurring, it appears that Academic Affairs may be abandoning its long commitment to problem-solve with the faculty in good faith. It is with both concern and hope, then, that we call upon all who continue to believe in shared governance and fair play to demand that our Contract, including our grievance process, be accorded the respect it deserves.

Cathryn Bailey and Natalio Ohanna
WMU-AAUP President and Vice President

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