With key financial articles 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 to investigate its spending priorities. It was partly with this in mind that a special Zoom meeting was held on July 6 for all WMU-AAUP members.
One critical takeaway from that lively meeting: WMU is in solid financial shape, despite any signals from Western that there’s some sort of crisis or emergency. Although it’s true that WMU’s revenue is down, overall expenses are also down, in particular, expenses associated with faculty. Any notion that WMU is justified in invoking austerity measures, or that faculty are a drain on its budget is, and has been, categorically and manifestly false.
Having already demonstrated WMU’s robust financial health, even well before the stunning news of the $550 million donation, the WMU-AAUP continues to secure additional financial information from the university. Based on multiple recent FOIA requests, we have learned how much the university is paying for:
- 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). Based on a partial set of invoices provided by WMU, it appears that WMU contracted this firm in April 2020, well over a year ago, just weeks after the devastation of the pandemic began to hit Western students and employees. Between April 2020 and May 2021, Western had already paid this law firm nearly $140,000. Please note that these invoices do not even cover the intense negotiation period for which WMU has engaged this law firm since May. These can be expected to reflect additional staggering cost to WMU. For more about the anti-labor, anti-union reputation of the law firm WMU has chosen to be its advocate, see here and here, keeping in mind that this is who Western Michigan University has chosen to sit beside it at the negotiation to face off against its own employees.
- The salaries of WMU’s administrators. As the proportion of WMU money spent on faculty has fallen, it has risen for administrators, even as the rhetoric continues that it is faculty and staff who are gobbling up students’ tuition dollars. Taking a look at the jaw dropping compensation packages for some of these administrators is a stunning experience, especially for faculty and staff who have accepted onerous workloads based on some administrators’ apparently endless demands for more “shared sacrifice.” For example, in addition to huge salaries, Western offers some of its elite administrators perks that workaday faculty and staff — not to mention WMU administrators who are reasonably compensated — could only dream of, for example, free housing, automobile expenses, club memberships, and “signing bonuses.” Look for more details about this in future Chapter communications.
- The controversial “rebranding” initiative. According to WMU’s initial response to our FOIA request, 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 it appears that the actual expense will be ongoing and open-ended.
- 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 copies of invoices we received, Western authorized this non-academic firm to review proposals related to curricular and program changes developed and submitted by WMU faculty. WMU’s ongoing intentions with respect to this controversial restructuring plan remain to be seen.
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. We were also charged a fee to access information about administrative salaries. 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 necessary to separate fact from fiction. As we have seen, WMU is often remarkably clear about what it does NOT consider to be a high spending priority: faculty hires, staff job security, part-time instruction, faculty research, advising, salary equity, graduate funding, and many other aspects of our core academic mission. We must continue, then, to highlight what WMU has, as a matter of demonstrable fact, decided to invest in, including anti-labor lawyers, elite administrators, external consultants, and a rebranding initiative based on little input from constituents. The WMU-AAUP will not permit critical negotiations about our members’ salaries and benefits to be based on tired, self-serving myths rather than the reality taking shape before our own eyes.