A message from Cathryn Bailey and Whitney DeCamp, WMU-AAUP President and Vice President
If you attend Western Michigan University Board of Trustees public meetings, you may have noticed that these seem intended to create an aura of optimism about all things Bronco. To step into this meeting space can sometimes feel like entering an alternate universe. And at the Jan. 20th Board meeting, the air of unreality was especially dramatic, with nearly all agenda items focused on institutional self-congratulation. As the meeting entered its second hour, there was even a lengthy “WMU-in-the-news” retrospective, a narrated highlight reel of 2021 that somehow managed to overlook the previous year’s headlines about Western’s heavy-handed negotiation tactics with its own employees, its stunning enrollment declines, and the historic No-Confidence Vote in its president.
Such paint-it-pink and put-a-bow-on-it tactics are also consistent with WMU’s handling of President Montgomery’s performance reviews. Despite repeated calls that these documents be shared, including separate Freedom of Information Act requests presented to WMU from the Western Herald and Mlive, Western is keeping these documents under wraps. The facts surrounding the president’s job performance, whom our university compensates like an elite corporate CEO, are obscured behind a painstakingly constructed public performance featuring smiley faces and rainbows.
While there is surely much to celebrate at WMU — our students, colleagues, and community partners deserve to be applauded — at the Jan. 20th Board meeting, only the speakers relegated to the tail end of the meeting — the “public comments” section — reflected on Western’s problems, some of which are glaringly obvious. And among those speakers tacked on to the meeting’s end were WMU’s three academic labor leaders, the presidents of the Teaching Assistants’ Union (TAU), the Professional Instructors Organization (PIO), and the WMU-AAUP, with the PIO and TAU presidents also having also spoken up at the Board’s previous meeting. The very fact that the groups that make WMU an academic institution have been pushed to the meeting’s tail end, and with strict time limits of just a few minutes each, speaks volumes about the purpose of these meetings.
In addition, the responses of President Montgomery and the Board Chair to the feedback presented to them at this meeting were also telling: Those critical of Western’s leaders are naive and resistant to change, unable to comprehend the profound impact of the pandemic on contemporary higher education. WMU’s leaders, however, have the requisite wisdom, experience, and business acumen to forge ahead even in the face of vocal popular resistance. Of course, the reality is that constituents’ objections are not to thoughtful and necessary change, but to top-down decrees and stony silence instead of collaboration and understanding.
It’s important to recall that one of the specific critiques expressed in the historic Vote of No Confidence is this president’s “unwillingness to engage with or consult with faculty in meaningful ways and respond appropriately to feedback and concerns.” It is bad enough, then, that leadership has had over a month to consider this stunning Resolution, and the damning Faculty Senate evaluation that preceded it, yet continues to marginalize campus and community concerns. But to wave away thoughtful feedback as a symptom of ignorance, naivety, and resistance to change is an especially callous silencing tactic. Western students, faculty, staff, and community members have both the right and responsibility to continue to demand and expect better.
Some possibilities for remaining involved as this situation continues to unfold:
– Reach out personally to colleagues and community members to make sure they are fully informed about the No-Confidence Vote, including the process that led to it, the facts surrounding it, and the commitment it demonstrates to our students and university.
– Follow the WMU-AAUP blog and actively share items about the No-Confidence Resolution on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Consider directing your posts by using the @WesternMichU, @AAUP, @mlive, etc.
– Submit a comment to the Board of Trustees through their website respectfully sharing your questions and concerns.
– To the degree that it is feasible for you, initiate dialogue with chairs, deans, and other administrators to help them understand your concern for our students and university, and the nature and implications of the No-Confidence Resolution.
– Share news stories related to the No-Confidence Resolution with colleagues and on social media and consider submitting comments or letters to the editor at, for example, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or to the Western Herald).
– Consider meeting with President Montgomery during his office hours to engage in respectful dialogue about your concerns; appointments available here. There are a limited number of these 20-minute appointments (five per week), so you may need to book a week or two in advance.