A message from WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey and Vice President Whitney DeCamp
Although concerns about low morale helped drive the recent vote of No Confidence in WMU’s President, employee frustration and alienation have not received enough attention, the current “employee engagement” survey notwithstanding. The low profile of the morale problem is most likely due to the fact that, unlike some other serious concerns – for example, plummeting enrollment numbers and high administrative salaries – morale problems can be harder to quantify. Nonetheless, we see that low employee morale is a problem now impacting many aspects of campus life, including student experience. In addition, the burnout associated with it damages individual careers and impacts the well-being of our entire university.
From our point of view, the qualitative evidence of the problem couldn’t be more explicit. In fact, we frequently remark to one another that nearly every message or interaction we have with our faculty and staff colleagues seems to include some expressions of sadness and concern about the direction WMU is headed and their place in the campus community. To take just a few examples, we often hear from:
-Colleagues so overburdened by teaching, service, or other work reassigned to them from hastily fired staff (or staff reduced to part-time), that they have begun to feel estranged from their scholarly work and disconnected from WMU’s core mission;
-Faculty who feel they must remain vigilant for new administrative incursions, such as unit restructuring and unilateral changes to workplace safety policies enacted without consulting the WMU-AAUP;
-Faculty on the lookout for attacks on contractual rights, for instance, the current attempt to pay faculty teaching during summer at a lower than contractual rate; and
-Staff and faculty seeking new jobs or counting the days until retirement because they find it harder and harder to recognize themselves in WMU’s ethos, including its cutthroat new “SRM” budget model and its rebranding initiative.
To be clear, the morale problem has been on the WMU-AAUP’s radar for a while and was even raised as a serious concern by our negotiation team last summer. Not only was there no constructive response from WMU, the dynamics during negotiations often functioned to illustrate and exacerbate the problem. To the degree that morale problems were acknowledged, they tended to be attributed to the pandemic, in defiance of the fact that faculty had identified problems much earlier. Further, the administration’s pandemic excuse overlooked the fact that it has been WMU’s frequently failed responses to the pandemic – including the early and unnecessary elimination of many critical staff colleagues – that has been a major factor rather than the pandemic per se.
Obviously, WMU’s current employee morale problem can’t be resolved through a single action or in an instant. However, there are any number of things that WMU leadership could do, if, indeed, they were willing to admit that this problem exists and at increasingly alarming proportions. The recent vote of No Confidence clearly expressed one critically desired change in its blunt conclusion that WMU’s captain has repeatedly and egregiously failed both crew and passengers. But, in addition, there are a number of steps that the WMU administration must take to begin restoring employee confidence, including an immediate investment in all employees – faculty and staff – who are responsible for realizing WMU’s core mission. In addition, WMU must work to rebuild its labor relations, including demanding greater accountability from its Office of Academic Labor Relations, so that once again contractual questions and disputes will be handled in a spirit of mutual respect, optimism, and shared purpose. Without question, the road to healing will require that WMU’s leaders reestablish critical campus partnerships, including with staff employees, dedicated administrators, student groups and, yes, the WMU-AAUP.