A message from WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey and Vice President Whitney DeCamp
With the one-year anniversary of the faculty’s historic No Confidence Vote on the horizon, the problematic handling of the Employee Engagement Survey results has become a subject of concern for many WMU-AAUP members. As faculty pointed out at a recent all-member meeting, members of every employee group have stepped up, thoughtfully and diligently identifying problems and offering solutions. Now that WMU’s leadership has had years to consider the declining climate (the 2019 Employee Engagement Survey was already a red flag) and months to absorb and analyze the detailed critiques and suggestions from campus constituents in the 2022 survey, what is its response? Still more forums, “information-gathering,” and feedback collection. One faculty member’s observation reflects what many other employees have been sharing with us: “WMU seems to be engaging in the public performance of caring about what people think rather than actually addressing the problems that have already been identified.”
In addition to the insights provided by the Employee Engagement Survey, it is important to consider that, at this time last year, WMU-AAUP Chapter faculty were vigorously debating whether or not to hold a No Confidence Vote in President Edward Montgomery. Just about everyone recognized that WMU had some serious problems on its hands, but there was some thoughtful disagreement about the best way to address these. After months of research and discussion, on Dec. 10 the Chapter voted to send the No Confidence ballot to the full membership. The faculty’s response was unequivocal, dramatic, and historic, with nearly 80% voting in favor of a No Confidence motion in the leadership of Dr. Montgomery.
The reasons cited for the No Confidence motion are, by now, painfully familiar, and many are reflected in and echoed in the Employee Engagement Survey Results. Some of these concerns are described here, and although some things have gotten better — this year’s undergraduate enrollment increase is good news — others have gotten worse, and new ones have been added to the list. In addition to the fact that the Board defiantly rewarded the president with a raise and bonus, and the mysterious circumstances of the provost’s resignation, the past year has brought new, or newly exacerbated, problems, including:
– A lack of transparency about potentially catastrophic challenges regarding the timely opening of the new student center.
– Chronic under-staffing and unacceptable hiring delays, including in key campus service areas, with serious impacts for employees, students, and retirees.
– Further violations by WMU of shared governance and due process in its pursuit of rapid restructuring and in other decision-making.
– Unacknowledged implications of the new “competitive” budget model on the curriculum, the research mission, and the general integrity of WMU’s academic identity, for example, curricular disputes as colleges compete against each other for tuition revenue.
-Unnecessary rigidity with respect to workload modalities, for example, requiring in-person meetings or availability even when this does not make sense either for the employee or students.
-A squandered opportunity to more fairly and rationally address salary equity adjustments through WMU’s failure to collaborate effectively with faculty in the negotiated “salary equity committee” last Spring, and in its ongoing failure to accept overtures to continue that committee work.
– Ongoing enthusiasm by WMU to escalate issues unnecessarily, for example, the summer preference grievance that is now being decided by arbitration, a time-consuming and expensive process both for WMU and for the WMU-AAUP.
As we noted in our blog posting of March 3, 2022: “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.” Although the WMU administration has made some gestures toward reconciliation with employees, its current approach to the Employee Engagement Survey results — schedule more forums and solicit more feedback — seems like an exercise in denial and delay rather than actual problem-solving. Ongoing listening and data collection are obviously commendable, but they are no excuse for failing to act on information that has already been repeatedly provided and validated.
In fact, our campus community has been admirably clear about what WMU needs in order to address its challenges: Leaders who are inspired, capable, and determined, and who recognize that our great university owes its success over the past century to the wisdom and energy of its students, staff, and faculty. As our faculty colleagues have been expressing to us, campus constituents do not need more public “listening sessions” to give voice to their concerns. Rather, we need to have the problems and solutions we have been repeatedly and urgently identifying to actually be heard and acted upon.