A message from WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey and Vice President Whitney DeCamp
It has now been sixteen months since the Board-appointed faculty at Western Michigan University overwhelmingly voted to approve a vote of no confidence in WMU’s President. Despite this clear message demanding change, and ample additional evidence of a morale crisis as demonstrated by a Faculty Senate survey and the administration’s employee engagement survey, the president remains in his position. Further, with the exception of a new provost, the cast of supporting characters — including most of the vice presidents, associate provosts, and deans — also remains largely unchanged. As another academic year winds to a close, this is a good time to take stock of where we’ve come over the past year and half or so.
Although the perspectives of individual faculty, staff, and students will obviously vary, from our point of view, many of the concerns expressed by the no confidence vote remain largely unresolved. A few are especially worrisome because they represent not merely discrete problems that might be addressed through targeted policy changes, but an ongoing corrosion of the foundation of Western’s campus culture. For example, leadership’s “failure to respond appropriately to feedback and concerns” and the “unprecedented narrowing of the practice of shared governance” are higher order, systemic deficits that make more specific problems — for example, enrollment challenges — much harder to address. Moreover, leadership failures that continue to damage WMU’s status as a “great place to learn and work,” create a vicious cycle of campus dissatisfaction, making our university less attractive to new talent and energy that might help to renew and reinvigorate it.
Despite some modest improvements in some areas of enrollment data last year, cause for concern has remained steady or grown in other important areas, including:
– After the precipitous layoff of numerous key employees a few years ago, chronic under-staffing and problematic hiring delays.
– Further violations by WMU of shared governance and due process in its pursuit of rapid restructuring and in other decision-making.
– The administration’s refusal to take basic steps to assure impartiality in the grievance process, further undermining confidence that faculty concerns will be fairly considered.
– A lack of transparency, for example, about challenges regarding the new student center.
– Unacknowledged implications of the new “competitive” budget model on the curriculum and the research mission.
– A failure by WMU to accept the Chapter’s repeated invitations to initiate discussion about the possibility of adding Juneteenth as an official holiday to the university calendar in response to state and federal recognition and student requests.
– An over-reliance on the formal disciplinary process to address concerns about faculty job performance and a failure to properly adhere to the process, for example, to provide evidence for allegations of misconduct.
– 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 year, and in its ongoing failure to accept overtures to continue that committee work.
– Ongoing enthusiasm by WMU to rely upon attorneys to handle employee concerns and to escalate issues unnecessarily, for example, the summer preference grievance that was decided in the Chapter’s favor through a time-consuming and expensive arbitration process.
As we noted in message 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 welcome gestures toward reconciliation with employees over the past 16 months, it seems like they’ve just given up when it comes to some of the most substantive concerns. Also, as we have noted previously, at some point, ongoing listening and data collection seem like an excuse for failing to act when information has already been repeatedly provided.
Further, to be clear, in addition to the input faculty and staff have provided through numerous forums and surveys, the WMU-AAUP leadership has continued to convey faculty concerns to the administration. Far too often, however, the response is one that seems calibrated to highlight the administration’s managerial prerogatives over employees rather than its service and leadership responsibilities to them. It’s an unproductive scenario in which the elected leaders of Western’s faculty, teaching assistants and part-time instructors are likely to receive rebuttals rather than understanding from WMU administrators when we share our colleagues’ concerns.
It was, of course, disappointing that, after the faculty’s historic resolution of no confidence, the WMU Board of Trustees’ response was, at least publicly, to double-down on its support for the president and the status quo. This included approval of presidential raises and bonuses that, to some campus employees seemed not just exorbitant, but insulting. After all, the Board took these actions even as faculty and staff were being lectured by the administration about the ongoing need for belt-tightening. Still, things might have unfolded differently. The resolution might have been received by the administration as a wake up call, an invitation to reflect unflinchingly on its record and to embrace every opportunity to restore campus confidence.
As dramatic as the December 2021 faculty resolution itself was, then, what is almost more noteworthy than that event itself is the administration’s ongoing failure to provide healing and responsive leadership since then. It is a sobering fact that two of the most frequent questions we have received this semester are: “How much notice do I have to provide when I resign?” and “How long will my benefits continue once I resign?” It seems that not only has our campus morale not been improving, it may actually be getting worse as time passes and hope fades.