The invisible labor of WMU professors: Three lessons from your own workload stories

Probably the most striking conclusion of the workload comments faculty have shared with the WMU-AAUP this semester is that, when it comes to research, teaching, and service, we professors are in the best position to tell our own stories. In fact, in sharing the interesting, sometimes idiosyncratic, details of their work responsibilities, faculty have described feeling isolated and misunderstood, not just by administrators, but sometimes even by faculty colleagues.

For example, one faculty member observed that “there seems to be an assumption that because I have a heavy teaching load that I must not care about scholarship, but I never stopped writing and publishing articles even though I’m given almost no time to do it.” Conversely, another professor shared that he is almost afraid to talk about how low his official teaching load is with colleagues outside his department because “it gives people the wrong idea. The fact that my official teaching credits are low doesn’t do justice to how much time I’m actually required to spend working with individual graduate students.”

Other faculty described frustrations about how research, scholarship and creative activity are recognized and valued. As one professor explained, “Scholarship in my field takes time and my department understands this. But for people in departments that emphasize lots of co-authored articles rather than books, it must look like I’m just sitting on my ass.” Another faculty member emphasized the painstaking process of securing and managing external grants, and of how this “basically becomes an entire job unto itself, in addition to the actual research the grant is supposed to fund.”

Not surprisingly, service was another area about which faculty expressed frustration, suggesting that too much of this work was rendered invisible by “bean counting administrators.” One professor described the increased pressure he’s felt over the years as his department’s faculty numbers have dwindled. “At the same time, the service demands have gone up,” he said. “There seems to be no recognition that fewer faculty members are being asked to do more and more.” Another faculty member explained that much of what claims her time seems to fall outside the recognized workload parameters, for example, “Every single week a handful of students stop in for informal advising discussions. I want to help them, but they aren’t even ‘my’ students. Am I supposed to turn them away?”

Though no single, overarching theme emerged from the workload stories shared with the WMU-AAUP, three were repeated enough to serve as cautionary lessons.

  • First, there is the recognition that the work faculty do across colleges varies, sometimes dramatically, and that no numerical system can fully do justice to this diversity.
  • Second, the best experts for determining what counts as meaningful research, teaching and service work in a given field are to be found in that field; WMU faculty are the best experts with respect to workload evaluations.
  • Third, more discussion is needed among faculty across departments and colleges to better understand and appreciate the diverse value we bring to WMU. Now, if only we could find the time!

Below are additional examples of labor that faculty feel may be misunderstood or rendered invisible. What did we miss?

– writing, customizing, and uploading student reference letters for graduate schools, professional programs, and academic employment

– engaging in industry consulting work that may be both expected and appropriate to one’s academic role

– informal academic and personal advising of undergraduate students, especially those who arrive underprepared

– driving time to teach courses at WMU distance learning sites, especially in the winter

– serving on diversity and inclusion initiatives, especially for faculty of color

– remaining current in one’s academic discipline, especially when one’s field is international in scope

– dealing with the ongoing demands of accreditation reports and other documentation

– completing a myriad of WMU online trainings, for example, cyber security and bullying

– direct individual supervision of students, especially graduate students, in required internship or performance activities

– completing time-consuming academic program review documentation as periodically required by administration, especially when this work has no apparent consequences

– piecing together small funding opportunities for routine academic work in the absence of sufficient support for conference and research travel (especially when international)

– completing professional activity reports, especially when one’s accomplishments do not fit neatly into its categories

– work done for the Lee Honors College, for example, scholarships, thesis committees, and serving as speakers

– participating in curricular overhauls, for example, essential studies

– facilitating the needs of increasing numbers of students who require special accommodations, for example, extra exam time

– assisting with departmental, college, and university recruitment efforts, e.g., spending time with prospective students and their families

– multiple (rather than streamlined) progress (and midterm grade) reporting for undergraduate students, for example, those on probation

If you haven’t yet had a chance to share your workload story with us, please send it!

Note: Faculty find much of this work to be both important and satisfying, but wish that it were better factored in during formal and informal assessments of their overall contributions. Also, some details have been altered to preserve anonymity.

How is investment in core academics part of WMU’s plan to address enrollment declines?

WMU’s enrollment has been in decline for years, due partly to predictable demographic shifts, and WMU is responding with a marketing initiative to make the university more attractive to a shrinking group of traditionally-aged prospective students. It’s no surprise that, amid the generation of new slogans, enhanced residence halls, and other student enticements, faculty are asking questions about the university’s investment in its core academic mission. For example:

  • How is the ongoing shift away from full-time tenure track faculty toward poorly paid part-time instructors consistent with WMU’s promise to provide a world-class education?
  • Is WMU’s investment in its “research-intensive” status sufficient to help prospective students distinguish WMU from community colleges and other, more affordable, four-year institutions?
  • Will core university basics, including traditional disciplines and general education, be sacrificed in order to feed trendier majors?
  • Will significant, ongoing investments be made in academic advisors, librarians, counselors, and academic student success programs to help students progress in WMU’s relatively open enrollment environment?

There are, of course, more general questions underlying worries about universities’ value commitments in the midst of increasingly assertive efforts to identify and draw in more students. For example:

  • How committed is the university to investing in quality over time, enhancing the institution’s long term reputation for excellence, rather than quick fixes?
  • Given that its employees — faculty and staff — distinguish a university as special, what investment will be made in actual people, above and beyond funds spent on facilities and marketing materials?
  • How does the institutions see its responsibility to respond to campus climate issues, for example, concerns about racial and gender equity, as consistent with its efforts to attract more students?

Though “austerity” is not a word most universities use to describe their response to enrollment declines, and the more or less predictable budget contractions that accompany them, many faculty and staff feel the threat of austerity in the air. With that in mind, it is reassuring when a university makes proactive, concerted efforts to become more appealing to students. But, for many faculty members, after years of watching our academic departments shrink and wither through attrition and disinvestment, it is understandable if we have serious concerns about investment in core academics.

Will faculty lines continue to melt away as state-of-the-art buildings are erected and new billboards and tv commercials appear? Will faculty and staff be left to foot the bill for glitzy marketing strategies that may feel good in the moment but have little long-term impact? Whether we will choose to see this latest chapter of enrollment decline as an opportunity to substantively invest in the people — students, faculty and staff — at the heart of our core academic mission remains to be seen.

2020 WMU-AAUP negotiation team selected

The WMU-AAUP is proud to present our 2020 negotiation team:

Robert White, chief negotiator, School of Music
Regina Garza Mitchell, Educational Leadership, Research and Technology
Andrew Hennlich, Frostic School of Art
Michael G. Miller, Human Performance and Health Education
Glinda Rawls, Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

Given the importance of assembling a dedicated, prepared, and effective negotiating team, the WMU-AAUP scrupulously follows a carefully delineated selection process (see below). These steps are meant to maximize faculty members’ opportunity to participate, while also respecting the need to compose a team with complementary strengths.

The result of this year’s process was a clear endorsement by the Executive Committee of the five 2020 members listed above, a selection unanimously upheld on Friday by a vote of the Association Council. We want to express our appreciation to all of this year’s nominees, including those not selected, as we pull together in solidarity to support Bob, Regina, Andrew, Michael, and Glinda.

Steps for selecting the team:

  • In September, a call for nominees was sent to the entire bargaining-unit faculty; members could self-nominate or nominate colleagues.
  • In October and November, the Executive Committee (comprised, according to our bylaws, of representatives from all of WMU’s colleges), interviewed nominees who had confirmed their willingness to serve on the team.
  • After all candidates were interviewed, there was in-depth discussion among Executive Committee members of candidates’ individual strengths, as well as how those strengths might best combine to create a formidable team.
  • Multiple votes were taken by the Executive Committee, with additional opportunities for discussion, resulting in a clear endorsement of the 2020 members.
  • The Executive Committee’s recommendations were unanimously approved by the Association Council on Nov. 15.

We invite anyone with an interest in participating in future negotiations, or with additional questions about the selection process, to contact us at staff@wmuaaup.net or give us a call. Together we are stronger!

How committed is our campus to shared governance? An AAUP questionnaire lets you do a quick assessment.

Based on your experience, how well is WMU doing at enacting the principles of shared governance? See any areas of improvement or cause for concern? Feel free to share your thoughts with the WMU-AAUP at staff@wmuaaup.net or give us a call.

Climate for Governance

Do the trustees, the administration, and the faculty model collegiality, respect, tolerance and civility towards other members of the campus community and each other?

Are negotiations and communications among university constituents open and carried out in good faith and in an atmosphere of trust?

Institutional Communication

Does consultation by the administration with faculty leadership allow time and a mechanism for leadership to consult with their constituents before offering recommendations?

Does the faculty as a whole, in addition to faculty representatives, have timely access to information necessary for faculty members to give input into governance processes?

The Board’s Role

Do members of the governing board have appropriate individual qualifications with regard to education and experience?

Is the board inappropriately involved in the day‐to‐ day operations of the institution?

Do board members inform themselves on governance issues by keeping up with the literature and participating in training opportunities and meetings of the Association of Governing Boards or the AAUP?

Does the board respect and support the facultyʹs traditional role in institutional governance?

The complete document is here.

Why the WMU-AAUP continues to thrive in the face of incredible challenges

Despite ongoing legislative attempts to throttle collective bargaining efforts by making it harder for unions to maintain robust membership, WMU faculty overwhelmingly continue to support the WMU-AAUP. In fact, though some form of so-called “right to work” laws have been in place in Michigan since 2013, 90% of eligible WMU faculty continue to support the union as full dues-paying members.

As some collective bargaining units across the nation have struggled to maintain membership in the face of increasing anti-union challenges, our union membership numbers are especially impressive. Out of a total of about 900 eligible faculty, only 45 tenure-track and 11 term faculty have committed to opting out. While we continue to reach out to to a handful of additional WMU faculty who have not yet submitted cards, the overall numbers are remarkably positive. Again, 90% of WMU faculty continue to fully support the Chapter as dues payers despite explicit attempts to dilute our solidarity.

No doubt this success is due, in part, to the WMU-AAUP’s implementation of a comprehensive member outreach plan in recent years designed to respond to the latest anti-union threats. This plan has included direct, intensive outreach to new faculty, including over the summer, and ongoing targeted communications throughout the year in the form of letters, phone calls, office visits, and emails. In addition to this painstaking work by WMU-AAUP staff and officers, AAUP department representatives (Association Council members) are on the front lines with respect to engaging with colleagues who have questions about membership, or somehow simply forgot to submit their dues card.

Our member outreach plan, combined with plain old elbow grease, is surely part of the secret to the Chapter’s impressive success, but the deeper explanation is likely much simpler: the WMU-AAUP’s impressive record of fighting for fair salaries and decent benefits, of doggedly standing up for faculty rights, and of offering critical guidance through a maze of bewildering processes, especially the rocky shoals of tenure and promotion.

In short, WMU faculty have a deeply rooted ethos of supporting our collective bargaining unit because of the value it brings to our individual and collective professional lives. As higher education withstands wave after wave of insult and assault, including threats to the basic viability of the professoriate, we invite you take a moment to celebrate the fact that WMU faculty are standing strong. We are, in fact, more united than ever in our commitment to fight for what is right and fair as we head into another negotiating season.

How successful are we at WMU at expressing our research-intensive values?

How many undergraduate students know the difference between a research-intensive university and one that is overwhelmingly teaching-focused? Even if students can recite some of the differences, how many of them even care? Further, to what extent are faculty members in touch with the reality of how well our university actually measures up to the values and mission associated with being research-intensive?

At universities like WMU that identify and market themselves as both research-intensive and focused on undergraduate education, these may be especially important issues to grapple with. After all, if we, ourselves, are not clear about how well our institution fulfills its claims to be research-intensive, we can’t help students appreciate this quality. As we reflect, then, here are a few reminders of some criteria generally associated with being research-intensive.

Such universities:

  • invest in faculty scholars and researchers, providing workloads, facilities and other resources (e.g., library, equipment, grant preparation, and travel funding) that facilitate and nourish such activity
  • place a high value on attracting and supporting promising graduate students across a broad range of disciplines; while such students may directly contribute to the teaching mission, their identities as scholars is primary
  • facilitate and encourage individual faculty efforts to incorporate their research into their teaching by, for example, providing grants and release time
  • foster and maintain specialized undergraduate majors and internships, instead of supporting only the most popular, fashionable ones
  • eliminate institutional roadblocks that impede interdisciplinary collaboration, for example, team-teaching or joint research projects

When considering our university, how would you respond to these questions? What other criteria are critical for assessing a university’s designation as research-intensive in ways that might matter most to faculty and students? And what other questions should we be considering when we ponder the future identity of our university as research or teaching-focused?

New issue of “The Journal of Academic Freedom” published

Volume 105, Number 4

The AAUP’s Journal of Academic Freedom is full of timely and important articles. Below are a few examples of what you’ll find in the newest issue.

Fighting to Protect—and Define—Academic Freedom
By Robert Quinn

Brazil’s Far-Right President, University Autonomy, and Academic Freedom
By James N. Green

Academic Freedom in Canada: A Labor Law Right
By David Robinson

Gender Studies and the Dismantling of Critical Knowledge in Europe
By David Paternotte

Academic Freedom in the United Kingdom
By Lori Allen

Academic Freedom and China
By Jennifer Ruth and Yu Xiao

Amicus Brief Addresses LGBTQ Discrimination
By Kelly Hand