WMU rolls out its controversial new budget model

A message from WMU-AAUP President, Dr. Cathryn Bailey, and WMU-AAUP Vice President, Dr. Whitney DeCamp

As WMU’s determination to implement its controversial new SRM budget model forges ahead, apparently on schedule, grave worries and concerns are beginning to pile up. This is not a surprise given that the model places still more pressure on employees even as our campus morale crisis continues to simmer. At the very same time that faculty and staff report being under-appreciated, unheard, and, in some cases chronically under-resourced, they are being urged to “reach deep,” to innovate, to grab the reins and solve WMU’s supposed financial problems and enrollment woes all under the SRM banner.

At the WMU-AAUP, we have been sharing concerns about the once-trendy “RCM” or “SRM” budget models for a while. Although SRM advocates champion the supposed flexibility and motivation this model provides to individual colleges, the predictable result is often a hunger games scenario. Accordingly, and what’s now happening at WMU: under the tacit or spoken threat of elimination, faculty are forced to prove their short-term value and worth, competing against one another for precious students, credit hours, and resources simply for the privilege of advancing into yet another round of kill-or-be-killed.

The practical problems with the SRM models are legion and very much in line with concerns being shared with us by our faculty and staff colleagues:

* As colleges are pressed to generate revenue in ever tightening circumstances, individual departments and employees are being tasked with solving the enrollment problem. Counterintuitively, at the same time the faculty are being starved of resources, we are being prodded to move faster and faster.

* Individual units and employees are being held responsible for solving institutional and systemic problems, sometimes under the guise of shared governance. As one faculty member colleague recently put it: “We’re not just being asked to do more with less. We’re being asked to perform magic because some of the higher ups have given up on addressing the problems themselves.”

* The integrity and value of the institution as a whole is placed in jeopardy in the supposed service of rewarding innovative and profitable units. There is renewed pressure on colleges and departments to come up with short-term efforts to attract students even as WMU’s basic academic infrastructure creaks, groans, and crumbles after years of neglect. Although SRM “subventions” are supposed to protect the university’s core commitments, the reality as it begins to unfold tells a different story, a competitive free-for-all with permanent damage to the core academic infrastructure.  

The fact that the practical and logistical problems of the SRM model are so ubiquitous may be why our campus community has not, as far as we know, ever been presented with actual examples of true peer institutions where the model has been implemented to good long-term effect. Instead, we have been provided with slogans and cheerleading, appeals to “innovation,” “creativity,” “autonomy,” and the like. Again, the basic message seems to be that if Western is to address its enrollment problems and its purported attendant financial scarcity, it is ultimately up to “us” to do it, even in the midst of gross staffing shortages that impede basic operations all across campus.  

That is, there is further pressure on individual faculty members, instructors and teaching assistants — most of whom are already committed to innovation and the development of responsive curricula — to create trendy new courses and programs so compelling that they will draw students from around the world. It is up to individual landscape workers and dining services employees to make campus so beautiful, and keep students so well fed, that they will stay. It is up to individual counselors and academic advisors to forge such deep personal connections with each individual student who crosses their path, that the student will feel “at home.”

Not only are we being asked, as individuals, to take on the responsibility of whether WMU, as an institution, thrives or fails — and this is in addition to the actual jobs we were hired by the university to do — the SRM rhetoric implies that we are anachronistic and irresponsible if we fail to rise to the occasion. Indeed, if we were cutting edge, energetic go-getters, it is often suggested, then we would be celebrating all of the supposed newfound economic, entrepreneurial “independence” rather than “complaining” that we’ve now been tasked with enrollment management.

It is, of course, true that individuals play an important role in shaping our university’s future. The fact that Western employees understand this is precisely why WMU has been doing as well as it has after decades of budget cutting. Most of us have been working incredibly hard even in increasingly difficult circumstances. But, it feels like gaslighting for employees who have been marginalized from so much critical decision-making over the years — for example, branding, identity, and fundamental budgetary values — to have potential institutional failure placed on our shoulders.

Although this is not a sexy idea, our position remains the same: Western Michigan University’s long-term success as an institution depends on its willingness to invest in the basic quality of its core academic mission. Innovation is great, and something faculty do exceedingly well. But there are no magical quick fixes to transform our university into a magnet for students across the region or around the world. To succeed intact as an institution over the long haul, WMU must draw a line in the sand and decide what it truly values rather than pursuing slogan-based gimmicks.

As we have repeatedly demonstrated, including during the last round of negotiations in 2021, WMU does not have a budget crisis so much as a budget priority crisis, one that seems to have placed Academic Affairs in a chronic state of artificial financial emergency. It is one thing to experience austerity during times of genuine material scarcity. It is quite another to know that, at least in part, such neglect is the predictable result of avoidable financial choices. Unless and until Western’s leaders — especially its president and its Board members — decide to re-slice the whole financial pie, no amount of SRM cheerleading will turn the tide. Indeed, as it stands now, the main consequence of WMU’s SRM experiment may simply be to make campus morale even worse than it already is.


Redefining “The Western Way”: New faces and possibilities at WMU

A message from WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey and WMU-AAUP Vice President Whitney DeCamp

Governor Whitmer’s recent announcement of three new Western Michigan University trustees, combined with the hiring of an energetic new provost, mark this time as one of unusual hope and possibility at Western. Yes, our campus has struggled through some difficult times, including a number of chronic problems that were exacerbated during the worst of the pandemic. Our university has also suffered from a malaise that insiders often refer to as “The Western Way,” a shorthand description of processes that seem ill-conceived and doomed to produce unsatisfactory results. Despite such challenges, there is no reason that our campus cannot turn the tide and transform “The Western Way” into a reference to our campus’s commitment to collaboration, effectiveness, and pride.

As we have suggested in a number of past communications to members, the great heartbreak surrounding so many of WMU’s problems is that they have been avoidable. So, for example, while most Michigan universities have been struggling with challenging demographic, social, political, and financial realities — which have repercussions for everything from enrollment to mental health — some WMU administrators over the years have made choices that have unnecessarily, and sometimes quite predictably, worsened the impacts for WMU. When folks refer to “the Western Way,” they often seem to have in mind cumulative, short-sighted administrative maneuvers that unnecessarily grind away at staff and faculty morale and make it harder to simply do our jobs.

A few familiar examples:

  • a sense of being nickeled and dimed where program funding and compensation are concerned, including resources for the human beings critical to the academic mission  
  • an impression that WMU is unwilling to make consistent small investments to shore up core staffing and infrastructure, a worry that is being further realized by the recent implementation of the “SRM” budget model 
  • a feeling by at least some critical employees in every group that they are perceived by higher ups primarily as a drain on resources rather than as its most precious asset  
  • skepticism that employee input matters to higher ups; more and more “forums” can seem irrelevant to folks to who have come to believe that their voices do not matter
  • an impression that high-level administrators see their main loyalty and responsibility as being toward one another, that they regard themselves more as elite managers than as stewards in service roles to the university
  • problems of transparency, concern by employees that that they are not being told the full story about WMU’s challenges, let alone being included in collaborative problem-solving
  • a sense that the WMU administration sometimes sees employees — be they instructors, landscapers, advisors, or administrative staff — not as valued colleagues, but entirely as subordinates to be “managed”
  • an all too frequent inclination by some WMU administrators to unnecessarily provoke and escalate disagreements with its various employee groups rather than seek ways to compromise for the good of the institution

In general, up to now, “The Western Way” has functioned as a shorthand for campus leaders’ troubling and sometimes inscrutable choices for matters small and large, from the banners that promote WMU on Stadium Drive to how staffing cuts have occurred. The impacts have been felt everywhere from the dining halls, classrooms, advisors’ offices, and, critically, at contract negotiation tables where WMU has sometimes seemed more focused on “winning” an imagined contest against its own hardworking employees rather than reaching fair, mutually acceptable terms.

But as concerning as all of these details may sound, there is good news. Many individuals and employee groups at WMU have already clearly identified concrete problems and this helps to mark a pretty clear path forward for all who are eager to transform “The Western Way.” It is a cause for optimism, too, that some of our university’s greatest challenges are changeable, as the solution lies in internal institutional responses as much as external situations. This means that the power to make a real difference lies within the reach of empowered WMU hands. In short, we at Western Michigan University need not wait for perfect social, political, and financial circumstances to fully restore WMU’s functioning and reputation as a great regional university.

While all Broncos have some agency and accountability when it comes to shifting the tide, there can be no doubt that administrative higher ups and WMU trustees hold special power and responsibility. And while the big decisions and initiatives they champion surely matter, it is also their cumulative daily attitudes and choices that will disproportionately shape what “The Western Way” will come to mean in the future. Will the old habits and the old culture hold sway, or do we truly stand at a new beginning?

It is our great hope and, we know, also that of many of our colleagues in every employee group, that “The Western Way” will soon come to evoke qualities such as these:

– an institution that puts its core educational mission first, including all of the many and varied human beings necessary to realize that mission 

– a university at which administrators define themselves in terms of their service roles 

– an ethically principled, smoothly functioning university that is a first choice both for students and their families, and for employees 

– a university that is a source of pride for the region, our entire state, and beyond

Go Western!  

WMU’s open wounds and the promise of new administrators

A message from WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey

As my first term as WMU-AAUP president winds down and I prepare to begin a new one, I find myself reflecting on the upheavals and transitions on our campus over the past couple of years. Under the shadow of the pandemic, WMU employees and students have faced incredible challenges. Some recent hurdles have been essentially unavoidable, for example, certain difficulties associated with teaching modality shifts, and large-scale demographic changes statewide that can influence enrollment. Other political and economic trends have also taken their toll. Although some of our challenges have been inevitable, the WMU-AAUP has kept focus on some of the “elective” issues we have faced, specifically how our institution has chosen to respond to uncertainties.

Last year’s No Confidence Resolution clearly expressed – and the employee engagement survey has confirmed – that it is the considered view of the overwhelming majority of WMU employees that WMU leaders have, sometimes at decisive moments, responded in ways that have not been especially effective or compassionate. Further, some recent administrative decisions have been demonstrably inconsistent with our university’s longstanding core values of transparency, shared governance, and due process. With concerns related to salary equity, workload fairness, “interdisciplinary restructuring,” summer teaching preference, disciplinary due process and more, the WMU-AAUP has frequently found itself embattled, sometimes fighting for the most basic levels of responsiveness and collegial respect. At several especially low points, some administrators have even appeared to prioritize their own personally-driven agendas over stewarding their units or advocating for faculty, staff, and students as they are professionally and ethically obligated to do. 

The sobering news, then, is that our campus is caught in a tricky situation. But this clear-eyed, realistic portrait also includes some positive points. Notably, even in WMU’s bleakest, most contentious moments, there have always been courageous, open-minded, committed, and compassionate individuals in every employee group, including among our cohort of administrator colleagues. I refer here to folks who have been willing to speak truth to power, to admit mistakes, and to extend olive branches rather than cattle prods. These are also folks who have been authentically eager and able to connect with students, faculty, and staff as respected partners. So, although there is no denying that WMU employees have been confronted with periodically inappropriate, patronizing, and even insulting conduct, there have also been some administrators who have refused to continue playing the same old “us vs. them” games that have been eroding WMU’s morale for years.

It’s no accident that I emphasize this point as our campus awaits the arrival of its newly appointed provost. Obviously, no one should pin their hopes on any one person. But the news of his appointment is a reminder of the powerful opportunity that new campus leaders can represent, especially if they can avoid falling into the swirls of existing groupthink and internecine biases that so often taint, from the beginning, administrators’ ability to work open-mindedly and collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students. Far too often, new hires can fall quickly into the patterns and habits that have dogged their predecessors, taking cues and instruction from exhausted and cynical leaders who have propelled the very problems that need addressing. Even new arrivals, then, are at risk of developing the habit of relating to faculty and staff as underlings to be manipulated, flattered, coerced, or otherwise “managed,” rather than as respected partners in shared governance. Such condescending and bureaucratic attitudes are an expression of the “Western way” that is better left behind and not spilled into the path of a promising new provost.

Of course, we all have reason to be skeptical, and only time will tell, but I can say one thing right now: As the WMU-AAUP President, I will continue to represent the will of the Chapter and assiduously address the fallout of administrative irresponsibility and abuse. However, I am also mindful of members’ desire that we identify and take advantage of new opportunities to move forward, to locate points of agreement and opportunities for collaborative problem solving with WMU. There is no doubt that WMU students, faculty, and staff have been given ample reason to feel disappointment over the diminished state of our university. But in this new moment, we also have new opportunities if we are open to possibility. After all, it is one of the most important benefits of being part of a powerful labor union that our cooperation and good will emerge from a place of strength rather than weakness.

Arbitration Victory: WMU Faculty Summer Teaching Rights Protected

A message from WMU-AAUP President Bailey and Vice President DeCamp

We’re pleased to share good news about the arbitration regarding summer preference that we filed earlier this year in response to contractual violations by WMU. In brief, Arbitrator Thomas J. Barnes agreed with the WMU-AAUP that faculty have the right to preference for summer teaching in the amount of 6 credit hours per session (12 credit hours total) rather than the 6 credit hours per summer that the administration had recently begun to claim.

As a reminder, and as we reported to you in the spring, the WMU administration announced a novel plan to: a) limit preference for summer courses for academic-year faculty to six credit hours per year, b) only pay the summer teaching rate for the first six credit hours per summer for academic year faculty, and subsequently pay only the overload rate, and c) apply both of these limits by the fiscal year rather than calendar summer. The WMU-AAUP recognized that each of these changes was a violation of the 2021-2026 WMU-AAUP Agreement.

Further, our analyses indicated that such unilateral changes could result in a loss of faculty compensation of up to one million dollars annually. In short, this was an attempt by the administration to deny rightful, negotiated income to faculty, and the WMU-AAUP resolved to take the legal actions necessary to address these violations. The violations regarding the limited use of the summer salary rate and use of the fiscal year were reversed as a result of a grievance filed by the Chapter. With this week’s arbitration decision, the summer preference issue has now also been resolved in favor of the faculty. In short, all three of the unilateral changes recently imposed by the administration have now been reversed.

It’s worth noting that the opinion of the arbitrator shows careful consideration of the arguments made by both sides, decisively concluding that the WMU-AAUP compellingly fulfilled the burden of proof. Here are the key findings in Arbitrator Barnes’s conclusion:

“[T]he Union produced evidence beyond the past practice of harmonizing the provision at issue here with other sections of the CBA. While none of them standing alone are conclusive by any means, taken together they support a construction that is consistent with the parties’ 38-year practice. […] The Employer’s assertions in its post hearing brief would lead me to believe that the University voluntarily paid out summer salaries as the Union demands perhaps on the basis of its goodwill and currying favor with the faculty. That is just not how collective bargaining works and there was no evidence to that effect. Small favors and minor economic emoluments do not amount to any binding commitments as many arbitrators have held; payment of wages over 38 years now challenged by the University would amount to an acknowledgment that over that time period it was not managing and husbanding its economic resources prudently. When the University now says that it had the right all along, for nearly four decades, to do what it proposes is to acknowledge that it paid out monies that it never owed, thus undercutting its responsibilities to the students and to the taxing authorities. Unfortunately in this case, the realities of collective bargaining and of the obligations of the parties can lead to no other conclusion than that the University faithfully carried out its financial obligations under the CBA until the current situation arose. […] The grievance is granted prospectively beginning with the summer of 2023.”

This decision is binding and requires the university to respect the multi-decade (negotiated) tradition of providing faculty preference in teaching assignments.

In closing, we would like to acknowledge all who contributed to this success, including former officers and legal counsel. Moreover, several faculty were present to provide testimony before the arbitrator, and this outcome is a direct result of their willingness to stand in solidarity against contract violations.

If you learn of any instances of these WMU-AAUP contractual rights being violated, or communications from the administration that suggest they will not be honored, please contact us at staff@wmuaaup.net. Likewise, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.

In solidarity,

Cathryn Bailey, President of the WMU-AAUP

Whitney DeCamp, Vice President of the WMU-AAUP


The Employee Engagement Survey: Administrative denial and delay

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.

The Michigan Senate’s Spurious Rejection of WMU Trustee Jon Hoadley

A message from WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey and WMU-AAUP Vice President Whitney DeCamp

We are deeply troubled by the Michigan Senate’s vote 20-18 yesterday to reject Gov. Whitmer’s appointment of Jon Hoadley to Western Michigan University’s Board of Trustees, a position Hoadley was sworn into on March 17. Although some senators pointed to a conflict of interest as their justification (Hoadley is taking graduate classes at WMU), they did so in defiance of a 1999 Attorney General opinion clearly stating that “a student at a state institution of higher education granting baccalaureate degrees, by simultaneously serving as a member of that institution’s governing board, does not violate Const 1963, art 4, § 10, or the state officer’s conflict of interest act.”

Given both the spurious nature of the rationale for rejecting him as disqualified, and considering current anti-LGBTQ political trends, it would be irresponsible to ignore Hoadley’s status as an openly gay political leader. As Sen. Jeremey Moss (D-Southfield) said yesterday on the Senate floor: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that this is the second appointee of the governor to a university board of an openly gay person who is being rejected. Two now. Back-to-back.”

Erin Knott, the Executive Director of Equality Michigan, echos this concern, arguing that this is a “ruse to deny the appointment, simply because Jon is an openly gay man.” Knott also observed: “What’s even more egregious is the fact that many of these Senators served with Jon during his tenure in the Michigan Legislature and can attest to his ability to serve.”

We share the view that Hoadley has distinguished himself as a courageous and effective leader in multiple contexts and that he has also been a friend to higher education. In fact, it is consistent with his outstanding qualities that Hoadley has characterized the vote to eject him, without even being included in the deliberations, as “counter to the spirit of open debate and study that is a hallmark for higher education institutions.”

The Michigan Senate’s summary rejection of Jon Hoadley is in defiance of Michigan’s explicit conflict-of-interest policy regarding such matters and adds to a growing wave of noxious anti-LGBTQ backlash that threatens to take our country backward. This rejection is not only an insult to Hoadley, but to all of us at Western Michigan University who value fair play, respect, and the inclusion of diverse views and perspectives in higher education leadership.It is with all this in mind that we encourage you to contact Michigan Senators and urge them to reconsider the rejection of Jon Hoadley and all that he stands for.

above photo is from a recent MLive story

WMU’s latest budget model: New jargon to rationalize old spending priorities?

By Dr. Cathryn Bailey, President of the WMU-AAUP

Faculty concerns about the direction WMU is taking have tended to prioritize shared governance, enrollment management, and campus morale. Less featured in recent discussions that led to a No Confidence Vote by the faculty, but often adjacent to faculty concern and dissatisfaction, is WMU’s adoption of a new budget model. As it is explained on Western’s own website:

“Strategic Resource Management is a philosophy and model, not a budget. It’s a means to achieve the University’s strategic goals, but it does not determine those goals. SRM aims to create transparency and clarity in the process of resource allocation, and it is most effectively applied in an atmosphere of shared commitment and engagement from the campus community. SRM is expected to provide an incentive-based and transparent budget system that is linked to WMU’s strategic plan, decentralize decision-making and align resources and accountability to University units.”

What WMU now refers to as SRM seems to be based on the so-called Responsibility Center Management (RCM) approach, which is meant to decentralize spending authority, ideally providing more flexibility and autonomy to the colleges and other divisions. This model is also supposed to incentivize the various units to increase efficiencies, cut waste, and encourage “investment” in areas most likely to generate revenue. Besides endeavoring to cover their own costs with their own revenues, individual colleges and other university “units” may be charged by the institution to cover shared expenses, such as overarching administrative and logistical support. Expenses that administration deems crucial may receive “subvention,” i.e., a subsidy, in an effort to protect less “profitable” but purportedly necessary programs and initiatives.

When this model is enacted in a higher learning context, some of the philosophical and practical challenges are pretty obvious. For example: In a national climate that increasingly treats teaching and learning as mere commodities, will market considerations and upper administrative priorities drive decisions about curricula? We are already witnessing unhealthy competition as colleges, and even departments, feel pitted against one another in a bid to secure their narrowly defined “profitable” futures, even if this seems likely to damage the university as a whole. Will a model that aims to reward entrepreneurialism and innovation instead jeopardize long term and historically valuable commitments, such as the institution’s longstanding identity, its liberal arts core, and employee morale and job security? We can probably all agree that efficiency and productivity are important considerations for any organization, but is this model really suitable for a complex, diverse, socially-responsible public university?

While defining and preparing to implement the new budget model, SRM-speak has already become well entrenched in WMU’s culture, including in how administrators propagate its associated aspirations and excuses.This includes both rationales for further belt-tightening as well as promises about potential rewards in some fantasy future. For example, loss of staff colleagues supposedly generates staffing “efficiency.” Raising faculty workloads — despite the implications on students and faculty research — has a net positive impact on a department’s bottom line. By contrast, equity adjustments to faculty and staff salaries would fail to match with SRM priorities. The unprecedented uncertainty of the recent past, administrators suggest, will transform into certainty once SRM is fully adopted and calibrated; like an invisible hand, its internal logic and sense will ultimately prevail. Meanwhile, if faculty, staff, and mid-level administrators are hardworking, innovative, and patient enough, it is implied, we will reap the rewards while less enterprising units will ensure their obsolescence.

This scenario would be bad enough if it were actually plausible that the SRM model is what now compels the institution toward budget austerity. But given that the scarcity and belt-tightening mindset has dominated WMU’s climate for years — with, for example, faculty and staff conceived primarily as a financial liability rather than as a resource — the “new budget model” sounds more like the latest rationalization for ongoing, endless austerity, even in the wake of an incredible $550 million donation. Further, for many faculty, staff, and administrators who’ve been around for a while it’s pretty hard to believe that the administration will begin rewarding units for their sacrifices and contributions, invocations of “SRM” notwithstanding, when such hard work and productivity has rarely been rewarded in the past. Indeed, it’s impossible to miss the fact that there always seem to be administrative rationalizations available for why some areas of campus deserve funding and others do not.

Despite Western’s insistence that SRM is a method, not a vision, this model has quickly taken on a life and identity of its own. It has already become a smokescreen behind which administrators need no longer take responsibility for the values driving their own budgetary decisions, and which discourages questions from faculty and staff. But dressing up promises and threats in SRM garb does not change the fact that it is individuals — including administrators and members of the Board of Trustees — who decide what is worth investment at Western Michigan University and what is not. When, for example, our staff colleagues were summarily eliminated in 2020, that was because WMU administrators, including both high level administrators and deans, made the decision to do so. Euphemistically referring to this as a RIF (Reduction in Force), as such acronyms often do, deflects responsibility from the actual individuals who made and rationalized the decisions.

The fact remains, however one labels the university’s budget model or its employee eliminations, that each and every decision about what deserves to be preserved and invested in, and what is superfluous, will be fundamentally human and values-driven. And the sheer fact that there will be arbitrariness in the “system” is evidenced by WMU’s repeated reassurance of subsidies for items which WMU leaders deem most worthy. Although SRM is a signature innovation under the president’s leadership, it is already functioning to provide the same kind of cover we’ve seen under past administrations: rationalizations for unnecessary and unwise budget cuts to essential services and personnel, and justifications for pet projects and potential short-term revenue streams. Whether SRM goes down in WMU’s history as yet another formula for university “executives” to point to while they spend and cut as they see fit will depend on us. How willing are we to challenge the ascendency of SRM jargon and demand accountability from the actual people behind each momentous budgetary decision?

WMU’s Employee Morale Crisis: Another Clear Sign that Change is Needed

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.

WMU-AAUP files summer teaching grievance

Last week, the WMU-AAUP, under authorization by the Executive Committee, filed a grievance over a new policy that the administration intends to implement effective July 1, 2022. As you may have heard, the administration is planning to: a) limit preference for summer courses for academic-year faculty to six credits per year, b) only pay the summer teaching rate for the first six credits per summer for academic year faculty, and subsequently pay only the overload rate, and c) apply both of these limits by the fiscal year (e.g., treat Summer II 2022 and Summer I 2023 as part of the same year). The WMU-AAUP considers each of these changes to be a violation of the WMU/WMU-AAUP 2021-2026 Agreement, including but not limited to violations of Articles 31 and 41.

Although we are still waiting for more data to further examine, our preliminary analyses suggest that this unilateral policy change may result in up to one million dollars in compensation decreases annually. The combined decrease in salary to faculty would likely be equivalent to or in excess of half of the negotiated raise for 2021-2022, for each year that this policy is in effect. This attempt to claw back salary from faculty is simply unacceptable. The officers of the WMU-AAUP, with the support of legal counsel, are prepared to take any and all legal actions necessary to have this policy rescinded, beginning with the grievance filed today.

We have already heard from some faculty who indicated that they are either reconsidering or have already changed their course requests for Summer II 2022 as a result of this policy because teaching in Summer II this year might affect preference and/or salary in Summer I 2023. Although we are not in a position to advise faculty to take or not take any specific actions regarding course requests, we do want to make sure that you are advised that this policy is in dispute. Academic-year faculty should consider this dispute, along with other personal and professional factors, as they make decisions for summer teaching opportunities.

We will keep the faculty updated on all significant developments as this case moves forward. In you have concerns or questions about this new policy or our response to it, please reach out at any time. Grievance Officer Eric Archer (earcher@wmuaaup.net) and Vice President Whitney DeCamp (wdecamp@wmuaaup.net) are the primary points of contact for this issue, though faculty are, of course, welcome to contact any officer, staff, and/or representative with any questions or comments.

Compensation, Pay Stubs, and You

A message to members from WMU-AAUP Vice President Whitney DeCamp

Given the dramatic news impacting our campus, it can be easy to overlook the more mundane issues that the WMU-AAUP is working on. This is especially true when, as is often the case, the Chapter has been able to proactively address problems, sometimes even before faculty members have noticed them. In addition to the importance of reminding our colleagues that the WMU-AAUP is always working for them, often behind the scenes, there are also lessons to be learned from some of the Chapter’s interventions.

For example, promotional increments are one of the many compensation issues negotiated every few years for our Collective Bargaining Agreement with WMU. The implementation of these adjustments is usually straightforward: someone who gets promoted gets the amount in the Agreement when the promotion goes into effect. In negotiation years, however, it is a little more complicated. Promotional increments are first received in the September 5 paycheck for faculty on an academic year appointment (July 20 for fiscal year appointments), but it is often late September before we have an Agreement that has been voted on by the faculty and approved by the Board of Trustees. As a result, the promotional increment from the previous Agreement is applied initially, and then an additional amount is provided after the new Agreement has been approved to bring up the total raise to match the new amount. This is a system that has been adopted (after much confusion in the past) to ensure that newly promoted faculty receive both a timely raise and a full raise.

Unfortunately, what works in theory does not always work in practice. Although most of the recently promoted faculty received the correct adjustments, a few did not. In our annual review of compensation data provided for the salary survey (contact staff@wmuaaup.net to request a copy), we discovered that a small number of individuals did not receive the final negotiated amount. This was ultimately the result of an error and, to their credit, the administration quickly agreed to correct it once we brought the issue to their attention, resulting in nearly $700 being added to the base salaries for those faculty affected.

What can we learn from this anecdote?

First, the WMU-AAUP has your back. As the union representing the faculty, we’re here for you when you have questions, concerns, and complaints. More than that, we take steps whenever possible to ensure that the contract is being followed, even if we haven’t received a specific complaint.

Second, always check your paystubs. Although we wish we could check all the details for everyone, we simply do not have access to that level of information. Promotional adjustments are something that we can monitor, but many other elements of compensation are beyond our reach. Does the deduction for insurance premiums match your selections? Does it include the wellness discount if you chose to participate? Do the retirement contributions match your election(s) and is the employer contribution based on the correct percentage? For overload or summer pay, are they are the correct rates? These are a few examples, but not an exhaustive list.

If you discover a problem, or a possible problem, please reach out to us to let us know. We’re happy to work with faculty who suspect there may be a problem with their compensation and to advocate for a timely correction.