WMU faculty member helps found “Feed the Fight Kalamazoo”; urges WMU colleagues to donate or volunteer

A WMU faculty member has been at the heart of efforts to simultaneously support local healthcare efforts and the Kalamazoo economy. Dr. Sally Hadden (History), together with Jodi Michaels (executive director of Colleagues International) and Adam Strong-Morse (local entrepreneur) have started a group called Feed the Fight Kalamazoo. It launched publicly and delivered its first meals this past Monday. As of today, FTFK has delivered over 700 meals to Bronson Health Center, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Family Health Center, and is working to develop additional partnerships. The meals are funded by public donations so restaurants are financially compensated for their efforts. More information is at FTFKalamazoo.org.

Feed the Fight began in Washington D.C., but each city group is independent, so all money raised in Kalamazoo stays here. The process is as follows: the public donates to FTFK (tax deductible, 501(c)3), FTFK places an order with a restaurant to purchase the meals (the number matching the request we get from hospital or KDPS), and then the meals are delivered to the hospital or KDPS and distributed to workers. It’s effective, Dr. Hadden says, because “restaurants get income, people at home get to support both restaurants and frontline workers by sending them free meals while remaining socially distant, and frontline workers against Covid19 get support directly from the communities they serve and live in.” FTF Kalamazoo is a non-profit organization, run solely on a volunteer basis, and all funds go to purchase meals.

WMU faculty questions highlight need for collaboration with faculty in university decision-making

Below is a partial compilation of questions expressed by Chapter members in recent weeks through emails, social media, direct conversations, and comments from various meetings. Do you share any of these concerns? What would you most like Chapter leaders to know about how WMU’s response to the pandemic is impacting you, your families, and your students? What can we all do to better ensure that faculty and staff are included as collaborators in WMU’s ongoing decisions during these volatile times?

Please attend today’s virtual all-Chapter meeting (Friday, April 17, 1:30-3) prepared to share your thoughts about the issues below, as well as your particular questions, concerns, and good news with Chapter leadership and other faculty colleagues.

WMU-AAUP member concerns (a partial list, culled from emails, social media comments, direct conversations, and comments made at various meetings)

  1. WMU will receive 15.5 million dollars as part of the federal stimulus package related to the pandemic. What will the WMU-AAUP do to ensure that there is transparency, and that the voices of faculty and other employees will be included, in WMU’s allocation decisions?
  2. When will decisions be made about how Summer II and Fall classes will be conducted? What steps is the Chapter taking to ensure that faculty will be involved in this decision-making?
  3. In its March 26th open letter to WMU about staff lay offs, the WMU-AAUP made specific requests, including that WMU “immediately appoint WMU-AAUP members” to a task force charged with collaborating in future decision-making, and that WMU “provide a complete and detailed report of the financial situation that has justified” staff layoffs, and “share the numbers of WMU employees impacted by these measures.” Did WMU admin respond to any or all of these demands? If not, what steps have been, or will be, taken by the Chapter to ensure that these WMU-AAUP requests, and those made in the future, will be taken seriously by WMU?
  4. How is the Chapter addressing the impact that admin’s policy decisions have on faculty research, for example, grant preparation support and access to campus facilities?
  5. How was the decision made to move summer classes online? Given the contractual issues involved, was the Chapter consulted first? How? What was the Chapter’s response?
  6. How has the employment of bargaining unit faculty been impacted by admin’s decisions, for example, term faculty contracts that have been frozen, or term position conversions that have been halted? What plan does the Chapter have for following up on this given the devastating impact on term faculty colleagues and their families?
  7. How has the work of individual faculty or faculty groups been contributing to the pandemic response efforts? Do we have a way of acknowledging and celebrating the efforts of faculty who are using their expertise to help address the pandemic?
  8. How is the Chapter following up on faculty concerns about both students and instructors being properly resourced with respect to distance education, e.g., access to high quality teaching and learning tools, and appropriate measures to ensure cyber security and the protection of intellectual property rights?
  9. Assuming there continue to be restrictions on large gatherings, what backup plan does the Chapter have for catalyzing member engagement, for example, effectively organized virtual meetings, or alternative forms of direct action, e.g., protests, should these become necessary as negotiations proceed?

Being deemed a “non-essential” WMU employee is a gender issue, women’s caucus argues

The letter below was written on behalf of the women’s caucus of WMU’s College of Arts and Sciences in response to decisions made by WMU in recent weeks that have dramatically impacted many staff employees.

April 15, 2020

Dear Dean Korestky, Provost Bott, and other WMU leaders,

The College of Arts and Sciences Women’s Caucus exists to “promote an academic culture of inclusiveness at Western Michigan University in research, teaching, service and administrative work.” Because of that mission, we are writing to express concern about the impact of hours reductions announced at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly given our commitment to retaining women employees at WMU, the steering committee feels compelled to advocate for our colleagues who have been deemed non-essential or conditional essential. We are troubled by the economic impact of their loss of hours and by the way that the cuts invalidated their centrality to the operations of the University. The setback to employees’ leave balances and, in a number of cases, to paychecks is significant. And the harm to their morale is difficult to overstate, especially as these drastic measures arose at the beginning of what everyone predicts will be a protracted public health and economic crisis.

To our knowledge, WMU is taking a rare approach to the crisis by reducing staff hours in draconian ways. While the original and extra COVID-19 leave WMU provided (now at 160 hours) is offsetting the impact for some employees, we recognize that the majority of the most affected College of Arts and Science employees are the academic departments’ office coordinators, most of whom are women. We know that a number of these employees are the main wage-earners in their household and they rely on WMU for health care coverage for themselves, their partners, and their dependents. The message the cuts have sent is one of extreme insecurity. Understandably, they worry: when will the pay and benefits run out? How do we plan for the coming months, far less the near future, when our employer is so quick to sacrifice our security?

We are asking for your response to this crisis and the impact being felt both in financial terms and in terms of morale and well-being. We have read the President’s and other statements about the difficulty of the decision, the generosity of WMU’s COVID-19 leave, and the relief options available for employees in desperate situations. We recognize that the AAUP Solidarity Fund is attempting to address the financial hardship that has been created, and we appreciate the swiftness with which faculty set it up and are collecting and distributing relief funds. We also hear that administrators are making financial contributions to people in need, which is a generous personal reaction, but not an institutional solution. We remain disappointed that WMU leadership is willing to leave loyal and dedicated employees in the position of requiring private charity or state or federal relief. And we are dissatisfied with the responses that avoid sincere reckoning with the permanent damage done, apparently in pursuit of some kind of fiscal responsibility.

Because we are a body that advocates for women and gender equity at WMU, we are seeking more insight specifically into the gender, racial, or other discrepancies that are being produced, reproduced, and exacerbated by the administration’s decision to cut employees’ hours.

  1. How many WMU employees have been deemed fully non-essential and been granted no hours? What proportion of these employees are women? people of color? employees at the lowest end of WMU’s Staff Compensation System? What steps are being taken to avoid furthering gender, race, and class inequities at WMU?
  2. How many WMU employees have been deemed conditional non-essential and have received a reduction of hours? What proportion of these employees are women? people of color? employees at the lowest end of WMU’s Staff Compensation System? What steps are being taken to avoid furthering gender, race, and class inequities at WMU?
  3. How does WMU plan to repair the damage to employee morale caused by the hours reductions, and in particular, the message it sends to women and other disadvantaged groups about their work’s value to the institution?
  4. Will you agree to participate in a virtual meeting on the topic of “Ensuring Gender Equity During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” co-facilitated by the Women’s Caucus Steering Committee, inviting WMU constituents to express concerns and ask questions with reassurance that they will not be retaliated against for expressing frustration, anger, and skepticism about WMU’s handling of the situation?

We recognize that administrators are making decisions in the middle of very stressful, insecure times. And that is why it is absolutely imperative that the people with the most power, and frankly, the biggest salaries, in the institution should be prioritizing the well-being of those who are disadvantaged. Extracting savings for WMU operations at the expense of our least-compensated, non-unionized employees strikes us cruel and unnecessary.

We are proud to be connected with a college that has, with Dean Koretsky’s leadership and Dean Enyedi before her, a strong commitment to fairness for women and other underrepresented group. We appreciate how CAS leaders have engaged in numerous efforts to address patterns of inequity College- and University-wide, and we also have hope that our still relatively new Academic Affairs leadership with Provost Bott is equally committed to non-discrimination and justice. Please let us know, as ethical WMU leaders, how you will guide WMU as an institution to ensure that our colleagues’ lives and livelihoods are not made more precarious because of their choice to work here.

Respectfully,

Steering Committee of the Women’s Caucus

College of Arts and Sciences

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?

WMU without the WMU-AAUP? What a difference academic collective bargaining makes!

After more than four decades of living and working in the reassuring presence of a well-crafted, comprehensive, mature contract, it’s easy to become complacent about the guarantees and protections that have come to shape WMU’s campus life. And, to be clear, though the WMU-AAUP Agreement has been forged specifically between WMU and the WMU Board-appointed faculty, this foundational document impacts our entire campus culture. In short, the power of WMU’s professoriate to bargain for fair wages, decent benefits, and shared governance has led to the creation of a campus community that is far more transparent, democratic, and humane than it might otherwise be.

Because it is far too easy to forget what it used be like, consider the routine risks of living and working on a campus with no formal collective bargaining power:

  • compensation and benefit structures that may be decided on arbitrary, or so-called “market based” criteria, with little hope of predictable raises, or of avoiding drastic healthcare insurance increases;
  • tenure and promotion procedures that are opaque and draconian and that may include no formal avenues for appeal or challenge;
  • the power to summarily eliminate departments and faculty positions according to economic vicissitudes and administrative whims;
  • unchecked disciplinary procedures according to which administrators might determine a faculty member’s guilt and assign penalties with no provisions for due process;
  • a climate in which all mid and higher level decisions may be made by admin, including those with direct implications for academics, with little or no input from faculty

In short, before there was the WMU-AAUP, life here was a lot like it is at other non-unionized campuses at which faculty members function as laborers serving at the pleasure of management. Even an occasional, cursory glance at national higher education news makes clear that faculty colleagues at many other campuses live in a shadow of fear and uncertainty that impacts their wages, capacity to exercise academic freedom, and, yes, their mental health. The fact that many of us at WMU may no longer feel moved to actively celebrate the rights and advantages we have earned through our collective power is perhaps the greatest testament to the WMU-AAUP’s astonishing success over the decades.

And, again, though not all campus employee groups share equally in these advantages, the positive impact of the WMU-AAUP on the entire campus is evident, including:

  • a tendency for enhanced wage and benefits for many non-faculty employees, given how the WMU-AAUP’s negotiated wage and benefits packages influence subsequent agreements made with other employee groups;
  • a campus at which other employees are more likely to feel supported as they embrace their right to organize, for example, AFSCME, PSOA, POA, MSEA, IATSE, TAU, and the PIO, all further ensuring a healthy check and balance on unrestricted administrative power at WMU;
  • a climate of shared governance according to which there is precedent for employee demands of participation and transparency, an environment in which employees’ right to ask questions and expect answers becomes more normalized and likely

Though it may be true that the WMU-AAUP’s consistent success and effectiveness tempt us to take it for granted, as we prepare now for 2020 negotiations, it’s the perfect time to imagine life at WMU without our faculty union. In fact, we don’t have to tax our imaginations at all if we simply invite the perspective of longtime WMU faculty members, including one retired early WMU-AAUP leader who is eager to share cautionary anecdotes with all who will listen. “We were completely at their mercy,” he recalls, “and the only real leverage we had when we knew we were being treated unfairly was to quit our jobs, pack up our families, and leave.”

Can WMU do more to address the student mental health crisis?

At a Board of Trustees meeting, the WMU-AAUP urges greater attention to student mental health and the faculty professionals who provide mental health services

Delivered by WMU-AAUP President, Prof. Carol Weideman
December 13, 2019

Thank you for this time to speak. The WMU-AAUP is a faculty voice that isn’t always easy to hear. I understand that it may seem like we consistently identify problems, but it is our job to protect the contractual agreement that was signed between the BOT, administration, and our board appointed faculty. By doing this, it creates a safe place where we can challenge each other, and ultimately have a stronger institution.

First and foremost, I’m proud to be a faculty member of WMU, ranked #1 in the top 10 best Hidden Gems of public universities in the US. We will be celebrating the next group of graduates this upcoming Saturday, and I’m looking forward to seeing the fabulous smiles, the jubilation, selfies, and as always, the shoes.

In the short time I have for my remarks, I’d like to raise an important concern. In a meaningful discussion with President Montgomery last week, the WMU-AAUP VP, Mark St. Martin and I raised our concerns about the current status of student counseling needs and transparency between the administration and the university community as a whole. I can speak more about the transparency conversation at a later date; for now, I’ll focus on the mental health/counseling needs.

This was not an unfamiliar topic with President Montgomery, and so we were able to freely express the basis of why we brought the topic of counseling needs and faculty security to our meeting. President Montgomery understands the mental health concerns we are facing, and Mark and I felt the discussion was lively and heartfelt. Just a few days before our meeting, the Kalamazoo Gazette featured an article entitled “Student need for counseling surges.”, with the subtitle “More college kids are turning to schools for help with their mental health, and schools are struggling to meet demand.” (December 1, 2019.) This article outlined the disparity between need and available resources across many university campuses. WMU is not alone with trying to find ways to counter the number of students needing mental health treatment, and we understand the administration is working on this challenge.

This is some specific data I will share regarding the mental health status of college students from a national data set. There is a distinct trend in the increase in percentages of students experiencing overwhelming anxiety (30.7% last 2 weeks, 14.1% 30 days) and felt so depressed that it was difficult to function (17.5% last 2 weeks, 8.9% last 30 days). There also is an increase in students coming to campus with diagnosed mental health issues. In this same report, 24% of students indicate diagnosis or treatment by a professional due to anxiety and 20% with depression, and 12.3% reporting panic attacks within the past 12 months. Approximately 53% of students reported that their academic responsibilities are very difficult to handle. These are just a snapshot from the undergraduate data from the Spring 2019 American College of Health Association National College Health Assessment. Our university last participated in this assessment in 2015, and the data is an important resource for our programmatic planning.

With the development of Think Big, there was a clear ‘new purpose for higher education in society’, and that is wellness. The presenters at the fall Town Halls provided many infographs, and one that stood out to me was the placement of mental health as the foundation. As stated on the wmich.edu/thinkbig website, “Wellness combines with a strong mind and becomes central to our purpose.”

As we enter 2020, we need to consider how we will move forward with providing sufficient mental health care for our students as well as providing the excellent staff we currently have with positions that have stability.

First question: Do we have enough counselors? The International Association of Counseling Services recommends one therapist for every 1,000 – 1,500 students (https://iacsinc.org/staff-to-student-ratios/). The Fall 2019 Census data indicates 21,470 students, from the Sindecuse directory, it appears we have 10 counselors and one intake staff. Only one of those 10 holds a Ph.D and is the only licensed psychologist in the center. Our counselor/student ratio is dismal compared to the accepted recommendations. As a reference point, GVSU has 10 PhD level licensed psychologists (in addition to their master level counselors).

Second question: What is our mental health resource plan for Think Big and are mental health professionals on the planning team? If so, who? The resource plan that is available online is the WMU Healthy Campus 2020 Student Mental Health Action Plan. Two objectives are identified: the first to increase utilization of mental health resources and the second to increase resiliency. This plan appears to be developed on the proportion of students who have same day appointments vs improving the quality of mental health resources. We must first act to ensure we have the professionals to take care of these students. Second, we must ensure we take care of those who take care of our students.

Having a solid team of tenure track counselors, who don’t have to constantly worry whether they have a job next year or not, that can provide students consistent mental health treatment throughout the academic career is what can and should set us apart. Students are coming to campus with more mental health concerns, and treatment consistency is what they seek. Having counseling appointments with the same professional allows a connection to be formed which research shows is the biggest factor in therapeutic change, diminishes the need to reexplain their history and presenting concerns, and provides the opportunity for intensive work.

Currently, we have a crisis where the majority of counselors are on term appointments, which is defined as “appointments are for one-year periods and are renewable annually for up to five (5) consecutive years.” With mental health support the foundation of the Think Big initiative, we raise the need for stability for the Counseling Services faculty. It’s well understood that employees who are risk of losing their jobs show higher perceived stress, anxiety, depression, and negative feelings and lower levels of positive feelings compared to employees not at risk of losing their jobs. People with job insecurity also feel less belonging and lower ties with the working population. This is what many of our counselors face on a yearly basis.

The challenge the WMU-AAUP is facing is how to encourage the administration to recognize the precarious position these individuals are in. We stand in the faith that the BoT and WMU administration believe in shared governance and academic freedom. Providing the pathway to tenure which is ensured in the 2017-2020 agreement will provide these individuals to fully participate, contribute, and better our university. The union urges the administration to work with the faculty to tackle the reality that it’s time to give our counselors the support they need to fully support our students. Mark stated it well when he said “We have to take care of the people who are taking care of our students.”

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to share this message from the bargaining unit.

(Image above from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/emotional-crisis)

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.

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.