Talking with new faculty: What does the WMU-AAUP do anyway?

Though departmental and disciplinary cultures vary, one thing most faculty new to WMU share is a lack of clarity about what our faculty union is and how it impacts campus life. This is partly because the WMU-AAUP is an unusually vigorous, well-established, well-organized faculty collective bargaining unit when compared to those that may exist at other colleges and universities. With that in mind, here’s a brief summary that might to help us respond to new colleagues’ questions:

What does the WMU-AAUP do for faculty here at Western?

Because the WMU-AAUP can focus and harness the power of the entire body of Board-appointed WMU faculty, we are a formidable advocate for colleagues in countless ways. In many situations, the WMU-AAUP is the only line of defense between a faculty member and the considerable might of the WMU administration.

A few examples of what we do:

  • push for salary increases, reasonable healthcare costs, and many other benefits, through the grueling contract negotiation process
  • support individual faculty who believe they’ve been treated unfairly and/or in ways that violate the WMU-AAUP Agreement
  • hold regular workshops to help faculty colleagues succeed through the promotion and tenure process
  • exert a powerful influence in WMU’s culture of shared governance through our participation on key committees, as well as ongoing formal and informal conversations with administrators

How can new colleagues best support the union?

  • sign and submit your dues card, and join the over 90% of WMU faculty who’ve already done so; this will ensure your access to all WMU-AAUP faculty services
  • attend our Faculty Barbecue on Sept. 5th at Montague House
  • attend our New Faculty Luncheon on September 20 with your department’s AAUP representative (Association Council member)
  • attend the all-Chapter meetings held each semester and offer your input
  • follow the WMU-AAUP on this blog, our enews, Facebook, and Twitter, and visit the WMU-AAUP’s website for quick access to critical resources
  • stop by our regularly scheduled morning coffees and happy hours (dates announced in our emailed enews)
  • stop by and see us at Montague House! we love to meet our new (and longtime!) colleagues

What’s the mission of the AAUP in general?

“The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities.”

WMU faculty see sudden increases to teaching loads based on admin’s review of professional activity reports

With the Oct. 15 deadline for faculty PARs looming, concerns about who sees these reports and how they are used take on new urgency. And since many faculty find the reporting system to be cumbersome, incomplete, or misleading, this makes it especially alarming that the PARs might be used by administrators to assess faculty achievement, as has occurred recently.

For example, on the tail end of phased retirement, Prof. Kent Baldner is finishing up a three-decade career at WMU, one that has combined research, service, and a predictable teaching load. He was surprised, then, to receive an email last semester informing him that, with only two semesters remaining at WMU, he would now be required to teach an additional course.

“When I queried about why I was being asked to teach an additional course, the reply was that we were short-staffed that semester,” explains Dr. Baldner. “I wasn’t happy, but felt it was my turn to ‘pay my dues,’ and so I agreed without arguing or complaining. When I asked what additional course they needed me to teach, I was told it didn’t matter. That struck me as odd.”

Dr. Baldner’s experience is not isolated. A number of other College of Arts and Sciences faculty members also report having been suddenly informed by their chairs that they were to be assigned additional teaching work. As with Dr. Baldner, institutional financial constraint was sometimes offered as the rationale, at least initially.

For example, another senior professor reported that his chair insisted that his sudden extra course assignment was a consequence of “lack of college funds for part-time instructors,” as directed by the CAS dean, Dr. Carla Koretsky. “But when I asked the dean about it, she denied that that was the case,” he said, and he was no longer required to teach the extra class after all.

Financial exigency is not the reason given to all faculty members unexpectedly faced with increased teaching loads. Others, the majority of them long-time, senior professors, have reported being told by their chairs that, last year, the CAS dean had conducted a unilateral, comprehensive review of faculty professional activity reports and that their names had appeared on her resulting list of underperformers with respect to scholarly activity. Apparently, no other workload category was scrutinized, nor were details provided about what criteria the dean had used. The result, their chairs informed them, was that they would be assigned more teaching, either in the form of additional classes or higher enrollment caps.

For example, Prof. Sarah Hill first learned of the prospect of a higher teaching load from her departmental director, who explained that he had been obliged by the dean to increase it. Dr. Hill points to lengthy email exchanges she had with her director and Dr. Koretsky, confirming that the dean insisted that Dr. Hill’s work was insufficient to justify a research-faculty teaching load. Dr. Hill has been told she will face this increased teaching load for the foreseeable future, unless and until she has met the dean’s standards.

“The whole situation has been demoralizing and time-consuming,” says Dr. Hill. “After going back and forth with my director and the dean, and gaining little clarity about who came up with these evaluation standards or whether they had even been written down anyplace, I gave in and accepted that I would have to teach the extra course.” The “kicker,” says Dr. Hill, was when the “extra course” she had been assigned to teach was cancelled on August 26 due to poor enrollment, just two days before the start of the Fall semester.

“So,” Dr. Hill explains, “all summer long I worked to prepare for this extra class — further reducing my time for research, and then they cancel it.” Dr. Hill is also concerned that the consequences of this belatedly cancelled, extra teaching assignment had ramifications for students beyond the impact on her workload. “An apparent desire to punish me for alleged underproductivity,” she explains, “has punished students who were left to scramble at the last minute to find a new class.”

Although the stories shared by faculty differ in the details, they have much in common: Faculty were informed by chairs either that WMU can no longer afford part-time instructors, necessitating additional teaching labor from them, full-time bargaining unit faculty, or told that the dean had identified them as underperforming scholars based on her personal review of their professional activity reports. Again, the criteria used for assessing research, and scholarly and creative activity across the diverse departments that comprise CAS — everything from physics to creative writing — were not provided. Nor were faculty apprised of an appeals process to challenge their new designation as teaching-active, rather than research-active, professors.

Some faculty have successfully challenged the additional workload assignment through appeals facilitated by the WMU-AAUP, and this is an option that all affected faculty can explore. However, some faculty colleagues report they are giving up. Some describe feeling shamed at having been singled out through an unscheduled evaluation of their research that they did not even know was underway, and exhausted at the prospect of yet another bureaucratic battle. As one faculty member put it, “I don’t have the energy both to be an effective professor and fight with administrators about whether my scholarship is worthwhile.”

An additional damaging consequence of this administrative initiative seems to be that some mid-career and senior WMU faculty members are now considering retirement. “It simply isn’t worth it,” explained one professor, who is still over a decade away from traditional retirement age. “My department is seriously understaffed, so I was stressed out plenty before all this began. I simply can’t remain healthy working in an environment in which admin never seems to think I’m working hard enough.”

Why can’t others see how hard I’m working?

Share the workload demands you face as a WMU faculty member

Given the incredible variety of responsibilities shouldered by WMU-AAUP faculty across campus, it’s probably inevitable that gaps of understanding arise about the variety of work we do. And since “strength in unity” becomes more durable in a context of mutual appreciation, sharing our workload stories with one another can help us address internal conflicts and withstand external threats.

With that in mind, we invite you to tell us what you see as especially distinctive about your teaching/research/service load that may not be readily apparent to WMU colleagues, including administrators. Could you share an example in one or more of the three categories that might help others learn more about what keeps you busy at work, especially activities that may not be readily apparent to outsiders?

For example:

Research: “My grant-based research requires the use of facilities WMU doesn’t have. This makes my life incredibly challenging because I have to arrange my research and travel schedule around this equipment availability.”

Teaching: “I’m basically the only person left on campus who specializes in my general area, so I get approached by tons of students outside of my program requesting independent studies.”

Service: “As a member of an underrepresented group, I’m constantly asked by someone (administrator, Kalamazoo community member, student, etc.) to be on some committee, speak at an event, or be an informal mentor.”

Now it’s your turn. What do you want faculty colleagues and administrators to know about the not-so-obvious professional demands on your time and energy?

A demanding aspect of my research, and scholarly and creative activity that may not be apparent to faculty in other departments or colleges is:

An aspect of my teaching work that is different demanding from the teaching labor of lots of other WMU professors is:

In terms of my service responsibilities (to department, college, university, discipline, etc.), what other faculty members may not fully appreciate is:

Please send your responses by campus mail to the WMU-AAUP at Montague House (Mail Stop: 5401), or email to staff@wmuaaup.net. All responses will be kept confidential.

WMU-AAUP seeks nominations for 2020 contract negotiations

If you have an aptitude for negotiation, are able to commit the time, and are looking for a way to serve your faculty colleagues, consider self-nominating for our next negotiation team. Given the current political climate, and the general challenges facing higher ed and the professoriate, this is a time of great peril and promise. Further, our success in securing a fair contract will impact not just WMU faculty, but WMU’s entire salary and benefit structure.

Details about the expectations and responsibilities of the negotiation team are here: Negotiation Team Expectations and Responsibilities We also ask that candidates describe the expertise and experience they would bring to the position, and whether or not they would be interested in serving as chief negotiator.

Nominations will be accepted until noon on Monday, September 30, 2019 and candidates will be interviewed by the Executive Committee during October. The Executive Committee will then recommend to the Association Council or chapter a chief negotiator and negotiation team members.

Please feel free to nominate yourself or a colleague you believe would do a great job.

Post-tenure review, working conditions and FARs

As you may recall, last spring the WMU-AAUP fielded concerns from faculty about surprise performance evaluations leading to increased teaching loads. Since we are continuing to hear from faculty about this, we want to make sure all Chapter members are aware of the issue, and also get your assistance as we continue to assess the scope and depth of the concern.

First, the reports we’ve received are:

– that individual tenured faculty member are being subjected to surprise reviews of their “research productivity” by deans and/or chairs which is then being used to justify increased teaching loads. Some faculty are already working with this increased load, others have successfully appealed it, and others are still unaware that these changes may be on the horizon

– that the FARs (formerly PAR, “faculty activity report”) are serving as the primary, or even sole, basis on which “research productivity” is being assessed by deans and/or chairs; faculty have raised concerns about the appropriateness of using FARs for this purpose, especially given widespread questions about their legitimacy and accuracy.

– that the tenured faculty undergoing these performance reviews by their dean and/or chair have not been informed of the criteria they are being judged by, or about what process they might use to appeal this redesignation as teaching-focused, rather than research-focused, faculty members

– that there seems to be a general lack of awareness across colleges and across campus about these significant changes in faculty working conditions. While a number of individual faculty from various departments described open conversations and email exchanges about this with their deans or chairs, the flow of information is murky and partial, leaving some faculty colleagues feeling isolated and overwhelmed as they consider how best to respond, including whether or not to file a formal workload appeal

With this in mind, and so that we can get a better idea of the scope and depth of these concerns, please talk to your departmental colleagues, your chairs, and your WMU-AAUP departmental rep with the following kinds of questions:

– Have chairs received a “dean’s list” of faculty who have been designated underproductive and slated for greater teaching burdens?

– Have faculty colleagues been privately contacted by a chair or dean and informed that they should expect higher loads based on these reviews?

– Have faculty facing higher loads been provided with concrete details about the assessment of their scholarly activity and been provided instructions for how to challenge it?

As faculty members continue to come forward, and as we work to get a fuller picture of this issue, please be in touch as soon as possible with your colleagues, your chair, and with us (staff@wmuaaup.net).

Annual BBQ kicks off new academic year

Thanks to the efforts of WMU-AAUP staff, countless behind-the-scenes workers, and perfect weather, our annual member barbecue was a huge success. As we dive into another school year, one that promises both predictable and surprising challenges, it was gratifying to spend an evening catching up with old colleagues and meeting new ones. We faculty don’t have nearly enough opportunities to connect across campus and be reminded that the strength of the WMU-AAUP is in the determination and tenacity of its members.

As you’re looking for additional ways to connect with nearby and far-flung WMU faculty colleagues, here are a couple of possibilities for this semester:

  • Drop in discussion over coffee at Montague House this coming Tues., Sept. 10 at 9:30
  • New faculty luncheon for department reps (association council members) and new AAUP colleagues on Sept. 20 in Bernhard 157 at 1:30
    Fourth Friday happy hour for AAUP members on Sept. 27, 5:00 at Arcadia Brewing

Also consider following us on Facebook and Twitter where we make near daily posts, and keep an eye out for email updates. We are stronger together!

New Grievance Officer Appointed

Dr. Steve Durbin, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been appointed as the WMU-AAUP’s new grievance officer and will be presented for formal approval at the Association Council meeting in September. The position of grievance officer is critical as it involves directly assisting faculty who believe they have been treated inappropriately by administration. Steve brings energy and experience to the position and we are grateful for his willingness to serve. 

About Dr. Durbin: Steve Durbin received the BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University. Prior to joining Western Michigan University in 2013, he taught at the Florida State University and Florida A&M University (joint engineering college), the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), and the University at Buffalo (SUNY). He is a senior member of the IEEE, and a member of the American Physical Society, the Materials Research Society, and the Royal Society of New Zealand. His interests include novel semiconductors, oxide and nitride compounds, molecular beam epitaxy, pulsed laser deposition, and Schottky contact based devices. In addition to being a co-author of over 100 technical publications, he is also co-author of Engineering Circuit Analysis, an undergraduate textbook now in its 9th edition.