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 Leaders’ Response to the No-Confidence Vote: “We know better than you.”

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

If you attend Western Michigan University Board of Trustees public meetings, you may have noticed that these seem intended to create an aura of optimism about all things Bronco. To step into this meeting space can sometimes feel like entering an alternate universe. And at the Jan. 20th Board meeting, the air of unreality was especially dramatic, with nearly all agenda items focused on institutional self-congratulation. As the meeting entered its second hour, there was even a lengthy “WMU-in-the-news” retrospective, a narrated highlight reel of 2021 that somehow managed to overlook the previous year’s headlines about Western’s heavy-handed negotiation tactics with its own employees, its stunning enrollment declines, and the historic No-Confidence Vote in its president.

Such paint-it-pink and put-a-bow-on-it tactics are also consistent with WMU’s handling of President Montgomery’s performance reviews. Despite repeated calls that these documents be shared, including separate Freedom of Information Act requests presented to WMU from the Western Herald and Mlive, Western is keeping these documents under wraps. The facts surrounding the president’s job performance, whom our university compensates like an elite corporate CEO, are obscured behind a painstakingly constructed public performance featuring smiley faces and rainbows.

While there is surely much to celebrate at WMU — our students, colleagues, and community partners deserve to be applauded — at the Jan. 20th Board meeting, only the speakers relegated to the tail end of the meeting — the “public comments” section — reflected on Western’s problems, some of which are glaringly obvious. And among those speakers tacked on to the meeting’s end were WMU’s three academic labor leaders, the presidents of the Teaching Assistants’ Union (TAU), the Professional Instructors Organization (PIO), and the WMU-AAUP, with the PIO and TAU presidents also having also spoken up at the Board’s previous meeting. The very fact that the groups that make WMU an academic institution have been pushed to the meeting’s tail end, and with strict time limits of just a few minutes each, speaks volumes about the purpose of these meetings.

In addition, the responses of President Montgomery and the Board Chair to the feedback presented to them at this meeting were also telling: Those critical of Western’s leaders are naive and resistant to change, unable to comprehend the profound impact of the pandemic on contemporary higher education. WMU’s leaders, however, have the requisite wisdom, experience, and business acumen to forge ahead even in the face of vocal popular resistance. Of course, the reality is that constituents’ objections are not to thoughtful and necessary change, but to top-down decrees and stony silence instead of collaboration and understanding.

It’s important to recall that one of the specific critiques expressed in the historic Vote of No Confidence is this president’s “unwillingness to engage with or consult with faculty in meaningful ways and respond appropriately to feedback and concerns.” It is bad enough, then, that leadership has had over a month to consider this stunning Resolution, and the damning Faculty Senate evaluation that preceded it, yet continues to marginalize campus and community concerns. But to wave away thoughtful feedback as a symptom of ignorance, naivety, and resistance to change is an especially callous silencing tactic. Western students, faculty, staff, and community members have both the right and responsibility to continue to demand and expect better.

Some possibilities for remaining involved as this situation continues to unfold:

– Reach out personally to colleagues and community members to make sure they are fully informed about the No-Confidence Vote, including the process that led to it, the facts surrounding it, and the commitment it demonstrates to our students and university.

– Follow the WMU-AAUP blog and actively share items about the No-Confidence Resolution on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Consider directing your posts by using the @WesternMichU, @AAUP, @mlive, etc.

– Submit a comment to the Board of Trustees through their website respectfully sharing your questions and concerns.

– To the degree that it is feasible for you, initiate dialogue with chairs, deans, and other administrators to help them understand your concern for our students and university, and the nature and implications of the No-Confidence Resolution.

– Share news stories related to the No-Confidence Resolution with colleagues and on social media and consider submitting comments or letters to the editor at, for example, letters@kalmazoogazette.com or kznews@mlive.com or to the Western Herald).

– Consider meeting with President Montgomery during his office hours to engage in respectful dialogue about your concerns; appointments available here. There are a limited number of these 20-minute appointments (five per week), so you may need to book a week or two in advance.

WMU professor urges Trustees to prevent “potential super-spreader event”

A message from political science professor Dr. Jacinda Swanson

Dear Members of the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees:

I’m writing to implore you to switch this Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting to a fully-virtual format to prevent it from potentially becoming a super-spreader event.

For several weeks, I had been planning to attend the meeting in-person to show support for WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey, when she addresses the board concerning the faculty’s 78% vote of No Confidence in President Edward Montgomery’s leadership, which was announced one day after the board sadly made the decision to award President Montgomery a $75,000 bonus and a 1.5% retroactive pay raise. Strangely, the board made this decision despite the WMU-AAUP No Confidence vote underway at the time and the dismal results of the Faculty Senate’s November appraisal of the President, in which 74% of faculty respondents disagreed that the President is an effective leader.

On Friday, former head of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, estimated that “nearly one in 10 people in the country today may have Covid.” If there are 100-200 people attending Thursday’s board meeting in-person, there could be 10-20 people there infected with Covid. Now that Omicron is the predominant variant in most parts of the country, in-person, indoor gatherings are particularly dangerous since Omicron is able to partly evade vaccines, is extremely contagious, and can be spread before or without being symptomatic.

A large in-person, indoor gathering is especially dangerous at WMU, given that there is no free, readily available testing for non-symptomatic vaccinated students, staff, and faculty; vaccinations and boosters are not required on campus; many individuals have not yet received boosters; unvaccinated individuals are only required to test once a week; to what extent and in which buildings the ventilation has been upgraded to prevent transmission is very unclear; and many people at the meeting will probably be wearing less effective cloth and surgical masks that are not tightly fitting.

Based on what I witnessed when I attended the December board meeting to support those speakers opposing the President’s proposed raise and bonus, there was almost no social distancing, and most, if not all, of the speakers took their (usually cloth) masks off when they addressed the meeting. I was distressed to see speakers do this in December when Michigan was experiencing a massive surge in Delta cases and the highest rates of Covid hospitalizations in the last year. Because virus particles spread further when individuals are speaking, this is precisely when masks are needed. Moreover, faculty and students attending in-person classes, as well as staff working on campus, certainly do not take off their masks when they speak in class or in campus buildings.

I very much hope that the board will switch Thursday’s board meeting to be entirely virtual. Particularly because I live with someone who works in a hospital and someone with a compromised immune system, I am extremely concerned about Michigan’s overburdened hospitals (and health care workers) and the dangers of this unprecedented surge in cases, which is resulting in far too many hospitalizations, deaths, and long-term disabilities arising from long Covid.

In addition, I hope of course that the board will seriously consider the grave concerns WMU faculty have with President Montgomery’s leadership, as well as the concerns expressed by Teaching Assistants Union President Thomas Fisher and Professional Instructors Organization President Jasmine LaBine during the December board meeting. Faculty, who typically devote decades of their careers and lives to WMU, are deeply invested in the future of our university and the wellbeing of our students and the staff who make the university run on a daily basis.

Sincerely,

Jacinda Swanson
Associate Professor
Dept. of Political Science

No Confidence in WMU’s President: A Letter to the Board of Trustees from the WMU-AAUP

Please see this important letter to WMU’s Board of Trustees from the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee regarding the WMU-AAUP’s Resolution of No Confidence in President Montgomery.

Please also mark your calendars for the next Board of Trustees meeting (Thursday, January 20, at 11 a.m.) when WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey will deliver a message about the No Confidence Resolution. Given both ongoing and newly urgent concerns about public health, we encourage you to watch the live stream from a safe location (link available on the Board’s webpage). If you can’t attend live, note that recordings of Board meetings are usually made available through the same link. Please remain engaged in this historic process — continue to share your concerns and expectations widely —while also protecting your health and that of our community.

WMU Faculty Have Spoken: No Confidence in President Montgomery

A message from WMU-AAUP President, Dr. Cathryn Bailey

Last Friday, at a special all-member Chapter meeting mandated by the Association Council (WMU-AAUP department representatives), faculty voted to hold an official No-Confidence Vote in President Edward Montgomery. Since then, members have had the opportunity to vote electronically on the resolution and the results have now been certified: In decisive numbers – 78% of respondents in support — faculty from across Western Michigan University have expressed No Confidence in the leadership of President Edward Montgomery. These results are all the more striking given the short response time for the poll – just one week – and the fact that an impressive majority of the faculty (439) chose to participate.

To be clear, WMU professors have taken this historically rare step only after much research, robust discussion, and somber reflection. In fact, it is largely because of this president’s jarring lack of responsiveness to urgent constituent concerns and his consistently weak presence in our campus community that faculty have felt the need to take such action. In short, the Western Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors issues this Resolution of No-Confidence in President Edward Montgomery because we believe this president has thus far shown himself unwilling to address the challenges WMU faces.

The process that has led us here has been patient and painstaking. Specifically, at WMU-AAUP meetings held over the past several months (of both the full Chapter and the Association Council), a volunteer faculty working group that has included members from all but one of WMU’s academic colleges has presented documented concerns relevant to the university’s ongoing viability, for example:

– continuing dramatic drops in enrollment even as some similar Michigan institutions have begun to boast impressive enrollment increases

-a significant decline in WMU’s national rankings that coincides with the current president’s time in office, a decline much worse than that of similar Michigan institutions

-a precipitous decline in faculty and staff morale at least partly attributable to unjustifiable and irresponsible staffing shortages and unreasonable faculty workloads

-an expensive top-down rebranding initiative that has brought negative national attention to WMU, further eroding Western’s reputation and endangering the value of students’ degrees

– failure to properly prioritize and resource WMU’s academic mission and infrastructure

All the while, President Montgomery has remained largely unresponsive to such urgent concerns, and has, instead, engaged in vigorous public defenses of his job performance. Stunningly, even in the wake of dramatically low approval ratings on a recent evaluation conducted by the Faculty Senate (see image below), the president has continued to suggest that faculty are misguided in their feedback on his performance.

It is important to convey that faculty have undertaken consideration of a Resolution of No-Confidence in President Edward Montgomery with extraordinary seriousness, care, and conscientiousness. Nonetheless, at their meeting just yesterday, WMU’s Board of Trustees seemed to dismiss the faculty initiative, stating that the Board was “well aware” of the No-Confidence Vote, and insisting that, regardless, they “stand behind our president.” Despite the rising tide of evidence-based criticisms from across campus, the Board also authorized a $75,000 “merit bonus” and a $7,290 raise to his annual base salary retroactive to July 1. Make no mistake, though, this sort of trivialization and dismissal of faculty, student, and staff voices only strengthens our resolve to speak publicly about this president’s failed leadership.

At the many meetings and discussions leading to this grave moment in WMU history, faculty have been utterly clear both about our love for our students, our university, and our community, and about our frustration and grief about the path WMU is on. If Western continues on this downward spiral, what will our beloved university look like in three, five, or ten years? WMU faculty know that, with dedicated, self-reflective, academically-focused leaders, WMU might once again become a point of pride for Kalamazoo and Western Michigan, renewing the trust students and their families have placed in this institution. This Resolution of No-Confidence is a call for an urgent course correction, one informed by the intelligence, heart, and experience of the students, faculty, and staff for whom this great university is so much more than a job or a line on their resume.

Special Dec. 10th All-Member Meeting

WMU-AAUP Membership Considers Vote of No Confidence in University Leadership

On Friday Nov. 19th, the Chapter’s Association Council (departmental representatives) voted to hold a special all-member Chapter meeting on December 10. The Council called for this meeting in order to continue deliberations about a vote of no confidence in WMU leadership. The motion came after careful consideration and discussion of arguments and evidence presented to them by the No Confidence Working Group, a group of faculty volunteers from across the university.

At the Nov. 19th Association Council meeting, the faculty working group’s presentation documented concerns critical to the university’s ongoing viability, for example:

  • continuing dramatic drops in enrollment even as some similar Michigan institutions have begun to boast of impressive enrollment increases
  • a significant decline in WMU’s national rankings that coincides with the current president’s time in office
  • radical academic restructuring projects initiated without proper consultation with faculty, staff, and students
  • a drop in faculty and staff morale that seems at least partly attributable to unjustified staffing shortages, unreasonable workloads, and perceived indifference by WMU leaders to faculty and staff concerns
  • an expensive top-down rebranding initiative that has brought embarrassing national attention to WMU
  • a failure to properly prioritize and resource WMU’s academic mission and infrastructure even in the wake of a record-breaking $550 million private donation

At the Nov. 19th Association Council meeting, the following points were also made as to why a no confidence vote in WMU leadership deserves further consideration:

  • members of the WMU community, including WMU-AAUP groups and leaders, have made repeated attempts to communicate their concerns to WMU leaders through normal channels and received little or no response
  • given the ongoing and precipitous declines in WMU’s enrollment, ranking, morale, and academic infrastructure, there is great urgency to persuade WMU leadership to make course corrections if recovery is to be possible
  • in light of the severe and ongoing damage being done to WMU, Western faculty have an intrinsic ethical responsibility to publicly express their dissent even if WMU leaders choose to ignore these voices
  • although no confidence votes are not binding, they often function as a wake up call that encourages apparently indifferent leaders to listen to colleagues and constituents with greater seriousness and respect

In order to continue this vigorous discussion and potentially move toward action steps, please attend this Zoom meeting on Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. As you consult your calendar, note that the WMU-AAUP includes many hundreds of faculty members, so it is not possible to find a meeting time that will work for everyone. Keeping this extraordinary scheduling challenge in mind, please consider requesting that the time of any conflicting meeting you might have be adjusted so that you can participate.

Concern about “disastrous” pandemic consequences from a lack of “clear and decisive” WMU leadership

an urgent letter to President Montgomery and Provost Bott from the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee

August 30, 2021

Dear President Montgomery and Provost Bott:

We, the members of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, are writing to you to express grave concerns relating to inadequate COVID-19 safety measures and accommodations. We worry that the WMU community will experience unnecessary and disastrous consequences resulting from a lack of clear and decisive leadership and guidance, and we are alarmed by the growing disconnect between Administration and those of us on the frontlines who interact on a daily basis with students. Our concerns are interrelated, and deal with our Contractual agreement, COVID-19 safety measures, shared governance, and communication. We describe these concerns below.

• Unilateral Dismissal of Item (2) in the June 11, 2020 Letter of Agreement: First and most alarming is the apparent unilateral dismissal of the Letter of Agreement signed June 11, 2020. The second item in this LOA states that “Faculty with accommodation requests- including, but not limited to shifts in the delivery format of their courses related to health and/or safety concerns may use the ‘Request for Reasonable Accommodation’ form to make their requests.” Because of health concerns related to the unavailability of the vaccine for those under the age of 12, rising cases of the highly virulent Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus and lack of social distancing in the classrooms, some faculty members have requested a change in format. Many others are growing increasingly concerned and are watching with great interest to see how these requests are handled.

The language of the LOA is clear – such requests can be made due to “health and/or safety concerns.” As communications with WMU Office of Academic Labor Relations(ALR) make clear, and multiple recent rejected instructor requests confirm, the administration position is that there is nothing in the LOA that extends beyond decades-old rights granted under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, reports from our members are telling us (with email documentation to confirm), that the current Administration position is that no such accommodation request will even be considered unless there is a health condition for the instructor that is supported by a physician’s letter. Importantly, there is no mention in the LOA that “health and/or safety concerns” must somehow manifest in instructors’ own serious medical conditions. The very presence of this language in this LOA makes clear that it does indeed offer something in addition to the federal ADA. Health concerns on the part of instructors aregrounded in science and worsened by recent evidence of the carnage spreading across the country from the Delta variant. For parents with unvaccinated children, for those with immunocompromised spouses or cohabiting elderly parents, the Administration’s response is to turn a blind eye.

The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) has rejected without review any requests that are not accompanied by a physician’s documentation of the instructor’s own health condition. If such documentation of an instructor’s own health condition is provided, then the negotiations begin, with the Administration beginning with offers of better PPE (hand sanitizer, plexiglass shields—notably, neither recommended by experts) and larger classrooms. Very few such requests to switch instructional mode to virtual have been approved.

We are seeking a dialogue with WMU Administration on how to implement the LOA moving forward that respects the language in the LOA and that supports members of our Bronco family who are experiencing justified and sincere COVID-19-related “health and/or safety concerns.” Specifically, we suggest that a process be put in place, ideally outside the OIE structure that focuses on ADA accommodations, that would facilitate processing these requests and handle appeals.

• Campus Community Vaccination Mandate and University Community Leadership: Second, we are concerned about the refusal to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for those seeking to work or take classes on campus. There is universal agreement on the part of experts that achieving very high vaccination rates is the one pathway to the post-pandemic. University vaccination mandates serve the dual purpose of protecting those on campus and in the surrounding communities, and in sending the message of the singular importance of vaccination. Mandating vaccination on university campuses has been encouraged by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, as well as by innumerable medical experts, public health leaders, and medical associations. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld, via summary judgement, the mandate at Indiana University. At last count, 10 public universities in the state of Michigan have universal vaccination mandates, and well over 800 universities and colleges nationwide. Despite overwhelming faculty support for a vaccine mandate here at Western Michigan University (as indicated in a poll of members taken well before the threat of the Delta variant became apparent and before FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine), the WMU administration has not opted to enact a WMU community vaccination mandate.

Instead of a vaccination mandate (and in the absence of a more limited mandate for on-campus residents), WMU administration has chosen to institute an onerous testing and badge system, with weekly testing (at least through September) for those without documentation of vaccination. This plan was created without any consultation with the COVID-19 Fall Task Force. The lack of transparency about the decision-making process as well as the resources that will be required to implement this policy (including financial, personnel, and enforcement) is concerning. WMU has failed even in the basic task of messaging: conveying the very clear and widely accepted message of the critical importance of vaccination.

• Abandonment of Basic Notions of Shared Governance: Third, the failure to involve faculty in decision-making to design policy that affects every aspect of our professional lives as well as the health of ourselves and our families is of great concern. What has happened to the notion of shared governance? The alternative to the WMU Administration’s unilateral strategy, partnering with faculty, is a pathway that is being chosen by many other universities. Alienating faculty at a time of such turmoil ignores the very real potential downsides, both in hindering the successful developing and implementing policy that affects the university’s bottom line, and in stirring faculty discontent at the very moment that we all need most to feel that we are all on the same team. We are all fully aware of the great challenges that have resulted from this pandemic; at times like these, even small gestures of partnering and mutual respect and support can go a very long way in easing concerns and reaching an institution’s goals.

• Failure to Communicate Clearly and Provide Support: Finally, there is an ongoing failure to communicate clearly with instructors about their obligations with regard to COVID-19 safety measures and strategies for successful implementation/enforcement in classrooms. WMU’s COVID-related policies are communicated with long, narrative style emails directed at multiple constituencies simultaneously, and when available online, they are spread across different websites/links. A deep read of all of these various announcements and emails still does not produce clear guidance regarding what is required of instructors in the classroom. As one example, it was only after much effortthat our WMU-AAUP officers have been able to learn from Academic Labor Relations (ALR) that enforcing the universal mask mandate (the temporary mask mandate enhancement announced in August) is an instructor obligation. What about the vaccination/system requirement for students that is documented with the “badge?” Are instructors required to use this badging system to determine who is permitted to be on campus? The recent language suggests this is optional.

COVID-related policies were developed and implemented by Administration and Administration must take responsibility for communicating expectations to classroom instructors. Given that ALR has indicated that failure to enforce the universal mask mandate could result in Contractual disciplinary action against instructors, it is absolutely imperative that Administration communicate that instructors are required to enforce this mandate in their classrooms. Additionally, we faculty need administration guidance on best practice for implementing this mask mandate. For example, should we cancel class if we cannot achieve full compliance via persuasion? Direct and clear communication of faculty responsibility for enforcing this mandate, along with guidance on how to enforce it, will help us partner with administration on this critically important policy. Being able to inform our students that we are required to enforce the mandate (resulting in most if not all instructors doing so) will help us in our efforts to achieve full compliance.

Even the requirement that faculty document vaccination status or be tested weekly through September (at least) has not been communicated as well as one would expect. Effectively conveying this information directly to instructors likely would reduce the sheer volume of individuals requiring weekly COVID-19 testing at Sindecuse and would reduce the necessity of follow-up for “noncompliant” faculty by ALR. In other words, improved communication is efficient – it’s “win-win.”

• Relevance for the Current WMU-AAUP Contractual Agreement: Article 21.3 of our Contractual Agreement speaks to the requirement that “Prior to the issuance of a formal notice of violation or imposition of corrective action or penalty for alleged violation of these rules by a faculty member, Western shall take steps to ensure consistency of rule interpretation and application.” Surely, the very first step would be to make a sincere effort to communicate the rules to faculty. Whether you believe this is necessary or not, we are informing you now that COVID-19 rules that place obligations on faculty and classroom instructors have not been clearly communicated.

The WMU-AAUP Contractual Agreement with the WMU Board of Trustees, Article 21.2.3, speaks of safe working conditions. Failing to honor the LOA, refusing to mandate vaccination, communicating mixed messages about what is required of instructors and students (even the dates that testing will begin changes from message to message) – we view this package of leadership decisions as a violation of Article 21.2.3 in that it contributes to unsafe working conditions.

Beyond a failure to honor our Contractual Agreement, we are concerned with the implications of these concerns for the potential to have a healthy and successful Fall 2021 semester. The WMU-AAUP is dedicated to partnering in a successful Fall semester at Western Michigan University. We are committed to our students and our profession. But we on the Executive Committee need you to know that, along with this passion for our students, there is a growing sense that recent Administration actions are eroding the extraordinary culture here at WMU. We hear concerned faculty members using language like “increasingly demoralized,” along with very real consideration of resignation to protect beloved family members. Universities thrive when we are all behave as though we truly believe that we are on the same team, fighting for a shared vision. We can’t let expediency and hesitation guide leadership decisions.

We have made our best effort to communicate our grave concerns to you as clearly and respectfully as possible. We do not know how else to express to you that these concerns reflect leadership decisions that carry great cost – great cost as measured in student learning and enrollment, great cost in time and effort on the part of ALR and the WMU-AAUP, trapped in a black hole of disciplinary procedures for faculty who did not even know the rules, and most important, great cost as measured in unacceptably high risk of unnecessary illness and loss of life.

We await your response. We are anxious to learn how you will handle, moving forward, LOA-related requests for a change in mode of instruction, and we await clear communication (to be sent to all instructors) regarding instructor obligations and support. And we implore you to reconsider your position on the universal vaccination mandate.

Respectfully,

The WMU-AAUP Executive Committee

Disrespect and Denial: The Final Days of Faculty Negotiations With Western Michigan University

An Open Letter to Members from the WMU-AAUP President and Vice President

As Western Michigan University professors put the final touches on their Fall classes and prepare to teach students in classroom conditions that are uncertain and ill-defined, WMU’s leaders continue to play solo against the will of faculty and students, deviating from pandemic safety procedures adopted by over 800 universities and colleges nationwide, and failing to follow recommendations made by the U.S. Chief Medical Advisor. WMU’s poorly planned and half-hearted health protocols unnecessarily put students, staff, faculty and the entire Kalamazoo community at much greater risk of serious illness and death.

In the midst of such unprecedented fear, danger, and chaos, WMU continues to make salary proposals at the negotiation table that can only be described as insulting. These financial offers are not just low, but seem designed to send a message to WMU faculty about how little the University values our work and the entire academic mission. Such disrespect would be bad enough in normal times, but, after a year of sacrifices by faculty and staff — financial and otherwise — and an astonishing, relatively unrestricted $550 million dollar donation, such a lowball salary offer seems primarily to be an expression of disdain and managerial might.

In some ways, the story of 2021 negotiations is a familiar one: The WMU-AAUP selected a diligent, highly capable team that has presented proposals on behalf of the faculty that have been realistic and empirically-based. Specifically, each of our proposals, including those related to compensation, have been heavily researched, and presented against an exhaustive backdrop of relevant facts and metrics. In short, our approach has been data-driven, aimed at providing a path forward that would be reasonable, in objective terms, for both parties. This year, however, WMU changed tactics, hiring Dykema, a powerful national law firm with a reputation for union-busting, to sit across from us at the table.

Shamefully for WMU, this same law firm, to which Western has been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, has close ties to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a right-wing pressure group (co-founded by attorney Richard D. McLellan, from Dykema) which was involved in setting the stage for extremism in Michigan during the anti COVID-19 lockdown protests in April 2020. According to reports, the Mackinac Center tacitly condoned and overtly encouraged extremist far right sentiments which culminated in the attempt to kidnap Governor Whitmer. The Mackinac Center is also associated with the Flint Water Crisis, opposition to environmental protection, climate change denial, the privatization of prisons, and campaigns to obliterate unions. In addition, WMU Trustee Shelley Edgerton is listed as Dykema “Senior Counsel” on the WMU Board of Trustees website.

Motivated by ideology, Western Michigan University seems to have chosen this moment in history to use public funds and students’ tuition dollars to bring its own employees to their knees. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that our AFSCME colleagues and part-time instructors (PIO) too have been enduring negotiation tactics by WMU that seem aimed to demoralize, rather than to arrive at a fair deal. In addition, WMU seems committed to an expensive and ill-conceived top-down rebranding project, against the advice of WMU’s own faculty experts, and even as enrollments continue to fall. Instead of taking responsibility for its own marketing failures, WMU leadership is attempting, once again, to make faculty and staff pay the price.

Though the WMU-AAUP has had a number of important successes during this grueling summer of negotiations — all diligently reported to our members — the real story now is WMU’s continued commitment to salary proposals about which it should be embarrassed. The fact is that, at the moment, WMU administration seems less interested in arriving at an agreement that is fair, respectful and good for teaching and learning than in being able to declare victory over its employees. To be sure, this impression is strengthened by the fact that WMU continues to compensate its elite administrators (and private attorneys) like corporate CEOs. It does so even as it insists it cannot afford to fairly pay its other employees, including, apparently, those whom it expects to actually teach in, or clean, classrooms full of students who may or may not be vaccinated.

When this year’s contract negotiations come to an end, as always, both parties will leave with only some of what they wanted. It is simply the way of negotiations that compromises must be made that leave no one entirely happy with every specific outcome. However, with the administration apparently committed less to making fair compromises than to “winning,” the damage done both to livelihoods and morale will be devastating and long lasting. To be clear, we are running out of ways to try to explain to WMU administrators that, so long as they treat WMU faculty and other workers as opponents to be subjugated rather than as respected colleagues, our university cannot thrive. A campus community managed by elite administrators determined to nickel-and-dime the rest of us is both unethical and unsustainable. Western works because we do.

In solidarity,
Cathryn Bailey and Natalio Ohanna
President and Vice President of the WMU-AAUP

Members are invited to attend this Wednesday’s Solidarity Happy Hour (5-7 at Montague House) where we’ll answer questions and discuss options for moving forward. In addition, this Friday at 10 a.m. there will be an all-member Chapter Zoom meeting where we’ll formally consider member motions for decisive action in response to the serious concerns described above.