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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such universities:

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

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

Is investment in core academics included in WMU’s plan to address its enrollment declines?

WMU’s enrollment has been in decline for years, due partly to predictable demographic shifts, and WMU is responding with another marketing initiative to make the university more attractive to a shrinking group of traditionally-aged prospective students. It’s no surprise that amid all of the plans for feel-good 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 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 starved in order to feed trendy 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 these worries about the university’s value commitments in the midst of its increasingly assertive push to identify and draw in more students. For example:

  • How committed is the university to investing in quality over time, enhancing WMU’s long term reputation for excellence, rather than quick fixes?
  • Given that its employees — faculty and staff — have always helped distinguish WMU as special, what investment will be made in actual people, above and beyond funds spent on facilities and marketing materials?
  • How does WMU 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 WMU uses in describing its response to its enrollment decline and the more or less predictable budget contraction that accompanies it year after year, many faculty and staff feel the threat of austerity in the air. With that in mind, it is reassuring that the university is making proactive, concerted efforts to make WMU more appealing to students. But, for many of us, after years of watching our academic departments shrink and wither through attrition and disinvestment, often even as our counterparts at competing universities grow and flourish, it is understandable if WMU faculty have serious concerns.

Will faculty lines continue to melt away as state-of-the-art buildings are erected and new WMU 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 WMU chooses to see this latest chapter of enrollment decline as an opportunity to substantively invest in the people at the heart of its core academic mission remains to be seen.

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.