My name is Cathryn Bailey and I am here in my role as President of the WMU-AAUP. For those unfamiliar, the WMU-AAUP is the legally recognized collective bargaining unit for Western’s board-appointed faculty. We, the faculty, are respectful and powerful partners at Western Michigan University, and many of us are career-long Broncos. So it was stunning when, during the week of Dec. 10, WMU professors voted in decisive numbers to issue a Resolution of No Confidence in the university’s president.
Unfortunately, as one symptom of the growing crisis that led to this Vote of No Confidence, I am entirely aware that everything I say right now may be dismissed as the words of a naive or disgruntled faculty member. Indeed, I watched at the December Board of Trustees meeting as the thoughtful and impassioned words of the President of the Professional Instructors Organization, the President of the Teaching Assistants’ Union, as well as one of my esteemed faculty colleagues, were met with silence.
So, what recourse do we students, faculty, and staff have after we’ve sounded alarm bells for years, warning that the ship has been taking on water and is sailing in the wrong direction? We campus and local community members attend these kinds of meetings month after month as spectators, but when we raise our voices to name real problems that cannot be addressed by more boosterism or cheerleading, we discover, once again, that we have become invisible to our own leaders. It was in this climate of invisibility and dismissal that WMU faculty voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Resolution of No Confidence last month.
Even so, however, despite frustrating years of feeling unheard, my faculty colleagues debated and deliberated about the No Confidence initiative at length. In fact, for most of last semester, we argued in groups large and small about how best to call attention to the increasingly desperate plight of our beloved university. Finally, on Dec. 10, faculty voted to hold an official No-Confidence Vote in WMU’s President and ballots were sent to all members. The results were certified on Dec. 17 with nearly 80% of respondents voting in support. These results are spectacular given the short response time for the vote, that it was conducted at one of the busiest time for professors, and the fact that an impressive majority of the faculty chose to participate.
As a reminder, and as expressed in the No Confidence Resolution, among the problems we’ve identified include:
-significant declines in WMU’s enrollment and national rankings that are much worse than that of similar Michigan institutions;
-a stunning decline in faculty and staff morale rooted in unjustifiable and irresponsible staffing shortages and a disregard for student, staff, and faculty voices;
-an expensive top-down rebranding initiative that has brought negative national attention to WMU, further endangering the value of our students’ degrees; and
– a failure to properly prioritize and resource WMU’s academic mission and infrastructure; it’s almost as if, at Western Michigan University, teaching, learning, and advising have become an afterthought.
Much greater detail about these evidence-based concerns was included in the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee’s letter to the Board last week which can be reviewed at http://www.theWMUAAUP.com.
However, despite the fact that the No Confidence Resolution is rooted in facts and solid reasoning, at the December Board of Trustees meeting, it was explicitly stated that the Board members were “well aware” of the No-Confidence Vote as the Board went on to authorize a $75,000 “merit bonus” and a more than $7,000 raise to the president’s annual base salary retroactive to July 1.
If Western continues on this downward spiral, making excuses for its extravagantly compensated high level administrators, what will our university look like in three, five, or ten years? What will our students’ degrees be worth and how will we attract new talent and energy? WMU students, staff, faculty — and even the majority of WMU administrators — all know that we need dedicated, self-reflective, academically-focused leadership to renew the trust students and their families have placed in this university. In fact, I would encourage anyone here who is still ignoring this wake-up call to invite students, staff, and administrators to participate in a No Confidence Vote as well. How many Western students, staff, and administrators believe that WMU is being led effectively?
What we are respectfully requesting from our Board of Trustees here today, then, is that you consider hard truths and use your power to initiate real change. At its December meeting, one Trustee firmly stated that the Board “stands with its president.” But who is standing with the staff, faculty, students, and Michigan families who have placed their futures in your care? For us all to stand together today and tell the truth about our university’s problems, including the failures and weaknesses of its higher administration, is not disloyal or negative, it is the most loving and constructive step we could take.
Let’s take that step together.