Academic freedom under attack at WMU: Administrative abuse of the disciplinary process

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

When Western Michigan Professor Jackie Marvin (not her real name) received notice a few years ago that the administration was initiating disciplinary proceedings against her, she was stunned and confused. “I knew I had done nothing wrong,” she said, “but this very official letter from the administration, out of the blue, implied — without providing any details — that I was guilty of serious misconduct.” Ultimately, the matter was dropped, according to Dr. Marvin, with no evidence for the allegations ever provided, but the impact on her was devastating and lasting. “Ever since, I was basically walking on eggshells, knowing that, at any moment, they might be getting ready to drag me through another nightmare.”

It is in response to such ongoing and increasing abuse by WMU of Article 22 of the WMU-AAUP Agreement that the Chapter is redoubling its efforts to address this matter. Although we have repeatedly and urgently brought this concern to WMU’s attention over the past many months, the situation has actually become worse. To summarize, since the start of 2023, at least seven professors have been dragged into the formal disciplinary process, a staggering figure.

Another truly disturbing fact, however, is that in at least five of these cases, the targeted faculty member apparently received no communication about the concern from their chair (or other appropriate administrator) prior to being thrust into the formal process. The new approach of Academic Affairs seems to be that, when a complaint or concern arises, the presumption shall be that the faculty member is likely guilty of serious misconduct. The upshot is that, for the first time in history, the policy of Academic Affairs regarding such concerns — including straightforward student complaints — seems to be to launch a formal stressful, frightening, and time-consuming contractual process against professors. This is in addition to the separate very serious problem of the failure to provide appropriate evidence in many of these cases, which also urgently needs addressing.

In most of these instances, it is evident that a simple conversation would have cleared up misunderstandings. An informal, collegial discussion of concerns with the faculty prior to taking formal action — as had historically been WMU’s norm in most cases— is a contractually recognized part of the process (22.§1.2) precisely so as to avoid unnecessary escalation. The unwillingness of some administrators to discuss concerns with faculty in their units, and the enthusiasm of other administrators to unnecessarily drag faculty members through this intimidating formal process exacerbates many ongoing problems, including our university’s morale crisis.

Not only is the casual, liberal application of the formal disciplinary process a further assault on Western’s already fragile campus morale, it also undermines professors’ ability to do their jobs. So long as any WMU faculty member fears that they too might be swept into the disciplinary process as a result of a passing complaint — by a student, employee, or administrator — they are not free to flourish as academics. Although WMU has not yet been in the news for top-down attempts to intimidate or retaliate against faculty as, for example, has happened in Florida and Texas, Western is on a similarly problematic trajectory given its increasingly liberal application of this key contractual article, the integrity of which is essential to maintain robust campus speech, academic freedom, and faculty and student morale.

Last Summer and Fall, we and several WMU-AAUP officer colleagues made repeated efforts (throughout administrative personnel changes) to explain the serious implications at WMU of invoking Article 22. And we have done so repeatedly in the months since then. Over and over again, we have explained both the ethical and practical imperatives for following the norms of academic culture with respect to addressing the numerous inevitable complaints and concerns about faculty that arise on all university campuses. This makes it especially alarming that, in the first year with a new Academic Labor Relations Director, the WMU-AAUP is dealing with a deluge of hasty and frivolous “disciplinary” cases. As we watch the precipitous and authoritarian attacks on faculty rights around the nation, the conclusion we must draw is that an escalated response from the WMU-AAUP has become necessary.

Sixteen months after WMU’s No Confidence Vote: Have things gotten better at Western?

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

It has now been sixteen months since the Board-appointed faculty at Western Michigan University overwhelmingly voted to approve a vote of no confidence in WMU’s President. Despite this clear message demanding change, and ample additional evidence of a morale crisis as demonstrated by a Faculty Senate survey and the administration’s employee engagement survey, the president remains in his position. Further, with the exception of a new provost, the cast of supporting characters — including most of the vice presidents, associate provosts, and deans — also remains largely unchanged. As another academic year winds to a close, this is a good time to take stock of where we’ve come over the past year and half or so.

Although the perspectives of individual faculty, staff, and students will obviously vary, from our point of view, many of the concerns expressed by the no confidence vote remain largely unresolved. A few are especially worrisome because they represent not merely discrete problems that might be addressed through targeted policy changes, but an ongoing corrosion of the foundation of Western’s campus culture. For example, leadership’s “failure to respond appropriately to feedback and concerns” and the “unprecedented narrowing of the practice of shared governance” are higher order, systemic deficits that make more specific problems — for example, enrollment challenges — much harder to address. Moreover, leadership failures that continue to damage WMU’s status as a “great place to learn and work,” create a vicious cycle of campus dissatisfaction, making our university less attractive to new talent and energy that might help to renew and reinvigorate it.

Despite some modest improvements in some areas of enrollment data last year, cause for concern has remained steady or grown in other important areas, including:

– After the precipitous layoff of numerous key employees a few years ago, chronic under-staffing and problematic hiring delays.

– Further violations by WMU of shared governance and due process in its pursuit of rapid restructuring and in other decision-making.

– The administration’s refusal to take basic steps to assure impartiality in the grievance process, further undermining confidence that faculty concerns will be fairly considered.

– A lack of transparency, for example, about challenges regarding the new student center.

– Unacknowledged implications of the new “competitive” budget model on the curriculum and the research mission.

– A failure by WMU to accept the Chapter’s repeated invitations to initiate discussion about the possibility of adding Juneteenth as an official holiday to the university calendar in response to state and federal recognition and student requests.

– An over-reliance on the formal disciplinary process to address concerns about faculty job performance and a failure to properly adhere to the process, for example, to provide evidence for allegations of misconduct.

– A squandered opportunity to more fairly and rationally address salary equity adjustments through WMU’s failure to collaborate effectively with faculty in the negotiated “salary equity committee” last year, and in its ongoing failure to accept overtures to continue that committee work.

– Ongoing enthusiasm by WMU to rely upon attorneys to handle employee concerns and to escalate issues unnecessarily, for example, the summer preference grievance that was decided in the Chapter’s favor through a time-consuming and expensive arbitration process.

As we noted in message of March 3, 2022: “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.” Although the WMU administration has made some welcome gestures toward reconciliation with employees over the past 16 months, it seems like they’ve just given up when it comes to some of the most substantive concerns. Also, as we have noted previously, at some point, ongoing listening and data collection seem like an excuse for failing to act when information has already been repeatedly provided.

Further, to be clear, in addition to the input faculty and staff have provided through numerous forums and surveys, the WMU-AAUP leadership has continued to convey faculty concerns to the administration. Far too often, however, the response is one that seems calibrated to highlight the administration’s managerial prerogatives over employees rather than its service and leadership responsibilities to them. It’s an unproductive scenario in which the elected leaders of Western’s faculty, teaching assistants and part-time instructors are likely to receive rebuttals rather than understanding from WMU administrators when we share our colleagues’ concerns.

It was, of course, disappointing that, after the faculty’s historic resolution of no confidence, the WMU Board of Trustees’ response was, at least publicly, to double-down on its support for the president and the status quo. This included approval of presidential raises and bonuses that, to some campus employees seemed not just exorbitant, but insulting. After all, the Board took these actions even as faculty and staff were being lectured by the administration about the ongoing need for belt-tightening. Still, things might have unfolded differently. The resolution might have been received by the administration as a wake up call, an invitation to reflect unflinchingly on its record and to embrace every opportunity to restore campus confidence.

As dramatic as the December 2021 faculty resolution itself was, then, what is almost more noteworthy than that event itself is the administration’s ongoing failure to provide healing and responsive leadership since then. It is a sobering fact that two of the most frequent questions we have received this semester are: “How much notice do I have to provide when I resign?” and “How long will my benefits continue once I resign?” It seems that not only has our campus morale not been improving, it may actually be getting worse as time passes and hope fades.

Redefining “The Western Way”: New faces and possibilities at WMU

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

Governor Whitmer’s recent announcement of three new Western Michigan University trustees, combined with the hiring of an energetic new provost, mark this time as one of unusual hope and possibility at Western. Yes, our campus has struggled through some difficult times, including a number of chronic problems that were exacerbated during the worst of the pandemic. Our university has also suffered from a malaise that insiders often refer to as “The Western Way,” a shorthand description of processes that seem ill-conceived and doomed to produce unsatisfactory results. Despite such challenges, there is no reason that our campus cannot turn the tide and transform “The Western Way” into a reference to our campus’s commitment to collaboration, effectiveness, and pride.

As we have suggested in a number of past communications to members, the great heartbreak surrounding so many of WMU’s problems is that they have been avoidable. So, for example, while most Michigan universities have been struggling with challenging demographic, social, political, and financial realities — which have repercussions for everything from enrollment to mental health — some WMU administrators over the years have made choices that have unnecessarily, and sometimes quite predictably, worsened the impacts for WMU. When folks refer to “the Western Way,” they often seem to have in mind cumulative, short-sighted administrative maneuvers that unnecessarily grind away at staff and faculty morale and make it harder to simply do our jobs.

A few familiar examples:

  • a sense of being nickeled and dimed where program funding and compensation are concerned, including resources for the human beings critical to the academic mission  
  • an impression that WMU is unwilling to make consistent small investments to shore up core staffing and infrastructure, a worry that is being further realized by the recent implementation of the “SRM” budget model 
  • a feeling by at least some critical employees in every group that they are perceived by higher ups primarily as a drain on resources rather than as its most precious asset  
  • skepticism that employee input matters to higher ups; more and more “forums” can seem irrelevant to folks to who have come to believe that their voices do not matter
  • an impression that high-level administrators see their main loyalty and responsibility as being toward one another, that they regard themselves more as elite managers than as stewards in service roles to the university
  • problems of transparency, concern by employees that that they are not being told the full story about WMU’s challenges, let alone being included in collaborative problem-solving
  • a sense that the WMU administration sometimes sees employees — be they instructors, landscapers, advisors, or administrative staff — not as valued colleagues, but entirely as subordinates to be “managed”
  • an all too frequent inclination by some WMU administrators to unnecessarily provoke and escalate disagreements with its various employee groups rather than seek ways to compromise for the good of the institution

In general, up to now, “The Western Way” has functioned as a shorthand for campus leaders’ troubling and sometimes inscrutable choices for matters small and large, from the banners that promote WMU on Stadium Drive to how staffing cuts have occurred. The impacts have been felt everywhere from the dining halls, classrooms, advisors’ offices, and, critically, at contract negotiation tables where WMU has sometimes seemed more focused on “winning” an imagined contest against its own hardworking employees rather than reaching fair, mutually acceptable terms.

But as concerning as all of these details may sound, there is good news. Many individuals and employee groups at WMU have already clearly identified concrete problems and this helps to mark a pretty clear path forward for all who are eager to transform “The Western Way.” It is a cause for optimism, too, that some of our university’s greatest challenges are changeable, as the solution lies in internal institutional responses as much as external situations. This means that the power to make a real difference lies within the reach of empowered WMU hands. In short, we at Western Michigan University need not wait for perfect social, political, and financial circumstances to fully restore WMU’s functioning and reputation as a great regional university.

While all Broncos have some agency and accountability when it comes to shifting the tide, there can be no doubt that administrative higher ups and WMU trustees hold special power and responsibility. And while the big decisions and initiatives they champion surely matter, it is also their cumulative daily attitudes and choices that will disproportionately shape what “The Western Way” will come to mean in the future. Will the old habits and the old culture hold sway, or do we truly stand at a new beginning?

It is our great hope and, we know, also that of many of our colleagues in every employee group, that “The Western Way” will soon come to evoke qualities such as these:

– an institution that puts its core educational mission first, including all of the many and varied human beings necessary to realize that mission 

– a university at which administrators define themselves in terms of their service roles 

– an ethically principled, smoothly functioning university that is a first choice both for students and their families, and for employees 

– a university that is a source of pride for the region, our entire state, and beyond

Go Western!  

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?

When students, staff, and faculty become invisible to WMU leaders

Remarks delivered by WMU-AAUP president Cathryn Bailey to the Board of Trustees at its January 20th meeting. View the recorded meeting segment here. A link to the full meeting is here.

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

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.

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.


Jacinda Swanson
Associate Professor
Dept. of Political Science

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.

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.

Western Michigan’s Pandemic Budget Priorities: Won’t Students Pay the Price?

Uncertainty deformed almost every aspect of academic year 2020-21, including basic pedagogies and other conditions associated with teaching work. Given this historically unprecedented pressure on learning itself, and the uncertainty now facing us for the coming school year, why has so much of Western Michigan University’s budget cutting actually seem focused on dismantling, rather than strengthening, academic quality and student experience? And with unjustified “austerity”measures still aimed squarely at the solar plexus of teaching and learning — including unreasonable teaching loads and lowball salary offers — what will be the likely consequences on prospective students, faculty, and future enrollments? Is the Western Michigan University being created by today’s budget decisions one that we can still feel comfortable selling to future students and their families?

For example, at WMU, in addition to a retirement incentive that peeled away scores of accomplished content experts and talented teachers, paltry budgets for part-time instructors were decimated. Of course, at universities long dependent on such “temporary” instructors, the impact on students was entirely predictable: In a 20-21 teaching/learning scenario already guaranteed to be chaotic, many faculty were assigned higher course loads, not lower ones, as might be expected in the midst of a teaching and learning crisis. An obvious consequence is that students were expected to settle for a smaller slice of their instructor’s time and energy precisely when they needed more of it. There was also the devastation of part-time instructors’ livelihoods — not to mention staff colleagues, for example, advisors — many of whom had contributed to WMU’s core academic mission for years.

As our overworked WMU professoriate continues to encounter lowball salary offers at the negotiation table, the effects of ongoing budget cuts on teaching and learning must be honestly acknowledged. One is that many faculty have been forced to choose either to abandon critical research and service commitments or to take time away from students. Given that many scholarly projects are time-sensitive, research cannot simply be postponed until (or if) the university decides to reinvest in academics. Unfortunately, interruptions to the research momentum of some faculty can irreparably damage their investigations and projects. In addition, much of the service that faculty have been forced to jettison to make room for higher teaching loads — not to mention the loss of scores of essential staff colleagues — cuts into important services for students, no matter how hard faculty and remaining staff try to keep that from happening.

As usual, the consequences have fallen especially hard on already vulnerable faculty and students, including faculty and students of color, international faculty and students, LGBTQ people, and women responsible for child care. And for some especially vulnerable students, close contact with instructors, during the pandemic more than ever, can mean the difference not only between success and failure, but between life and death. In addition, some faculty members’ morale has been so badly shattered by constant demands of more sacrifice (from comfortable and protected elite administrators), it will be impossible for them to marshal their usual enthusiasm in the classroom. This, of course, is the same passionate energy that makes many WMU classes attractive to students in the first place.

As universities like WMU have made the odd decision to de-prioritize academics during the pandemic, they have become less recognizable to teacher-scholars focused on academic essentials. But this is also a crossroads moment of opportunity. After all, if we are truly committed to rebuilding Western in this competitive enrollment environment, shouldn’t our first priority be high quality student learning, and the faculty research and scholarship, advising, library, and student mental health support necessary to sustain it? Even as the pandemic continues to threaten many other WMU offerings, the core academic mission — the excitement of cutting-edge knowledge, research opportunities and close work with faculty experts — should loom larger on universities’ radar than ever. Instead, it seems that teaching and learning are being treated as unnecessary, luxury expenses even though WMU’s budget is quite robust, and was so even before Western received that staggering $550 million donation.

Of course, WMU still has a chance to learn good lessons from the pandemic. Rather than marking the end of learning-centeredness, the pandemic might be heard as a call to recommit to it. As WMU continues to consider its salary offers at the negotiation table, let’s ask ourselves what WMU imagines it can offer students that is more important than academics? It will be a terrible insult, not just to professors, but to all the students and families now placing faith in Western to get it right, if teaching and learning continue to fall so low on WMU’s list of spending priorities.

How much do WMU administrators really make?

Fair employee compensation in a climate of administrative bloat

Anyone who doubts that U.S. higher education is increasingly based on corporate values need look no further than the compensation packages being offered to university administrators. And these dizzyingly high salaries and VIP perks aren’t only a feature of elite institutions, but are also becoming a fact of life at affordable regional universities like Western Michigan University. With the WMU-AAUP in the thick of negotiations over faculty salary and benefits, and after a year of sacrifices by WMU employees, this is surely a good time to look at what WMU thinks is a reasonable compensation to offer administrators.

According to documents the WMU-AAUP obtained from WMU by FOIA (after being required by WMU to pay a fee), we learned that:

  • the President, in addition to receiving a $450,000 salary, also has housing (and house maintenance and housekeeping) and car paid for, as well as club memberships, e.g., The Park Club and the Kalamazoo Country club, if he wishes. He is also provided an additional $50,000 per fiscal year as an “executive retirement benefit,” and up to $10,000 per year reimbursement “to purchase life insurance to cover the costs of health insurance coverage for his spouse in the event of the President’s death.”
  • the Vice President of Marketing, with a $230,000 salary, was offered a $12, 000 “bonus” simply for signing his contract. In addition, he receives a $625 monthly automobile allowance, club memberships, and was offered up to $10,000 for moving expenses.
  • the head of legal counsel takes in a $175, 000 yearly salary and a $625 monthly automobile allowance. This position is only one of several WMU in-house lawyers (and is in addition to what WMU is now paying a private law firm)
  • the Provost, who earns $315,000 annually, receives a $625 monthly automobile allowance, club memberships, and was offered up to $10,000 for moving expenses

In decades past, university administrators were often primarily professors, individuals with long service as faculty members who often remained rooted in, and primarily motivated by, academic values and concerns. As university administration has become more professionalized over the years, presidents, provosts, deans, and myriad others may have had relatively little experience with students or research, or with the critical dynamics of shared governance. Instead, such individuals are often hired for their willingness and potential to “manage” people, as well as campus and public opinion. Whatever the backgrounds and motivations of particular contemporary university administrators, many are extravagantly compensated.

Over the years, many faculty members, staff employees, and students have become accustomed to accepting the rock-star salaries of elite administrators. We may even have learned to make jokes about it. But when we watch our university happily hand administrators the sun, moon, and keys to the kingdom, at the very moment they’re telling WMU employees that we’re too expensive — sometimes even suggesting that we’re lazy or greedy— the time for humor has ended. Western Michigan University shows us how much it values its administrators with every paycheck and perk it provides to them. Just so, the employee compensation it now agrees to at the negotiation table will be the clearest possible expression of what WMU thinks the rest of us are worth as well, not to mention how much WMU values its core academic mission.

To show your support for fair pay, and the dignity and worth of the WMU employees who make WMU possible, join our outdoor rally on Wednesday morning, August 18th at Montague House, 814 Oakland Drive. We’ll convene at 9:30. Please wear red if you’ve got it, and bring friends and family. Let’s celebrate and support our university, our students, our negotiation process, and one another.