When WMU faculty voices are dismissed…

The WMU-AAUP has taken many steps to ensure that its initiatives and statements are rooted in the will of its members. First, we have used numerous surveys, polls, and votes. The results have been impressive, including in the November election for Chapter President and Vice President — with very high numbers of participation — and, on a number of key issues, remarkably univocal. In addition, at all-member Chapter meetings, and meetings of the Association Council (department reps), and in countless emails and one-on-one meetings, WMU faculty have spoken out in unusual numbers and with extraordinary candor.

To be sure, no organization can satisfy the wishes of all its members and there’s no use pretending otherwise. But it’s also good to keep in mind that a classic divide-and-conquer strategy used against those engaged in collective action is to question the basic legitimacy of the group expressing concerns. Far too often, here’s what happens: Instead of listening to repeated worries, suggestions, and complaints expressed by campus community members, including faculty, administrators insist that such expressions are those of a “radical fringe” and don’t represent a supposed “silent majority.” No matter how many voices speak up, nor how loudly or reasonably — including through damningly direct performance evaluations — administrators may continue to justify actions and policies by effectively dismissing whole swathes of the campus community as disgruntled, whiny, or difficult. Such administrators may be listening to some faculty voices, of course, especially those that consistently, and sometimes publicly, celebrate and applaud them.

It is frustrating and dangerous when such dismissive and trivializing strategies are used against any group, but it is especially pernicious when it happens during negotiations, and when the group in question is a legally recognized collective bargaining unit, the official voice of its members. As we have all seen in recent years, tirelessly spreading rumors that cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections, polls, and properly collected qualitative data is a tactic employed by those desperate to believe they are right. No matter what. It is precisely because of such stubbornness and wishful thinking that the WMU-AAUP, including the individual voices of its members, must continue to speak up. This is especially important now, as we are in the midst of negotiations, fighting not just for faculty salaries and decent benefits, but for the ongoing viability and dignity of the professoriate.

During negotiations, the WMU-AAUP will be finding new ways to share members’ experiences and messages of concern, then, for example, in graphics like the one below. Please contact us at staff@wmuaaup.net if you have experiences you’d like the Chapter to consider highlighting in these campaigns.

Imagining a New Deal for Higher Education

A vision for a more equitable and sustainable future.
By Lisa Levenstein and Jennifer Mittelstadt

(in the Spring 2021 issue of Academe, published by the AAUP)

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and upended colleges and universities, students scrambled to pack up dorms and apartments while faculty abandoned their offices and frantically moved labs and lectures to Zoom. Meanwhile, a burgeoning financial crisis in higher education was on the horizon. Locked in our homes, we learned that colleges and universities were losing money as students demanded refunds on housing and summer enrollments declined. COVID-19 was also affecting state legislatures, which would be hard-pressed to sustain prepandemic levels of funding.

By late March, members of Congress acknowledged but failed to stem the mounting crisis. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided $14 billion to colleges and universities, $10 billion less than it provided to the airline industry, which employs only one-sixth of the workers found in higher education. Lacking substantial government support, college and university administrators began to unleash a tidal wave of cuts while maintaining tuition at historically unprecedented highs even as students and their families lost the ability to pay bills. By the end of June, more than two hundred institutions had implemented layoffs, furloughed employees, or failed to renew contracts—affecting more than fifty thousand employees. At the City University of New York, one of the largest public higher education systems in the nation, 2,800 adjunct faculty members lost their jobs.

(Continue reading at the AAUP’s Academe site)

Taking stock of WMU academic labor relations

a message from the WMU-AAUP President and Vice President

Dear Colleagues,
Almost nine months ago, we reached out to you as candidates for WMU-AAUP President and Vice President. With faculty labor being exploited, and faculty input being all but ignored, we asked you to stand with us to advance goals and values aimed at restoring shared governance. After being elected by overwhelming numbers in November, taking office in January, and completing our first semester as your Chapter leaders, we are now in a position to both take stock and also share some new concerns with you.

To begin with, we are confident that having new Chapter leadership in place is bringing about positive change with respect to WMU-AAUP and campus dynamics. The Chapter has stepped up efforts to take direction from members; adopted a collaborative, but skeptical, approach to administrators; increased its emphasis on building partnerships across campus; and embraced the fundamental AAUP values on which our organization was founded. Our focus is on academic freedom, shared governance, equity, and the protection of contractual due process.

In recent months, then, your WMU-AAUP has been more engaged, more assertive, and more vocal. Unsurprisingly, the Chapter has also been facing a backlash. Against the backdrop of pandemic fear and confusion, WMU seems now to imagine a compliant faculty happy to make endless sacrifices. As many of you have reported, there seems to be a greater expectation that professors should simply obey, sometimes with little regard for the Contract, Departmental Policy Statements, or even considerations of basic fairness.

Unfortunately, as the WMU-AAUP has become more proactive in defending members’ rights, we are experiencing instances of administrative stonewalling, delay, and apparent attempts to marginalize and intimidate us. To take an especially bold example, last month, WMU invented a new hybrid faculty-administrator position titled “Interim Associate Director of Academic Labor Relations.” WMU then appointed the previous WMU-AAUP Grievance Officer to the post just weeks after he had resigned his position with the Chapter. WMU has effectively moved him from one side of the table to the other while nominally preserving his faculty status.

The impact of unprecedented administrative stunts of this sort is, predictably, chilling for faculty members involved in, or contemplating pursuing, contractual processes or concerns. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that WMU is engaged in such maneuvers while repeatedly and summarily dismissing substantive and credible faculty concerns, complaints, and grievances. Again, there seems to be a worsening pattern in which WMU Academic Labor Relations is reluctant to collaborate consistently with the WMU-AAUP in good faith.

To be sure, we will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to address overreach and abuse while remaining open to opportunities for collaboration with our administrative colleagues. But the most powerful recourse we have is, of course, rooted in the faculty’s determination, knowledge, and unity. We share this message with you, then, as a sign of new possibility. After all, if the WMU administration is busy devising new strategies to distract the faculty or dismiss our voices, this is a sure sign that they know we are a force to be reckoned with.

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

This message was originally shared with WMU-AAUP faculty by email on May 18, 2021.

2021 Negotiations begin!

WMU-AAUP contract negotiations officially began Thursday, May 13. As you may know, our exceptionally hardworking negotiation team members — Whitney Decamp (Chief), Charles Crawford, Regina Garza Mitchell, and Robert White — bring considerable experience and expertise to the process. They are well prepared, and eager to bring faculty priorities to the bargaining table.

The Chapter will provide ongoing negotiation updates. We will also be in touch about how members and allies can support this process to help ensure that we have a successful outcome. This is a critical moment to recall that our strength is in our unity and that the terms of the WMU-AAUP Contract have implications for nearly every other WMU employee group. Whether you are a member or an ally, please share the bargaining platform widely to demonstrate your support for our team, our union, and our university.

WMU without the WMU-AAUP? What a difference academic collective bargaining makes!

After more than four decades of living and working in the reassuring presence of a well-crafted, comprehensive, mature contract, it’s easy to become complacent about the guarantees and protections that have come to shape WMU’s campus life. And, to be clear, though the WMU-AAUP Agreement has been forged specifically between WMU and the WMU Board-appointed faculty, this foundational document impacts our entire campus culture. In short, the power of WMU’s professoriate to bargain for fair wages, decent benefits, and shared governance has led to the creation of a campus community that is far more transparent, democratic, and humane than it might otherwise be.

Because it is far too easy to forget what it used be like, consider the routine risks of living and working on a campus with no formal collective bargaining power:

  • compensation and benefit structures that may be decided on arbitrary, or so-called “market based” criteria, with little hope of predictable raises, or of avoiding drastic healthcare insurance increases;
  • tenure and promotion procedures that are opaque and draconian and that may include no formal avenues for appeal or challenge;
  • the power to summarily eliminate departments and faculty positions according to economic vicissitudes and administrative whims;
  • unchecked disciplinary procedures according to which administrators might determine a faculty member’s guilt and assign penalties with no provisions for due process;
  • a climate in which all mid and higher level decisions may be made by admin, including those with direct implications for academics, with little or no input from faculty

In short, before there was the WMU-AAUP, life here was a lot like it is at other non-unionized campuses at which faculty members function as laborers serving at the pleasure of management. Even an occasional, cursory glance at national higher education news makes clear that faculty colleagues at many other campuses live in a shadow of fear and uncertainty that impacts their wages, capacity to exercise academic freedom, and, yes, their mental health. The fact that many of us at WMU may no longer feel moved to actively celebrate the rights and advantages we have earned through our collective power is perhaps the greatest testament to the WMU-AAUP’s astonishing success over the decades.

And, again, though not all campus employee groups share equally in these advantages, the positive impact of the WMU-AAUP on the entire campus is evident, including:

  • a tendency for enhanced wage and benefits for many non-faculty employees, given how the WMU-AAUP’s negotiated wage and benefits packages influence subsequent agreements made with other employee groups;
  • a campus at which other employees are more likely to feel supported as they embrace their right to organize, for example, AFSCME, PSOA, POA, MSEA, IATSE, TAU, and the PIO, all further ensuring a healthy check and balance on unrestricted administrative power at WMU;
  • a climate of shared governance according to which there is precedent for employee demands of participation and transparency, an environment in which employees’ right to ask questions and expect answers becomes more normalized and likely

Though it may be true that the WMU-AAUP’s consistent success and effectiveness tempt us to take it for granted, as we prepare now for 2020 negotiations, it’s the perfect time to imagine life at WMU without our faculty union. In fact, we don’t have to tax our imaginations at all if we simply invite the perspective of longtime WMU faculty members, including one retired early WMU-AAUP leader who is eager to share cautionary anecdotes with all who will listen. “We were completely at their mercy,” he recalls, “and the only real leverage we had when we knew we were being treated unfairly was to quit our jobs, pack up our families, and leave.”