From AAUP: Taking stock of WMU academic labor relations

a message from the WMU-AAUP President and Vice President

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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.