Deadline to RSVP for Fall BBQ is Friday, August 19

Colleagues, please RSVP by Friday, August 19, for the 29th annual WMU-AAUP Fall BBQ on Tuesday, September 6, 5-7pm, at Montague House. As always, there will be great food, adult beverages, union solidarity, and fun for the whole family.

And since we will begin negotiations in the spring of 2017, the BBQ will be the official kickoff event for our 2017 contract campaign. Please RSVP by August 19 by calling 345-0151 or emailing staff@wmuaaup.net.

Looking forward to seeing everyone on September 6!

(Note to BBQ attendees: Please don’t park in the med school parking lot behind Montague House, even after business hours. They are not good sports about it.)

Click to enlarge flier.

Flier for 2016 WMU-AAUP Fall BBQ

New Faculty and Association Council Luncheon Sept. 16

New members of the board-appointed faculty at WMU are invited to the WMU-AAUP New Faculty and Association Council Luncheon on Friday, September 16, at 11:30 a.m. in 157 Bernhard.

This is an opportunity for new colleagues to meet faculty from across the university and to get acquainted with their faculty union officers and their college and department representatives. New faculty members and WMU-AAUP Association Council representatives should have already received their invitations to this special event. (Please contact staff@wmuaaup.net if you’re a new hire or an AC rep and have not received your invitation yet.)

The luncheon will feature special guest speaker Dr. Risa Lieberwitz, Professor of Labor and Employment Law at Cornell University and General Counsel of the American Association of University Professors. In addition to her appearance at the luncheon, Dr. Lieberwitz will also give a public presentation, “The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX,” at 4 p.m. on September 16. (More information about that here.)

The luncheon will be followed by the regular Association Council meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. and will also be in 157 Bernhard.

We understand the challenges that new colleagues can face in their first years on campus and how isolating it can sometimes feel when you’re new in the department. We are fortunate to have a wonderful community of faculty here at WMU, and we encourage our new colleagues to join us at the luncheon to meet and socialize with other new faculty and their union reps while also learning more about how the WMU-AAUP serves the faculty and the kinds of support and resources that are available to union members.

Especially in a national and regional climate that continues to challenge our claims to decent pay, benefits, and working conditions, we as university faculty must work together to make the case for higher education as a public good. As educators, researchers, artists, and scholars, professors are uniquely qualified to lead these discussions. Getting to know each other is a great way to start to come together as a united faculty who can make our case effectively, especially as we prepare for contract negotiations next year.

 

Labor law and Title IX expert Dr. Risa Lieberwitz to speak at WMU Sept. 16

Dr. Risa L. Lieberwitz, Professor of Labor and Employment Law at Cornell University and General Counsel of the American Association of University Professors, will visit WMU on Friday, September 16. She will be the featured speaker at the WMU-AAUP New Faculty and Association Council Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. and later on the 16th will present “The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX” in a public presentation at 4 p.m. Both events will be in 157 Bernhard.

Click to enlarge flier.

Flier for speaker event featuring Dr. Risa Lieberwitz, including photo of Dr. Liebervitz and information about the date, time, and location of her presentation.Dr. Lieberwitz chaired the committee that produced the new AAUP report on the history and current uses of Title IX, a joint project of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the Committee on Women in the Academic Profession.

As the executive summary notes,

The report identifies tensions between current interpretations of Title IX and the academic freedom essential for campus life to thrive. It finds that questions of free speech and academic freedom have been ignored in recent positions taken by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education, which is charged with implementing Title IX, and by university administrators who are expected to oversee compliance measures.

While successful resolutions of Title IX suits are often represented as unqualified victories in the name of gender equality, this report finds that the current interpretation, implementation, and enforcement of Title IX has compromised the realization of meaningful educational goals that lead to sexually safe campuses. Since 2011, deployment of Title IX has also imperiled due-process rights and shared governance. This report thus emphasizes that compliance with the letter of the law is no guarantee of justice, gendered or otherwise.

President Dunn’s email: “A new health plan option for 2017”

On the New Health Plan Option
By Lisa Minnick, WMU-AAUP President

By now faculty and other WMU employees will have seen the email from President Dunn, dated July 22, 2016, announcing the addition of a second health insurance option to be offered to WMU employees beginning in January 2017. As he wrote in his email, each employee group on campus will have the option to allow (or not allow) the administration to offer the new plan to its members.

If WMU-AAUP faculty members choose to allow the new plan to be offered to our bargaining unit, our existing plan, the BCBSM PPO that we have negotiated with the administration, would continue to be offered alongside the new plan.

We will provide an analysis of the BCBSM Healthy Blue Living HMO plan to the faculty in the next few weeks so that each faculty member will be well equipped to make an informed decision about whether the WMU-AAUP should agree to allow the plan to be offered to the faculty. We will be seeking your input as we go forward.

What follows is my perspective on this development as the WMU-AAUP representative on the alternative healthcare committee.

The idea of adding a second plan, specifically one that lowers premium costs for employees, was proposed by another employee group on campus, the WMU chapter of AFSCME, whose bargaining unit includes maintenance, landscape, dining, custodial, and other service staff. The health insurance premiums assessed to individuals vary by employee group at WMU. As most faculty are aware, our group, the board-appointed faculty, pays the highest premiums, but what maybe a lot of faculty don’t know is that employees in groups whose median pay is lower than that of the faculty still face costs that are unacceptably high, especially for the two-person and family plans.

So I can understand why our AFSCME colleagues are fighting for more affordable health insurance for their membership. We join them in their ongoing attempts to reduce healthcare costs for all WMU employees, especially the lowest paid among us, as these costs have become increasingly burdensome in recent years.

But I am not as optimistic as President Dunn seems to be that this new plan is the answer.

As I have noted, board-appointed faculty already pay the highest insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU, a rate that is the same as what senior administrative officers pay, even though the median and mean salaries of that employee group are of course significantly greater than ours. One way to cut costs for lower-paid employees, then, might be to ask senior administrators to bear more of their share of the burden.

And it is probably worth noting that not all senior administrators are even paying the same premiums as faculty. For example, President Dunn’s premium is $0 for his two-person plan, compared to $3933 per year for faculty. Additionally, his retirement agreement guarantees continuing free coverage for himself and for Mrs. Dunn for the rest of their lives. (Faculty and staff retirees, by contrast, have seen their share of healthcare premiums spike in recent years.)

In his email, President Dunn wrote:

A committee comprised of representatives from all the benefits-eligible campus employee groups has been working since September to identify a less expensive health care plan option. They have thoroughly assessed one Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan health care plan and have come to the conclusion that it should be added as an option—an alternative to the BCBSM PPO that WMU already offers to employees.

I represented the faculty on this committee, so I can say that this conclusion was not unanimous and that in fact I remain skeptical about the cost savings that individuals who choose the new option, BCBSM Healthy Blue Living HMO, will actually see over time. Additionally, I am concerned about the potentially burdensome conditions that the insured person (and spouse, for those on the two-person plan) must meet in order to qualify for this plan. If these conditions are not met, the insured will face reduced coverage and higher out-of-pocket costs.

Along with members of our 2014 bargaining team, I believe that there are better ways to reduce costs for faculty that do not involve intrusive “wellness” requirements or taking chances with the health and wellbeing of our families by gambling on a plan that may include some savings in the short run but that may not be the best investment over time.

Additionally, when this topic was discussed at the WMU-AAUP chapter meeting on April 8, 2016, the faculty expressed its dissatisfaction with the prospect of major decisions about our healthcare being made outside of contract negotiations and passed a resolution invoking the chapter’s rights under Article 45 of the Agreement:

ARTICLE 45
WAIVER CLAUSE

45.§1 AGREE AND ACKNOWLEDGE. The parties acknowledge that during the negotiations which resulted in this Agreement each had the unlimited right and opportunity to make demands and proposals with respect to any subject or matter not removed by law from the area of collective bargaining and that the understandings and agreements arrived at by the parties after  the exercise of that right and opportunity are set forth in this Agreement. Therefore, Western and the Chapter, for the life of this Agreement, each waives the right, and each agrees that the other shall not be obligated to bargain collectively with respect to any subject or matter referred to or covered by this Agreement and with respect to any non-mandatory subject of bargaining not specifically referred to or covered in this Agreement, even though such subject may not have been within the knowledge and contemplation of either or both of the parties at the time that they negotiated or signed this Agreement.

Our contract is not binding on other employee groups, of course, some of whose members are facing serious financial challenges as a result of increasing healthcare costs in recent years. And the administration has the legal right to offer an additional health insurance plan without negotiating it with us, as long as they continue to offer the existing plan as negotiated, which they will do.

As I have said, I think there are better ways to get costs down, including innovative approaches that have not been considered before, and our 2017 negotiation team will be exploring that. But I think we can all understand why many of our staff colleagues are anxious for relief sooner rather than later, as we also respect their right to make decisions that are best for themselves and their families.

A question that I raised during the committee’s deliberations over the past year was whether adding a second plan would create an “adverse selection” situation, in which healthier people might leave the existing BCBSM PPO for a plan that is less expensive up front and ultimately raise costs for those who choose to remain with the PPO. In his recommendation (linked here) to VP for Business and Finance Jan Van Der Kley on behalf of the committee, VP for Human Resources Warren Hills included the following request:

“With the success of this plan option, we also ask that for subsequent years costing of both plans would share the pooled experience of their combined participation and that the pricing differential would continue to be based upon the difference in plan definitions, not specific to the experience of participants in either group.”

VP Van Der Kley agreed. (Her response is linked here.)

For me, one of the positive things that came out of my service on this committee over the past academic year was getting to work closely with colleagues from AFSCME, the Professional Support Staff Organization, the Administrative Professionals Association, and the Michigan State Employees Association (WMU’s power plant workers), along with members of the human resources team at WMU. While the outcome of our work is not what I had hoped for, it was a great experience to have the opportunity to work closely on a long-term project with these intelligent, thoughtful people. While attending a two-hour meeting every two weeks for a year to talk about health insurance may not sound like the most exciting way to spend time, I always looked forward to seeing these terrific colleagues. Working together in this way also offered us the opportunity to build solidarity based on our shared commitment to Western Michigan University, our students, our community, and our members. I appreciate the wisdom and dedication they brought to this project, and I respect their perspectives and their decisions.

Faculty can expect to receive more information soon from the WMU-AAUP about the proposed new health plan, and we will also be seeking your input as we go forward. If you have questions, by all means send them along. Please email staff@wmuaaup.net. I might not be able to answer all of your questions right away, but if I don’t know the answer, I will find out for you.

Course evaluations and the contract in Spring and Summer 1

As we wrote in March 2016, the administration collected student rating data for all sections of every course taught in Spring 2016, an action that was not in compliance with Article 16 of the Agreement:

Article 16§4: Student ratings shall be conducted in each class taught by a bargaining unit faculty member in at least one semester of each academic year (to be determined by the faculty member).

In other words, Article 16§4 ensures the faculty’s contractual right to decide which class sections are evaluated in a given semester as well as the semester in which a course is evaluated. Faculty who teach multiple sections of the same course need only collect rating data for one section per academic year, although individual faculty members are of course free to choose to collect rating data for as many sections as they wish.

Why are we still talking about this?

In response to the administration’s actions, the WMU-AAUP Association Council voted at their March 25 meeting to file a chapter grievance alleging administrative violation of Article 16. The chapter grievance, filed in April, was denied by the administration and at the request of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee has recently moved into mediation.

But wait, there’s more.

There is a new development to report: Faculty who taught in Summer 1 2016 and logged onto GoWMU with the intention of opting out of participation in rating data collection, as is their right under Article 16§4, were unpleasantly surprised to learn that they could not do so and that rating data would again be collected for every section of every course.

On June 6, 2016, WMU-AAUP Chapter President Lisa Minnick contacted Dr. Nancy Mansberger, the administration’s Director of Academic Labor Relations, to inform her that faculty members teaching Summer 1 2016 were finding that they were not able to opt out of evaluating their courses if they so chose but — as in Spring 2016 — were only offered the option to ‘opt out’ of having ratings data sent to chairs and deans after it is collected, in contravention of Article 16.§4. Dr. Mansberger responded in an email, dated June 9, that rating data would be collected for all courses taught at WMU in Summer 1 2016. In her email message, Dr. Mansberger claimed that

The [letter of agreement] authorizing the pilot study detailed that a pilot study be run during the 2015-2016 Academic Year, which concludes at the end of the Summer I session. I have been informed by the Office of Assessment that the pilot study conditions will be lifted and the original ICES programming conditions will be reinstituted in time for the Summer II session evaluation process.

However, on May 9, 2016, faculty teaching in Summer 1 had received an email from Dr. David Reinhold that included the following statement, indicating that Article 16.§4 would be honored during Summer 1 2016:

If you are a full-time bargaining-unit faculty member you have the option whether or not to evaluate your course(s) this semester. If you choose to not evaluate this semester/session you must access ICES Online and indicate, section by section, whether you are evaluating that course.

This information turned out to be inaccurate, as was the case in Spring 2016, after faculty had received an email containing the same language on January 11. Faculty members who intended to exercise their rights under 16.§4 found when they accessed ICES in Summer 1 that they were preventing from doing so, just as they had been in Spring 2016.

In June, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee authorized the filing of a second chapter grievance alleging violation of Article 16 in Summer 1.

The Summer 1 chapter grievance also alleges a violation of Article 2. In her June 9 email, asserting the administration’s right to conduct its ‘pilot study’ during Summer 1, Dr. Mansberger claimed that “the 2015-2016 Academic Year. . . concludes at the end of the Summer I session.” However, according to Article 2 (Definitions) of the Agreement:

(a.) ‘Academic year’ means the fall and spring semesters.

Is there is a solution?

The June 2016 chapter grievance proposed the following remedies:

  1. Any bargaining-unit faculty member who so chooses shall be able to access the “Course/Instructor Evaluation System (ICES Online)” though the “My Work” channel in GoWMU and, by June 28, 2016, exercise the option not to collect student ratings for their courses in Summer I 2016. [Unfortunately, the clock has since run out on this proposed remedy.]
  2. By April 2017, the administration shall receive an evidenced-based report prepared and presented by representatives of the board-appointed faculty on best practices for collecting ratings data that is “valid and reliable” (as required by Article 16) and for the use of ratings data. Further, the administration shall engage in a good-faith dialogue with the faculty on this topic in response to the report, with the mutual goal of improving the quality and value of student ratings data.
  3. The faculty’s report and consequent dialogue shall address documented problems with the reliability of student ratings, as indicated by the growing body of research indicating significant biases against women faculty and faculty members of color. The WMU-AAUP Chapter has previously cited a key study released earlier this year (see Boring, Ottoboni, and Stark 2016), one of many that have found that student ratings may be “better at gauging students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are at measuring teaching effectiveness” and “are biased against female instructors in particular in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible.” The authors conclude that for these reasons, student ratings “should not be used for personnel decisions.” The administration shall collaborate with the faculty in a good-faith effort to address the racial and gender biases endemic to student evaluations of teaching and work with faculty to develop an unbiased, equitable system for collecting and using student ratings.

UPDATED 4 P.M. ON JULY 12: The grievance hearing was held today and the grievance has subsequently been denied by the administration. On July 8, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee authorized a request for mediation in the event of denial of this grievance. 

Why does this matter?

Language regarding the frequency of evaluation data collection has been in the contract for 35 years, and for the past 14 years, the faculty’s contractual right to make these decisions has been stated explicitly. (We published a timeline in March 2016 for how this language came to be in the contract and how it has evolved over the years, available here.)

It is the union’s job to defend the contract and protect faculty rights. Every single right and benefit in our contract is in there because faculty who came before us fought for it, won it, and had to give up something to get it. That is the nature of negotiation. Therefore, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, in consultation with the WMU-AAUP Association Council, voted to reject the proposal to conduct evaluations in all sections of all courses in Spring 2016 when it was presented to us. We could not in good conscience agree to make a concession regarding language that has been in our contract since 1981. When the administration chose to go ahead with the plan regardless of the contract language precluding it, and despite our repeated warnings that their plan would violate the contract, we filed the first chapter grievance, which is still active and pending mediation.

Similarly, when it came to our attention in Summer 1 that faculty rights articulated in Article 16 were once again being denied, we filed the second chapter grievance and expect the hearing to be scheduled soon.

Do faculty want student feedback? YES.

WMU faculty are rightly proud of the top-quality instruction we provide to our students and deeply invested in receiving substantive feedback from them. The WMU-AAUP is equally invested in helping our faculty colleagues access reliable, useful feedback that is free of the kinds of racial, gender, and other bias that unfortunately many colleagues have experienced firsthand in their ratings and that has been well documented in the scholarly literature on student ratings.

These are problems that our 2011 and 2014 negotiation teams raised at the bargaining table. Both times, the administration refused to engage in conversation to try to solve them. Both times, the faculty had to settle for letters of agreement establishing joint committees of faculty and administration to address the problem of low response rates that resulted from the switch in 2010 from paper to online evaluations. The problem of low response rates was the only issue the administration would consider with regard to course evaluations. While it is a significant issue, it is far from the only or most pressing problem associated with the collection and use of course evaluation data.

We value the time and energy that the members of the joint committee brought to this project, and we share their disappointment in the outcome. In collaboration with the Executive Committee, our 2014 bargaining team envisioned a process of brainstorming to generate creative solutions to improve course evaluation response rates and develop evaluation instruments that minimize potential bias, and we are still optimistic that this can be achieved without faculty conceding any contractual rights.

Given the growing body of research into bias in student ratings, it would have been irresponsible for the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee to agree to the expanded use of a flawed rating instrument or to allow a negotiated contractual right to be circumvented in the process.

What happens next?

The WMU-AAUP officers and Executive Committee will keep the faculty informed as the two chapter grievances discussed here move forward. As always, faculty input and feedback are invited.

 

Developing an online course with EUP? Don’t sign your rights away!

It recently came to the attention of the WMU-AAUP officers and Executive Committee that the EUP course development agreement that faculty are required to sign when they develop an online course does not comply with Article 30 of the Agreement. Faculty members who signed these course development agreements with EUP were (inappropriately) required to choose between compensation for their course development work and retention of their intellectual property rights. However, Article 30.§5 of the Agreement guarantees faculty intellectual property rights for online course materials without regard to payment of the course development stipend.

The EUP course development agreement form, in use from May 2013 to May 2016, provided three options, two of which directed the faculty to “specify limited rights usage agreement,” with a third option to waive the $3,000 course development stipend in return for “retain[ing] exclusive intellectual and usage rights to the course content which they have solely developed for the purposes of facilitating this course.”

However, Article 30.§5 already explicitly assigns ownership to the faculty member who develops the online course (emphasis is added):

30.§5 Intellectual Property. Copyright of  recordings of courses, course presentations, computer-assisted instructional content, course content developed, or other digital materials created by the faculty member(s), shall be owned by the faculty member(s), as in the case of traditional course material.

Further:

30.§5.1 The faculty member (or an appropriate faculty body) who develops course content for use in eLearning shall exercise control over the future use, modification, and distribution of instructional material, and shall determine whether the material should be revised or withdrawn from use.

These contractual ownership rights are unqualified and should not be represented as contingent on faculty members waiving their rights to compensation for course development. This contract language was hard-won by the faculty over the years, and the WMU-AAUP intends for it to be honored.

Accordingly, in April 2016, the WMU-AAUP filed a chapter grievance on behalf of the faculty, requesting that EUP and the administration work with the WMU-AAUP to revise the EUP’s online course development agreement to comply fully with Article 30.§5 and that all ambiguous, misleading, or noncontractual language be removed.

The chapter grievance also called for EUP and the administration to compensate any faculty members who were found to have waived the stipend or relinquished ownership rights because they were misled by the language of the EUP course development agreement form to believe that waiving one was a legitimate condition of accepting the other. We also called for the administration to take all other appropriate remedial actions to prevent future violations of Article 30.

Dr. Nancy Mansberger, the administration’s Director of Academic Labor Relations (the title of her position was formerly Director of Academic Collective Bargaining), declined to hear the grievance, claiming that there was no evidence of harm to faculty members, but she agreed to work with WMU-AAUP grievance officer John Saillant to revise the letter.

In May, the WMU-AAUP requested mediation of the grievance, under the terms outlined in Article 12, and the administration agreed.

In early June 2016, a mediation team was appointed, composed of one faculty member appointed by the WMU-AAUP and one representative appointed by the administration, again according to procedures set out in Article 12. After reviewing the case, the mediation team proposed that the chapter and the administration collaborate on revising the EUP course development agreement form, with a deadline of August 1, 2016.

Also in early June, the WMU-AAUP submitted a request to the administration under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of all EUP online course development agreements entered into by bargaining-unit faculty since September 6, 2014 (the start date of our current contract). We have recently received these documents and are reviewing them to determine whether any faculty members were denied contractual rights as a consequence of entering into course development agreements with EUP.

On June 24, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee voted to accept the mediation team’s proposed resolution, leaving open the option to file additional grievances if necessary once the FOIA request was fulfilled (it had not yet been on June 24) and once the signed EUP course development agreement letters had been reviewed. As of today (July 11), the administration has not yet informed the chapter as to whether they will accept the proposal submitted by the mediation team.

A new concern has also arisen: One of the signed EUP course development agreements we received in the FOIA package was a revised version of the form, with the revision date given as May 2016. It had been signed and dated by EUP on May 31 and by the faculty member on June 1. The revised version also fails to comply with Article 30 and does so no less egregiously than the previous version. It is troubling that a new but still noncontractual version of the letter was introduced in May 2016 and used as recently as June 1, 2016, well after the chapter grievance calling this issue to the attention of EUP and the administration was filed in April.

This is an ongoing matter of concern for the chapter. The officers and Executive Committee of the WMU-AAUP will continue to investigate the extent to which faculty members may have been misled into relinquishing their rights or their rightful compensation and will work to make sure that these errors be corrected and that these colleagues be made whole.

Have you signed an EUP course development agreement and had to choose between being compensated for your work and retaining your intellectual property rights? Are you thinking about developing an online course sometime in the future and want to make sure your contractual rights are honored? If you answered yes to either of these questions, please contact us. We can help. Call us at 345-0151 or email staff@wmuaaup.net.

WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees (June 29, 2016)

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
June 29, 2016


First, congratulations to our PIO and MSEA colleagues on the ratification of their new contracts. We are proud to work alongside these dedicated women and men and appreciate their important contributions to the smooth operation and academic mission of Western Michigan University.

This is a day of celebration, as we honor and recognize the 45 faculty members whose tenure and promotions are finally official. The Board’s approval today caps a grueling review process that spans nearly an entire academic year. Tenure and promotion in higher education take years to achieve, and it is wonderful to see these outstanding colleagues recognized for the many accomplishments that have led them to this moment.

In his remarks at last year’s tenure and promotion luncheon, Provost Greene praised the review procedures here at Western as more straightforward and clearly articulated than at other institutions where he has worked. I have waited a year to second his observation and to add an explanation, because that kind of thing doesn’t just happen. It is the result of deliberate effort. For 40 years, WMU faculty and administration have collaborated on establishing, refining, and most important, codifying these procedures in the Agreement between the WMU-AAUP and the WMU Board of Trustees, our union contract.

We and the colleagues who came before us haven’t achieved perfection, of course, but the collective wisdom of our faculty and administrators alike over four decades has given rise to agreed-upon guidelines for tenure and promotion with clear and specific timelines, criteria, and procedures.

Each academic unit also has its own Department Policy Statement (DPS), many of which set out tenure and promotion guidelines specific to each department, according to the standards in their respective disciplines and in adherence to the contract. A DPS is a governance document, as established in Article 23 of the Agreement, developed by the faculty with the input and feedback of their chair or director. Once approved by the faculty, DPS drafts are submitted to the administration’s Director of Academic Labor Relations and to the contract administrator for the WMU-AAUP, who evaluate them for compliance with the Agreement.

The DPS, which covers many facets of department-level governance, is analogous to the Agreement in the sense that both are examples of good-faith shared governance at its best. By that I mean they represent the kind of collaboration between faculty and administration in which faculty participation in decision-making has a real impact on the way we do things here, a genuine collaboration to create policies and procedures and ensure transparency, accountability, fairness, and equity.

To function effectively, the work of a university is necessarily collaborative. Many outside the academy do not understand the role of the faculty in this enterprise and imagine faculty simply as employees who are expected to follow the directives of administrators. But as we all know, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the faculty. Since the intellectual character and identity of any university is determined above all by its faculty, participation in shared governance, from the department level to the university level, is central to our work as faculty members.

Boards and administrators might sometimes forget or want to disregard that, especially when political or financial pressures tempt them to act unilaterally or with only the thinnest veneer of shared governance. But a university leadership distracted from the mission by crisis management and attempting to limit the role of the faculty in institutional governance risks doing the dirty work of those who want to weaken or even dismantle public higher education. If you are employed by a public college or university as an administrator or in any capacity, or if you serve on a board of trustees, it is your responsibility along with the faculty to stand up against those who would devalue or disparage the work we do, which disadvantages our students and the communities we serve.

Tenure is often misunderstood or misrepresented by people who favor disinvestment in public higher education and are eager to try to turn the public against its best defenders: professors. Despite the mythology, tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. It is simply the right to due process in the workplace. This is something that everyone who has to work for a living should have. That tenure even has to exist to assure the right to due process absolutely should raise questions for the public. Unfortunately, the meaning of tenure is often manipulated in cynical attempts to raise the wrong questions. For example, I would like for a public discussion of tenure to consider the question of why people can be fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. We are fortunate that WMU has taken a stand against that kind of discrimination, but many workplaces and even many states have not.

More specific to higher education is the question of what happens to local economies when institutions who are large employers reduce hiring and shift to an increasingly contingent workforce. This creates economic insecurity for the workers themselves, but it also adversely affects the local economy, including small businesses and the real estate market. It also threatens academic freedom on campus. Students are not well served when their instructors are reluctant to take intellectual risks out of fear for their jobs or when programs or course offerings are reduced or eliminated because of cutbacks. It’s all connected. We are all connected.

As with tenure and promotion, our union contract sets out clear and reasonable processes to follow if there is cause to consider the removal of a tenured faculty member. That termination cannot be threatened or carried out capriciously, in retaliation for speaking out, for political reasons, or as a way to try to silence controversial ideas in the classroom or in faculty research, is what tenure is for and why every worker in the academy should have the right to similar protections.

As I congratulate my PIO colleagues on their new contract, I also wish for them the academic freedom that ought to be their right. These are credentialed experts in their respective fields who deserve respect, fair compensation, and the same protections that tenure provides to members of my bargaining unit, including academic freedom and the rights to due process and participation in shared governance. They are members of our community and indispensible to our mission.

Finally, even on this day of celebration, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on two tremendous losses that our Western Michigan University family has recently endured. On behalf of the WMU-AAUP, I extend our deepest condolences to the families of Trustee Ron Hall and emeritus faculty colleague Dr. Charles Warfield, two highly accomplished men, respected colleagues, and inspiring leaders. Both will be missed terribly.