The search for a new Director of Academic Collective Bargaining to replace Dr. Sue Caulfield, who will soon step down from that position, is now underway and being conducted by a search committee that includes no faculty members. (The position has been advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere for the past two weeks, but faculty members we’ve spoken to recently have mostly not even been aware that a search is underway.)
The WMU-AAUP leadership team has informed the provost and the search chair that we believe that faculty members should be participating in this search, and we offered to nominate colleagues to serve on the committee. This offer was declined, with the exclusion of faculty justified on the eyebrow-raising grounds that having faculty members serve on the search committee “would raise significant conflict of interest issues, since the person selected for the position represents management to the three unions on issues of collective bargaining.”
WMU has a long tradition of faculty members actually serving as Directors of Academic Collective Bargaining, but now even serving on the search committee is perceived by the administration as a “conflict of interest”?
We have to question that perception, which suggests that the position has morphed over the years — at least from their perspective — from negotiator and problem-solver to prosecutor.
As we have pointed out to the provost and the search chair, the Director of Academic Collective Bargaining has considerable influence on the quality and health of faculty-administrative relations at WMU, and it is no secret that these relations have become strained in recent years, partly a consequence of an adversarial approach toward faculty apparently favored by some members of the current administration. In several recent disciplinary and grievance cases, for example, predispositions against faculty members seem to have become the new normal, sometimes with devastating results. As we have articulated to the provost and to the search chair, everyone at WMU bears the enormous costs — in resources as well as in spirit — that are incurred when a culture of respect and collaboration breaks down. With this appointment, we could have had an opportunity for a fresh start.
We therefore have to take issue with the administration’s apparent satisfaction with the status quo, since excluding the faculty from participation in this search suggests something very different from a renewed commitment to building mutual respect and to collaborative problem-solving. We have called upon the administration to work with the faculty, including in this search, to try to improve relations. We have been assured that the administration “remain[s] committed to a collaborative relationship with the AAUP,” but that is not the most convincing claim when it comes in the context of excluding faculty from this search process and classifying key campus issues like this one as constituting “conflicts of interest” if the faculty and the administration work on them together,
Another point that seems lost on them is that this is not about administrative collaboration with “the AAUP.” It is about collaboration with the faculty of this university. The WMU-AAUP is the board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University in its entirety. The faculty has no “conflict of interest” when it comes to the topic of academic collective bargaining or any other matter critical to this university. The Chapter officers are all faculty members. Our Executive Committee comprises representatives from every college, our Association Council from every department. We are all the WMU-AAUP. We are the faculty. WE ARE WESTERN.
NB: Faculty members who are interested in being considered for the position of Director of Academic Collective Bargaining (or in nominating a colleague) can view the position description here and apply here. Position is open until filled.