Faculty Member’s Powerful Letter to President Dunn on Equity

The following letter by Dr. Lynne Heasley (History and Environmental Studies) was sent on Monday, November 4, to WMU President John Dunn. We post it here with Dr. Heasley’s permission.

Dear President Dunn,

I am writing as an individual faculty member to express my surprise and worry over the contentious way the gender pay equity process has unfolded. I especially wish to protest its recent resolution–an explosive outcome with the potential to create bitterness and distrust on campus, and negative impressions of our institution off campus.

I speak as one of the minority of women faculty–and the only woman faculty in my department–who received a salary adjustment. Because I am uncomfortable with the circumstances leading to my own adjustment, I will redirect my salary increase to the Dr. Nora Faires Travel and Research Endowment for graduate students. Dr. Faires was a beloved colleague and professor of history and gender and women’s studies. Had she lived, I have no doubt that Dr. Faires would have been one of the most passionate, persuasive voices on gender salary inequity. I will also ask the History Department chair and the chair of History’s Executive Committee to formally announce this contribution each month, until the WMU community negotiates a fair resolution for women faculty as a whole.

That I am mortified by being singled out in this way–despite my own financial gain–is a signal that something is wrong with the outcome. What began as a campus-wide effort to redress documented inequities in pay for an entire class of faculty has morphed–with no explanation or campus buy-in–into a top-down exercise in addressing general salary compression for individual faculty members. Certainly salary compression is worthy of its own process. I understand the compression that led to my salary adjustment, and am grateful for that acknowledgment. But salary compression is an entirely separate topic from gender equity. Worse yet, rumors are circulating that men have received substantially higher adjustments on average–in the double digits!–than women. If this rumor turns out to be correct (and I truly hope it isn’t), then a separate but worthy issue has become an institutional insult to women faculty.

Faculty, chairs, and staff are beginning to openly talk about a “Linda Delene years” redux. Those of us at Western during that time remember the pall at the university–from office coordinators to deans–the feeling of disempowerment, of secret and sometimes irrational decision-making, of arbitrary leadership based on individual biases, of conflict-inflaming rather than conflict resolution, of decline. Those years were an institutional nightmare. Dr. Dunn, the whole university breathed easier when you arrived, because of our optimism that you would facilitate open and fair processes, with buy-in from the university’s diverse constituencies. You reassured everyone that you valued the distinct contributions all of your units make to a strong university. Since then, you have worked to position us regionally and nationally.

My hope is that you will not allow this disruptive result to overtake what should be a unifying effort to correct a historical wrong. You launched just such an effort with your 2010 President’s Commission on Gender Equity. We still have a chance to be a national leader in tackling a blight on the record of American academia, and its manifestation here at WMU. When I see colleagues at conferences, I want to express pride of place on this issue, rather than cringe sheepishly when they bring up the latest Chronicle article they’ve read about Western.

I understand that this is not the savviest or most diplomatic letter you’ll receive from one of your faculty. But I hope that you’ll take it in the dual spirit I intend: dismay yet optimism.

Lynne Heasley

Lynne Heasley, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of History
and Environmental Studies Program
Western Michigan University

cc. Timothy Greene
Jose Brandao
Faculty, Department of History
Steve Kohler
Faculty, Environmental Studies Program