WMU-AAUP Remarks at Board of Trustees Meeting

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
December 5, 2013

The university’s financial report dated June 30, 2013, is bursting with good news: It announces that the University’s financial position is strong, with assets of $946.8 million and liabilities of $549.5 million. It projects a net revenue increase of three million dollars for 2013-14. And it shows that the university continues to generate positive operating margins and comfortable cash flow, despite sustaining a 24% decline in state support since 2008. WMU also continues to enjoy an A1 bond rating.

And yet despite this encouraging news, the faculty, staff, and students have seen funding for our colleges and our departments decimated. Faculty hiring has come to a near stand-still. Increasing reliance on underpaid part-time faculty colleagues and short-term hires has become the new normal. At the same time, we see unprecedented investment in athletics, especially football, large investments in real estate, and considerable assumption of debt on behalf of the medical school, including the nearly $70 million that WMU will take on to renovate the donated building on Portage Street, which the university will then lease to the medical school, according to the financial report.

WMU faculty salaries among the 11 institutions the administration has identified as our “peer institutions” are the 8th highest for full professors, 9th highest for associate professors, and 10th highest for assistant professors. That is 8th, 9th, and 10th out of 11. This means that WMU faculty are significantly out-earned by our colleagues at nearly every one of these ostensible peer institutions. Median salaries for full professors at WMU are nearly $10,000 below the mean. For associate professors, it is more than $5,000. Assistant professors at WMU are below all but one peer institution, barely edging out the University of Southern Mississippi for 10th place. The annual national survey of faculty salaries, conducted by the national AAUP and released by the Chronicle of Higher Education, reports salaries at WMU as “far below” the national median year after year.

According to the university’s financial report, investments in students and faculty have at best remained flat when they are not decreasing significantly. By contrast, “institutional support,” which includes upper administration as well as athletics, is up substantially. So are unidentified “other expenditures.”

Nothing that happens on a university campus happens in a vacuum. And when we look around and don’t see the kind of shared sacrifice that we keep being called upon to give, the only logical conclusion is that what we are experiencing is not exclusively the consequence of financial exigency but rather a major shift in institutional values and priorities. For example, the faculty was recently told that salary adjustments for colleagues who have not been paid equitably throughout their careers here – and many colleagues are still in that situation, the recent adjustments notwithstanding – can only come with offsetting cuts to the budgets of their academic colleges. A system in which deans, chairs, and faculty members must choose between fair compensation and funding for the tools that make it possible for us to serve our students and the institution suggests the rise of a real crisis of values on this campus.

You may have read the MLive article this morning about the concerns of the faculty in the Department of History about the academic program review getting underway this year. Many faculty campus-wide share the concerns articulated by our colleagues in History. In an environment in which academic budgets are getting slashed to within inches of their lives, the faculty is being directed to participate in what looks to a lot of us like a zero-sum game of identifying some of our programs – and possibly some of our colleagues – for elimination if the rest of us are to survive. And in an environment in which faculty, chairs, and deans worked together in good faith to try to resolve the equity problems that plague our campus but then find their recommendations discarded in favor of unilateral, opaque decision-making from higher up, through a process that to this day has not been explained, faculty believe they have good reason for their skepticism with respect to the program review.

The WMU-AAUP was excluded from participation in any of the planning, design, or development of criteria for the review. When we have made our concerns known about this exclusion, we have been met with administrative resistance and contractual hair-splitting. In my view, this should not have even had to become a contractual question. When you want to launch a project that cannot succeed in any meaningful way without faculty buy-in, it just makes sense to work collaboratively and with transparency from the very beginning. This is not something we should be having to point out after the fact.

The university is now in the process of a lot of significant transitions, which as President Dunn rightly noted in his State of the University speech in October, will result in a significantly changed university in the coming years. It only makes sense, then, to work with the faculty to ensure the success of the many university initiatives now or soon to be underway – the medical school, the law school, the program review. Once again I will remind this body that the faculty are an integral part of the institution. We’ve committed our professional lives to its success, and we’ve invested everything we have in that endeavor. And realistically, none of these initiatives can happen without us. And none of them should.

We, the 855 members of the board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, have stood and continue to stand at the ready to participate actively in the governance of our university. To us, “shared governance” is more than just words. We fully intend to be actively involved in any and all endeavors that are critical to the success of this institution.

Once again, members of the Board, we invite you to join us for conversation and collaboration. In recent months, we have had lively and productive conversations with Trustees Miller and Asmonga-Knapp, and we look forward to many more of these conversations in the months to come. We hope all of you will join us in working together for a revitalized campus culture, where students, faculty, and staff can all thrive. We must continue to offer the unparalleled opportunity of an education at a Research One university to young people in Michigan and beyond who don’t come from privilege and for whom such access may be otherwise severely limited due to circumstances beyond their control. This is what we do best. This is what makes Western Michigan University stand out from the rest. This is what we should be fighting to preserve and build on.

Members of the Board, we appreciate your interest in hearing from and working with the faculty, and we look forward to continuing the work of building a more collaborative relationship between the Board and the faculty for the benefit of the university and its diverse community of stakeholders.