Letter to University Relations on the use of official WMU publications
to promote the administration’s perspective on negotiations
To: Ms. Cheryl Roland, Executive Director of University Relations
Cc: Dr. Nancy Mansberger, Director of Academic Collective Bargaining; Ms. Jan Van Der Kley, Vice President for Business and Finance; Dr. John M. Dunn, President of Western Michigan University
From: Lisa Minnick, President of the WMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors
Date: September 1, 2014
I am writing today to request that the Office of University Relations discontinue the practice of presenting the administration’s negotiation updates in university communications as if they are an objective report of progress at the table, which they are not.
As in the example enclosed below, these missives are labeled neutrally in the WMU Today electronic newsletter as “The latest update on contract negotiations between WMU and the WMU-AAUP.” However, the updates represent a perspective limited to one side and based on that side’s agenda and interests.
The administration may be eager to take advantage of its access to university resources and to use them to try to frame the issues according to their own interests, simply because that possibility is available to them. However, because Western Michigan University is an institution of higher learning, we are all held to a higher standard. All of us who are engaged in this enterprise are obliged to promote and model the practices and values that are fundamental to our common mission. These include collaboration, the promotion of free inquiry, and the advancement of human knowledge and understanding. As tempting as access to official university mouthpieces and publications might be for the administration, using those media to present a one-sided view of the negotiation process, and especially without identifying it as such, conflicts with the values and principles we are all obliged to uphold. By deliberately representing as fact that which is very much a subjective point of view, as well as by excluding alternative viewpoints, the core academic values we all share in common are subverted.
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the administration’s team should not present their perspective. They absolutely have that right, and there is no reason they should not exercise it. And as you are undoubtedly aware, we exercise the same right by publishing the perspectives of the WMU-AAUP. We have no wish to censor, and in fact we welcome the opportunity to participate in the free and open exchange of ideas, viewpoints, and perspectives. This is at the heart of the free inquiry we have collectively made our lives’ work. Our objection is simply to the use of university publications to present the perspective of the administration’s team as if it is the only perspective.
If fairness and neutrality are the objectives, I would suggest presenting WMU-AAUP updates alongside those that represent the administration’s views. For example:
“The latest updates on contract negotiations between WMU and the WMU-AAUP are now available online. The administration’s update can be viewed here: http://www.wmich.edu/acb/negotiations/. The WMU-AAUP’s update can be viewed here: https://wmu-aaup.com/2014/08/30/update-labor-day/.”
If fairness and neutrality are not the goals, then I would ask that the administration’s team re-read the preamble to which they have recently agreed and review the language in Article 13 that we worked together to codify in the 2011-14 Agreement. These are not just words to us. They are ideals and values that we take very seriously and follow as guiding principles. In 2011 and again in 2014, the administration agreed to do the same. Please join us, then, in this endeavor to honor and model free inquiry in our academic community and reconsider the use of university publications to advance the perspective of a single campus constituency above and to the exclusion of all others.
Lisa C. Minnick