WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Address by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

Meeting of the WMU Board of Trustees
September 30, 2014

As most everyone in this room is aware, the WMU-AAUP and the university administration reached a tentative agreement just before midnight on September 5 on a new three-year contract. On September 19, the faculty voted overwhelmingly to ratify the tentative agreement, which now comes before the board. We join with the administration’s negotiation team in recommending that it be ratified. From the perspective of the faculty, we believe that the tentative agreement is a significant step in the right direction toward moving faculty compensation at WMU closer to that of our colleagues at peer institutions and toward reaffirming and strengthening the mutual commitment of faculty and administration to shared governance. On behalf of the faculty, I would like to thank the members of both teams for their efforts over the past four months as they negotiated the tentative agreement, a project that represents an extraordinary amount of work and demands considerable personal and professional sacrifices from everyone involved. The faculty understands that, and we appreciate it.

As many of you are also aware, over 200 members of the board-appointed faculty participated in a demonstration on campus on Friday, September 5, in support of our negotiation team and to express our concerns about the apparent priorities of some of the university’s senior decision-makers and our support for reinvestment into the instruction, research, scholarship, and creative activities that constitute our core academic mission. That demonstration was met with an administrative and police response that many of us believed was out of proportion and inappropriate. While the behavior of most of the police officers was professional and respectful, several of the officers unfortunately treated faculty members with hostility that we felt was unwarranted. However, we immediately complied with all instructions and did not offer any resistance. Yet several officers continued to yell at faculty members and even threatened us with arrest, although it was never made clear to us what laws we were breaking in the process of our participation in constitutionally protected activity.

This was a clearly peaceful protest by professors with a median age of about 57 and a combined length of service to this university of approximately 3,000 years. We are central to the mission of the university and well known on campus and otherwise mostly respected in the community. The incident raised questions for many of us about the culture on our campus, and we call upon everyone here today, and especially the board, to give serious thought to the events of September 5 and to the ways in which faculty and other members of the campus community, including staff and especially students, may be viewed by senior administrative officers and by campus law enforcement. Peaceful protest is an important right in a thriving democracy, and we believe that university campuses above all should take the lead on re-asserting the importance of protecting this right.

On a related note, this fall the WMU-AAUP is supporting the student voter registration initiative led by the Western Student Association and the WMU Graduate Student Association. In addition to providing financial support for the registration initiative, we are also encouraging faculty to talk with students about voter registration and to help them get registered. As educators charged with preparing students for thoughtful, engaged citizenship and participation in our democratic society, faculty are uniquely qualified to play an important supporting role in this student-led initiative, including by helping to clear up commonly held misconceptions about voting eligibility that all too often result in disenfranchisement of student voters. Many thanks are due to Dr. Allen Webb, Professor of English, who has given generously of his time to work with the students who are heading up the registration project. I’m sure Allen would want me to be sure to remind everyone that the registration deadline is October 6, one week from today, and to encourage you all to join us in supporting this important initiative.

Finally, I will close with a few words about Dr. Carolyn Harris, a wonderful colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend to many members of the campus community whose work here at WMU made a profound difference in the lives of her students and everyone else who had the good fortune to know her and to work with her. The WMU Department of Spanish has set up a memorial web page to honor Dr. Harris with remembrances written by her colleagues in the department. The memorial page is linked to their department website and is a worthwhile read for all members of the university community. On behalf of the chapter staff, officers, and executive committee of the WMU-AAUP, we offer our deepest condolences to everyone who knew and loved this remarkable woman.

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Postscript: Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the tentative agreement with the WMU-AAUP. Our new 2014-17 contract is now in effect, retroactive to September 6, 2014. .