WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees on March 25, 2015

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

Last Thursday, at the Presidential Scholars convocation, President Dunn delivered an inspiring speech about the importance of a liberal arts education as foundational to preparing engaged, knowledgeable individuals for productive citizenship. He advocated passionately for the arts, humanities, and social sciences, along with the science and technology fields that have been getting most of the attention lately, as critical to the professional success of our graduates and central to preparing them for meaningful, productive lives. He made a strong case for what universities are for and why our work here is so important.

Over the weekend, I had more time to think about the president’s remarks, because although I agreed wholeheartedly with the compelling case he made, something about it was not sitting right with me. I realized that the disconnect I was feeling was cognitive dissonance: The vision President Dunn set out in his speech simply is not reflected in my real-life experiences with actual institutional policies and priorities.

Two months ago, the faculty voted no-confidence in the leadership of Provost Tim Greene, revealing widespread and unequivocal dissatisfaction. He and President Dunn were both formally notified of the results of the faculty’s January 30 voice vote and subsequent electronic vote. The response to these letters, dated February 9 and sent on behalf of the faculty, has been a resounding silence from the university’s senior leadership. Their statements to the media are dismissive of the vote and misrepresent the sources of the faculty’s dissatisfaction.

In a recent article in the Western Herald, Provost Greene is quoted as saying that he “fully respect[s] the input the faculty have provided” him and “take[s] it seriously.” As a faculty colleague wrote last week on the Flip the W blog, “What does it look like when the provost doesn’t respect someone’s feedback or take it seriously. Is he silenter? Does he ignore that person harder?”

Much of the material on Flip the W is satirical. But like all good satire, it exposes some hard truths, like our legitimate skepticism in response to administrative insistence that the faculty is being listened to, even as their elected representative gets taken off the board’s agenda and moved into the public comments. Faculty viewpoints are being taken seriously, we read in the Herald and in the Gazette, yet the provost refused to comment on the no-confidence vote when I asked him about it at our most recent monthly meeting.

I appreciate the vision that President Dunn set out in his speech last Thursday night, but in the end, as much as I wanted to — and I really wanted to — I just couldn’t buy it.

Because where is the evidence that the president’s chief academic officer serves that vision? The provost’s actions suggest a very different vision; the pattern of behavior cited by the faculty in the no-confidence vote is powerful evidence of that. And despite the ongoing gender equity fiasco, the tortuous academic program review, the misguided removal of a dean who actually walked the walk when it came to the vision that President Dunn himself communicated so eloquently – despite all of that, there has been zero accountability for any of it, zero corrective action taken by the president, zero consequences.

Because three minutes is not nearly enough time for a substantive conversation about the future and direction of our university, I invite all of you, members of the board, along with President Dunn, to join the faculty at the next WMU-AAUP chapter meeting, on Friday, April 17, at 1:30 p.m., in this room [157 Bernhard Center]. We will follow up with the details. I hope you all will be able to attend. This conversation is too important to try to limit to three minutes.

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