WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
On the national AAUP centennial and shared governance at WMU
WMU Board of Trustees, February 11, 2016

As you may know, the American Association of University Professors, parent organization of the WMU-AAUP, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Our chapter has been celebrating the centennial in a number of ways during the 2015-16 academic year, including by bringing in Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the national organization, to speak at WMU in December. Thank you, President Dunn, for attending.

[Note: Video of Dr. Fichtembaum’s lecture is linked here.]

The topic of Dr. Fichtenbaum’s lecture was “How to Invest in Higher Education,” focusing on affordability and access for students at a time when many states are increasingly divesting from higher education, resulting in increasing costs to students and their families and graduates facing unprecedented college debt. The discussion that followed Dr. Fichtenbaum’s talk made clear that faculty, staff, students, and administrators including President Dunn can find a lot of common ground on the issue of trying to restore public support for higher education.

We also have an update for you on the Seita giftcard fundraising project, launched by the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee last fall in honor of the national AAUP centennial. Working with Seita staff, we set January 2016 as our target date for distributing the gift cards, a critical time of year when student finances are often stretched to their limits.

We are happy to report that we were able to provide $25 Visa gift cards at the beginning of the spring semester to all 128 returning Seita Scholars. We are working with the Seita staff and the WMU development office on ways to establish an ongoing January giftcard program. We’d love it if none of our students ever had to come back to school in January without at least a little bit of walking-around money.

Finally, in this year of the AAUP centennial, which is also the 40th anniversary of the WMU-AAUP as a collective-bargaining chapter, a few words about shared governance.

A cornerstone principle of the American Association of University Professors since the beginning, the organization issued its first statement on shared governance in 1920 and published the “Statement on Governance of Colleges and Universities” in 1966, the product of a collaboration between the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

I raise this topic as a reminder of the importance of shared governance on this campus and on all university campuses. In this milestone year, and in the context of events on our own campus, it is important to revisit our collective commitments and responsibilities, as well as our rights, to participate in shared governance.

The preamble to the 2014-17 Agreement between the WMU-AAUP and the WMU Board of Trustees and its administrative agents emphasizes the importance of shared governance in its most ideal version. But it is the specific language within the Agreement that articulates the kind of day-to-day reality of shared governance that is integral to the experience of every faculty member. As the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee wrote in a letter to the Board of the Trustees on December 7, 2015,

“Shared governance” represents a diverse and complex set of rights and responsibilities. There are many “faculty-involved institutional matters” articulated in the Agreement that vest rights to participation in shared governance with the Board-appointed faculty, individually as well as collectively.

Our claim is not that the union has special rights to shared governance that others do not have. On the contrary, the right to participate in shared governance belongs, according to the Agreement, to all faculty who are members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit. I can rattle off for you the numbers of contract articles that expressly encode specific rights to faculty participation in shared governance: Articles 4, 14, 17, 18, 23, 26, and 37, just to name a few examples.

But in the short time I have to address you today, I think it would be better simply to say that the WMU-AAUP remains concerned about the language that the Board approved on December 8, 2015, that would establish the WMU Faculty Senate as “the Board of Trustees authorized seat of shared governance for faculty-involved Institutional matters related to the Academy” and “the house of faculty participation in Institutional governance.”

In our December 7 letter, we respectfully requested that the Board of Trustees explain the purpose of the resolution. Today, we invite the Board to meet with the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee to discuss the now-approved language and to help us understand its purpose.

The Faculty Senate has a very important role in shared governance. But so does everyone else. Especially at a time when faculty on other university campuses are being increasingly shut out of participation in shared governance, the board-appointed faculty of WMU, meaning the members of the WMU-AAUP, understand that the only thing standing between us and the kinds of infringement on shared governance rights that we are seeing at other universities around the country is our union contract.

When the Board of Trustees takes a step that appears to us to be an attempt to shift the balance of shared governance from all faculty, individually and collectively, to a specific group, I am sure you can understand why this is a matter of concern to us on behalf of all of our faculty colleagues and why we are asking today for a dialogue with the Board on this topic.