Guest post: Why Belonging to a Strong Faculty Union Matters

By Dr. Sally E. Hadden, Associate Professor of History
Western Michigan University

I’ve worked at three universities: One had no faculty union, one had a weak faculty union, and one has a strong faculty union. This is not the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but your common sense may already be telling you that there’s only one university that fits “just right.” If you haven’t already guessed, having a strong faculty union makes a BIG difference. Let me give you a few examples to show you why.

At the university with no faculty union, I watched as my department chair gave raises to his friends and ignored everybody else. Teaching assignments and office space? More of the same. You can imagine how much sucking up occurred in his vicinity. Faculty protests barely registered on the administration’s radar. For example, when the administration implemented staffing cuts that completely closed the student writing center, no amount of faculty emails or phone calls made a difference. Junior faculty gatherings were unending discussions of job openings at other universities. It was clear the administration wanted servitors, not scholars, on payroll. How could I tell? The university made contributions to my retirement plan—but their contributions only vested after 7 years. Their not-so-generous contributions went into a fund that was not TIAA-CREF (meaning, no portability to other institutions), by the way. When I left this university after two years, I lost that money since it reverted to the university.

But I am glad I left, for the worst was yet to come. When the institution-with-no-union fell on economic hard times a few years later, the administration’s brainy solution to the problem was to fire about half of their untenured faculty. In the department I had worked in, of four untenured professors (two white men, one African American woman, and one Latina), guess who got fired? Hint: It was not the men.

At the university with a weak union, my working conditions improved somewhat. Contributions to my TIAA-CREF retirement fund by the university were guaranteed from Day One of employment. Grievance procedures existed, if a faculty member’s rights were infringed upon. Administrators routinely asked for faculty input before important new measures were implemented, like changing general education requirements or altering the library’s operating hours. Comparing University #2 to my first job was easy: This was a place with better working conditions!

However, in just a few years, I began to see that different problems existed at University #2. There were no cost-of-living raises for professorial salaries and the only method of ever hoping to get a raise was to publish research. I did well in this system for a few years, receiving three percent raises the years that my book or several articles came out. My friends who were excellent teachers but published little got nothing. It really was feast or famine, and if the administration allocated nothing for faculty raises in a year when your book came out, then too bad. Not surprisingly, the institution had terrible salary compression and inversion, not to mention a gender equity problem so bad that its female faculty sued the university and won.

I began to see the ways in which University #2 nickeled-and-dimed its faculty in ways that were insidious. We paid for parking “privileges.” What business gets away with charging its employees for coming to work each day? We had two health care options, Blue Cross and an excellent local HMO—but neither plan included vision or dental benefits. Clean teeth and glasses cost money every year. The university did not offer year-round payment of salaries earned during the academic year (what’s called “9 over 12” at other places), claiming that the bookkeeping and administration of this simple function would be too difficult. Why not? Because it provided administrators with a ready pool of faculty eager to teach in summer school, as their funds ran low. Summer school classes were paid at low rates, regardless of who did the teaching or how much expertise they had: They paid $2500 or $3000 a course, and I knew faculty standing in line to get those assignments because they needed the money.

The real villain in this piece was not the university, but state law, which made it difficult to organize a strong union. State law prevented the university from requiring faculty members to pay union dues automatically. Each individual had to choose to belong, and with salaries inverted, compressed, or on a shoestring, many of my colleagues chose not to pay those dues. This had terrible consequences. With union membership under 50 percent of all faculty, administrators claimed that anything the union asked for was not “representative” of all the faculty’s wishes. That allowed the administration to dismiss legitimate faculty issues and ignore our input, including requests for routine cost-of-living raises. News flash: Administration salaries always seemed to keep pace with inflation.

Changing jobs and coming to WMU brought me a number of financial benefits, both immediate and long-term. I reckon that vision, dental, and parking save me nearly $600 a year. My salary’s modest cost-of-living raises have made me the envy of my friends still teaching at University #2, where declining state appropriations have made raises of any kind a thing of the past. Those WMU raises have a positive impact on my retirement fund, too, since the amount of WMU’s contribution is tied to my base salary.

The benefits aren’t merely financial, though. Belonging to the WMU union has provided structure and certainty about my working conditions. I don’t have to wonder what the policy is when an untenured colleague becomes pregnant and wants to stop the tenure clock. I don’t have to hope that a co-worker with newly documented heart problems will be granted medical leave. I don’t have to dread a teaching schedule that could have me on campus teaching at night until 9pm and require me to be on campus at 8am the next morning. Clear guidelines creating a fair workplace give me certainty and peace of mind. It is hard to put into words how much I value these things.

The biggest benefit to me, though, has come in terms of community and collective morale. I remember colleagues from University #1, who had lived through decades of favoritism and arbitrary choices. They were worn down and despondent. At University #2, chronic low pay led many of my colleagues to “phone in” their teaching, giving only the minimum: If they weren’t being paid fairly, where was the motivation to give the job their all? Likewise, if research and creativity were not reliably rewarded, why bother? The number of smart people there who had “checked out” was staggering.

I contrast both of these situations with what I see around me at WMU. Here, I have colleagues who are engaged and constantly thinking about how they can make a difference in the lives of their students. We work hard to become better teachers and also better researchers and scholars. We celebrate each other’s discoveries and contributions. We take pride in doing a good job because we know it will be respected.

Being part of a community that respects its union members makes everyone hold their heads a little higher, whether it is in the lab, the practice room, or the classroom. If we are evaluated by fair standards, given a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and treat one another with respect, everybody wins. Morale stays high, people want to do their jobs well, students get stellar instruction, creativity and discoveries flourish, and the university’s reputation continues to climb. I know why belonging to a strong faculty union matters—I see it every day at WMU.

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.

Faculty Workload Reporting per Article 42.§6.2

Equity, Transparency, and Work Assignment Notification per Article 42.§6.2


By now, all bargaining-unit faculty should have received Spring 2016 work assignment notifications from their chairs, reporting the workload assignments for all faculty in their respective departments.

We believe that chairs want to honor the contract and do right by their faculty, but faculty in some departments are reporting the following concerns:

  • Department chair is not reporting all faculty work assignments to the full faculty.
  • Department chair is not reporting any faculty work assignments to the faculty.
  • Department chair is not reporting accurate or complete measurements of work assignments.

The rationale for reporting workload assignments to the faculty is to ensure transparency in workload assignments and to ensure the equitable distribution of work assignments. That is why Article 42.§6.2 of the 2014-17 Agreement explicitly calls for department chairs to inform all WMU-AAUP faculty in their respective departments of the workload assignments for all department faculty:

42.§6.2 Work Assignment Notification. As soon as possible prior to the start of fall and spring semester, the department chair will distribute to the department the scheduled workload assignments of all department bargaining unit members, recognizing that these may be subject to change as the academic year progresses.


Workload Reporting Fast Facts:


  • Chairs are required to report the workload assignments of all WMU-AAUP faculty to all WMU-AAUP faculty in their respective departments.
  • These reports must be distributed to the faculty “as soon as possible prior to the start of fall and spring semester.”
  • Chairs may not opt out of providing this information to their department faculty.
  • Reporting each individual faculty member’s assignments to him or her does not meet the contractual requirement for work assignment notification.
  • Research, scholarship, creative activity, service, and other non-teaching work assignments are included in faculty workloads, per Article 42.§5, and therefore must be accounted for in work assignment notification.
  • The intent of work assignment notification is to ensure transparency in workload assignments and equity in workload distribution.

If your chair needs more information about workload reporting, please share this information with him or her. If you need assistance, please call the WMU-AAUP office at 345-0151 or email staff@wmuaaup.net

 visual image of chapter logo "stronger together"

First-work/midterm grade policy and academic freedom

While the administration encourages all faculty to submit first-work and midterm grades, faculty members who prefer to use other methods of communicating feedback to students are within their rights. In other words, WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit faculty are not required to submit first-work or midterm grades.

It is of course important for students to receive meaningful feedback in response to their work and about their progress in their courses. However, the process of calculating and submitting first-work and midterm grades can add considerably to the workloads of faculty who are already providing substantive feedback to their students in more direct, detailed, and individualized ways.

At this point, faculty members have no way to know whether the extra work is justified because no data has been made available to us to demonstrate whether the submission of interim grades into a centralized system is an effective tool for improving student success rates or retention.

Additionally, how faculty evaluate student work is a matter of academic freedom, in accordance with Article 13 in the 2014-17 Agreement. The faculty’s right to academic freedom includes the right to make decisions about how and when to provide feedback.

To summarize, while the administration encourages faculty to submit first-work and midterm grades, you are not contractually obligated to do so. If it is your experience that first-work and midterm grades are helpful to the students in your classes, by all means please submit them as you see fit.

Whatever your decision, the WMU-AAUP leadership respects – and will continue to defend – your right to academic freedom.

Supreme Court decision on marriage equality and its impact on your WMU benefits

WMU-AAUP letter to the faculty on the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality:

July 1, 2015

Dear colleagues:

As you know, the Supreme Court of the United States has struck down all remaining state bans on same-sex marriage (including Michigan’s).

The Supreme Court decision, announced last Friday, has implications for the benefits available to faculty colleagues in same-sex marriages.

Previously, same-sex spouses were eligible to be on faculty health insurance policies under the DEI (designated eligible individual) provisions in the Agreement. However, all faculty spouses are now eligible for spousal coverage, which has considerable tax advantages over DEI coverage.

If you wish to to change your spouse’s existing DEI coverage to spousal coverage; if you wish to add your spouse to your health insurance for the first time; or if you have married since last week’s court decision, please contact your department’s Human Resources representative as soon as possible to get your spouse the coverage to which your family is entitled.

As always, we are here to help you navigate this process as needed. Please call 345-0151 or email staff@wmuaaup.net for assistance.

Congratulations to all whose marriages and families are at long last gaining the legal recognition they deserve, in Michigan and nationwide!

In solidarity,
Lisa

Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP
Associate Professor of English
and Gender & Women’s Studies
Western Michigan University
814 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008
(269) 345-0151

Uncompensated Summer Work and Faculty Rights Under Article 38

Updated May 3, 2017.

Many people outside the university community (and even quite a few within it) are often surprised to learn that WMU faculty on academic-year (AY) appointments who are not assigned to summer teaching are not compensated by Western Michigan University for work performed in the months of May, June, July, and August.

Yet many AY faculty are called upon during the summer to perform a variety of work assignments on behalf of the university for which they will not be paid. Some examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • work on strategic planning at the department, college, or university level;
  • administration of academic programs within departments;
  • department meetings and retreats;
  • independent studies, including those for which students pay tuition and receive credit;
  • lab and research supervision of graduate and undergraduate students;
  • graduate and undergraduate advising;
  • participating in doctoral exams and dissertation defenses;
  • supervision of student internships;
  • training and supervision of graduate teaching and research assistants;
  • student recruitment activities;
  • a multitude of other service, administrative, or quasi-administrative activities.

The majority of Board-appointed faculty members at WMU have academic-year appointments, although there are also a number of fiscal-year (FY) faculty with 12-month appointments and some with 10-month appointments.

While most AY faculty are eligible to participate in a deferred-compensation pay structure, in which a portion of each paycheck throughout the academic year is withheld for disbursement over the summer, resulting in equal installments throughout the calendar year, their “summer pay” was actually earned during the academic year. This structure is often misunderstood as AY faculty’s being paid for summer work, but that is not the case.

It can be beneficial for AY faculty to receive their pay in equal disbursements throughout the calendar year rather than going 14 weeks in the summer without a paycheck. It can also benefit the university’s cash flow to withhold approximately a quarter of the pay earned by the hundreds of participating AY faculty during the academic year and disburse it in the summer after the AY concludes. It is a symbiotic arrangement.

Other AY faculty are paid their full earnings during the academic year, with their last paycheck until September 5 to be disbursed on May 19.

Article 38 of the Agreement articulates the terms under which AY faculty are employed in relation to the academic calendar: “Bargaining unit faculty on academic year appointments shall not be required to work . . . during periods between semesters and sessions when classes are not scheduled to meet” (38.§4.1).

It expressly defines “outside the calendar” as “before the Fall semester begins, between the Fall and Spring semesters, and after the Spring semester ends” (38.§2).

Exceptions are permissible only in “limited circumstances,” which must be “legitimate responsibilities of academic-year faculty (e.g., registration, department orientation/organization meetings, retreats, committee assignments, and grading situations).” Additionally, the contract requires that “Western will follow present procedures to cover these assignments. If Western is unable to ensure faculty coverage for such legitimate responsibilities, Western will notify the Chapter before assigning faculty to such tasks” (38.§2).

In recent years, however, many AY faculty have been experiencing significant increases in uncompensated summer work assignments, as well as increases to their regular workloads that make it difficult to complete within the academic year all the work for which they are responsible. They report increasing pressure – to which pre-tenure faculty are especially vulnerable –  to work in the summer without compensation in ways that appear to extend the definition of “limited circumstances” well beyond the spirit of the Agreement.

The institution is becoming increasingly dependent on free faculty labor, and it is time to break this exploitative cycle.

The “legitimate” work of faculty on academic-year appointments can and should be performed during the academic year, within the bounds of reasonable faculty workloads. If there is work that is sufficiently critical to the functioning of the institution that cannot be done during the academic year but must be performed in the summer, that work must be compensated.

Faculty members themselves are best situated to determine whether assignments they are asked (or expected) to perform outside the calendar constitutes legitimate use of their time during parts of the year when they are not being paid for their work.

Therefore, it is the Chapter’s position that all assignments of work “outside the calendar” must be compensated, offered without coercion, and accepted or declined without penalty at the discretion of each individual faculty member.

Additionally, fiscal-year faculty rights to a reasonable workload must not be infringed. FY faculty must not be burdened with additional assignments, including work that would be “outside the calendar” for AY faculty, without overload pay. Such assignments must be compensated, offered without coercion, and accepted or declined without penalty at the discretion of each individual faculty member.

If the administration believes that any particular task or initiative is sufficiently urgent to require “outside the calendar” faculty attention, their proposals should be brought to the Chapter, pursuant to Article 38.§2, for consideration on a case-by-case basis. In principle, however, the WMU-AAUP cannot support practices that do not compensate faculty members appropriately for their work.

We ask that chairs, directors, deans, the provost, and all other administrators, especially those who are compensated for their work all year round, follow the Golden Rule as their guiding principle: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The academic calendar must be respected, and the academic-year appointments of faculty members who hold them must be honored. It is not appropriate to expect, require, or attempt to compel uncompensated “outside the calendar” work to be performed by AY faculty or expect, require, or attempt to compel any uncompensated overload work to be performed by any faculty member, regardless of appointment type.

Please also note that AY faculty members who accept summer teaching assignments are compensated for teaching only. Summer teaching stipends do not entitle chairs or other administrators to additional faculty service beyond the teaching of summer courses and the responsibilities associated with this work.

Faculty members who feel that they are being expected or required to perform uncompensated summer work or uncompensated overload assignments (and especially those who feel they are being pressured into doing so) are urged to contact the WMU-AAUP office by calling 345-0151 or emailing staff@wmuaaup.net.

A culture in which people are expected to work without pay is unacceptable. And we believe that it should be a high priority for all parties to the Agreement to work together to honor and defend it.

2014-17 contract update

Looking for the WMU-AAUP contract?

January 15, 2015:

The 2014-2017 Agreement is currently undergoing proofing and final preparation for publication. In the meantime, you can view the new language for 2014-17 (now in effect) for all articles that were renegotiated in 2014 at this link.

For the articles that were not renegotiated and will remain the same in the 2014-17 contract, follow this link to the official WMU-AAUP web page (not to be confused with the blog, which is what you’re looking at now) for electronic access to the full text of the WMU-AAUP 2011-14 Agreement.

Electronic and print copies of the 2014-17 contract will be available soon.