The Fate of Anthropology at WMU: What We Know and What We Don’t Know

With no tenure-track hires since 2008, the WMU Department of Anthropology has been struggling under a lack of institutional support. Recently, some ANTH faculty and students have reported that they are receiving mixed messages from the administration about whether the department is slated for elimination.

Here is what we know:

  • The Department of Anthropology comprises four programs (archaeology, biological, cultural, and linguistic anthropology) at the undergraduate and master’s level, in addition to a variety of general education offerings.
  • In fall 2014, some ANTH faculty expressed concerns that ANTH was experiencing a secret but deliberate “teach out.” The dean denied this.
  • In late spring 2015, ANTH faculty were collectively informed that they had been slated for closure or merger but that plans were now equivocal. A merger or closure was still possible, the faculty were told, but the department might still remain open.
  • In January 2016, faculty were told that closure was still possible and encouraged to “plan.” They were also encouraged to consider eliminating their graduate program. Since then, several ANTH faculty members have reported that they continue to hear conflicting information about the future of the department from their interim chair and the interim CAS dean.
  • The conflicting information includes a scenario in which the department would be moved into another existing department (as yet unidentified). Another scenario floated to ANTH faculty is that their department would be broken up and the faculty obliged to find other departments to transfer their tenure lines.
  • ANTH graduate students have expressed concerns about the availability of graduate courses for Fall 2016 and about whether they will continue to be funded. They also report receiving conflicting information from the interim chair and interim dean.
  • When Fall 2016 classes were posted on GoWMU in February, no graduate courses appeared among the listings for Fall 2016, despite there being a cohort of returning graduate students who have not yet completed their coursework.
  • Some graduate students report having been directed to enroll in undergraduate ANTH courses in the fall.
  • When a faculty member from another department asked at the March 3, 2016, meeting of the Faculty Senate why there were no graduate course offerings in ANTH for fall, the CAS interim dean disagreed that there were no courses being offered.
  • In response to student and faculty concerns about the lack of graduate course offerings, two graduate courses have since been added to the fall schedule.
  • The March 23 meeting of the WMU Board of Trustees was attended by approximately 20 anthropology graduate and undergraduate students, seven of whom addressed the board during the public comment period. All expressed serious concerns about what might happen to ANTH and the value of their degrees.
  • The ANTH students’ public comments at the March 23 meeting of the Board of Trustees can be viewed in the video of the meeting, linked here. (Their comments begin at 1:29:35.)
  • One student, an Iraq war veteran, published his comments as a letter to the editor of the Western Herald on March 18. His letter is linked here.
  • In response to the students’ comments at the Board of Trustees meeting, CAS interim dean Keith Hearit said, “If it was our intention to close anthropology, we would have done it last year in the Academic Program Review.” He is quoted in this MLive article, and his response can also be viewed on the video.
  • Interim Dean Hearit’s comments at the board meeting on March 23 seem to contradict a statement he made earlier in the week. “At this point, neither the department faculty nor the college has made any definitive decisions about the future of the Anthropology Department, but we are exploring the best ways to maintain its programs,” he wrote in an email to ANTH faculty and students on March 21. “Short-term, there are no plans to close the department as an administrative unit or cut any programs; longer-term, it is clear that the current staffing won’t justify a distinct administrative unit, and that there will be some changes in academic programs.”
  • WMUK reports that in response to the students’ comments, “WMU President John Dunn said it was important that fears about a closure don’t become self-fulfilling. Dunn suggested that could happen if prospective students get the wrong idea about the program.” President Dunn’s comments can also be viewed in the video.
  • The university has accepted graduate applications to anthropology for Fall 2016 admission, including a nonrefundable $50 fee from each prospective student. However, new graduate students are not being admitted for Fall 2016.
  • Anthropology students are not responsible for what is happening in the WMU Department of Anthropology.
  • No program in ANTH was recommended by the provost for “Restructuring” or “Elimination,” according to the Academic Program Review and Planning Final Report 2014-15.
  • Programs designated for CQI “should prepare plans for advancement and enhancement that address ways to enhance current quality or demonstrate increasing program distinctiveness through annual strategic planning and assessment reports” (p. 9), according to the APR&P Final Report 2014-15.
  • If the administration plans to delete a program or make organizational changes to an academic unit, they must follow a formal process that involves the department faculty, the College Curriculum Committee, and the Faculty Senate, as set out in Senate curriculum change policies and procedures.
  • ANTH students have started a petition in support of the WMU Department of Anthropology.

Here’s what we don’t know:

  • Why this is happening. In addition to receiving conflicting information about what will happen to their department and the programs in it, faculty members have also received conflicting explanations for what the administration hopes to achieve by merging,  restructuring,  or eliminating it.
  • Whether there is an actual plan being implemented by the provost and the interim dean that they are choosing not to share with faculty or whether they are simply taking advantage of the depletion of a department that has been starved for a number of years.
  • Why the provost, interim dean, and interim chair would disseminate conflicting information to students and faculty.
  • Whether other departments or programs might be experiencing similar destabilization. (As of Wednesday afternoon, March 30, it appears that at least two other departments at WMU may be in similar situations.)
  • How WMU can maintain its standing as a national research university without a Department of Anthropology, and how the discipline can survive the disinvestment of the university’s senior leadership, in contravention of the provost’s own recommendations in the Academic Program Review and Planning Final Report 2014-15.
  • Why the senior administrative leadership is not held accountable for its repeated failures to lead in an honest, transparent way. Whether they are unwilling or simply unable to foster a culture of open communication that honors the foundational values of shared governance and academic freedom, the lack of a clearly articulated administrative vision for units like ANTH undermines the quality of our programs and our strength as a cohesive institution.
  • How faculty can be expected to maintain or improve programs without resources and demonstrable institutional commitment. The destabilization of ANTH detracts from robust educational opportunities for our students and, instead, has generated distrust and confusion.

As one ANTH faculty member writes:

“There is no neat narrative here other than the fact that this crisis is completely due to administrators telling us for an entire year that we had been slated for closure or merger and that it may happen, probably will happen, could happen, may not happen, will happen. I don’t know how to capture the reality of administrative double-speak that has broken the spirits of an entire unit. “

WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
On state divestment from higher education
March 23, 2016

One thing everyone in this room has in common is our shared investment in higher education as a public good. We can all agree, I hope, that students benefit when faculty and staff are equipped with the tools we need to provide the quality instruction, individual attention, and opportunities for learning and growth that our students need and deserve.

State divestment from public education impacts the lives of students as well as the health of our society. As we speak, one of the jewels in the crown of American public higher education – the University of Wisconsin System – is being deliberately and methodically dismantled before our eyes.

And in Illinois, universities have seen no state funding since July 2015 and are bracing for layoffs and, in the case of Chicago State University, even possible closure – at a cost of 900 jobs – while the governor and legislature posture and draw lines in the sand. Eastern Illinois University announced on March 11 that it will lay off 177 employees.

While the total harm that these actions will visit upon Illinois students is incalculable, some of its costs can be quantified. This year, 130,000 students in Illinois are losing need-based financial aid as the state’s Monetary Award Program, which provides grants for low-income students, remains frozen as the budget impasse continues.

These examples, extreme though they are, should not be considered unimaginable in Michigan. Sadly, they are all too imaginable in a state that has itself seen significant cuts in public funding for higher education and for other programs and resources that serve the public good. There was a time not long ago when we all would have found unimaginable the idea that the population of an American city could have been drinking poisoned water for over a year while officials in the governor’s office knew about it but did nothing.

But this is the kind of thing that happens when private profits are valued over the public good. The situation in Flint is a particularly horrific and tragic example of what can happen when state governments ill-serve the people whose well-being they exist – and are paid – to protect.

What’s happening in Wisconsin, the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to their public university system and the attacks on tenure, is not an accident. The higher education crisis in Illinois is not an unintended consequence. Neither is this year’s billion-dollar budget shortfall in Louisiana, where universities and other state services have been decimated by years of funding cuts along with massive corporate tax cuts.

Some might suggest that these examples are simply the logical conclusion of a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment in recent years against the funding of resources that exist to serve the people. But that is disingenuous. What we are seeing is the result of an orchestrated nationwide campaign to shift public resources into private pockets. Well-fundedthink tanks” and interest groups push for legislation across multiple states, with defunding public education, dismantling social safety nets for our most vulnerable citizens, and weakening unions among their top priorities. Our states are unwitting participants in a political experiment to reduce or even eliminate public resources as we know them.

In Michigan, the governor and the legislature threaten to withhold state funding and punish the institutions whose students are among the least privileged to begin with. Do they not realize that these measures affect students of color and lower-income students disproportionately? Or do they not care?

Governor Snyder recently announced a plan to “increase” university funding in Michigan, to “increase” it back to where it was five years ago when he took office, before he cut higher education funding by 15 percent in the first place in his first budget as governor.

The cuts we’ve endured at Western and other universities in the state have had real costs, including to students who have not been able to continue their studies but also to the ones who stay with us here at WMU but find fewer resources available to them.

The governor cut our budget. And the university has suffered as a result. What a surprise. When you starve the beast for five years, you don’t get to blame the beast for starving. Yet that is exactly the kind of thing we keep hearing from Lansing.

But worse, it’s also what we are hearing from our own senior leadership at WMU. President Dunn has rightly spoken out against the zero-sum measures favored by the governor and the majority party in the legislature. I appreciate that. But then his provost imposes the same kinds of measures on us. Retiring faculty are not replaced. Programs and even entire departments are targeted for closure, although we don’t really know because that whole process seems to be conducted in secret. We are called incessantly to account for ourselves, for our time, for our credit hour production, in new and creatively time-consuming ways. Worst of all, we are being pitted against one another – faculty, staff, departments, programs, and colleges – in a battle for resources in which none of us have been filled in on the rules of engagement.

Enrollment is down, enrollment is down, enrollment is down. That is what we keep hearing, and most of us are in fact seeing the effects of that first hand. When we will talk openly and honestly about why that is and what we can do about it? When will we talk about why enrollment continues to be robust at Central Michigan and Grand Valley but not here? At what point will the senior leadership of this university be called to account for what is happening to our enrollment numbers on this campus, not to mention what has happened to faculty and staff morale?

Last month marked three years since I first stood before you, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. Since that time, I have been moved around the agenda and finally moved off it entirely and into public comments, as of course you know. Although I have been given a variety of vague explanations for why that has happened, I think we all know that the real reason is that some of you would prefer not to hear some of the things I have to say. I have been silent for over a year about the disrespectful and unprofessional treatment I have received in this venue. But I have seen first hand the debilitating effects that a culture of secrecy and silencing can have, not only on members of the university community but on members of the human family. I cannot be complicit in that any longer.

I am asking you today, as I have asked you many times before, to take seriously the things that I and other faculty, staff, and students have to tell you, regardless of how you feel about the messenger. Step out of the carefully controlled environment you spend most of your time in when you are on campus and really listen to the people who work and go to school here. Stand with us to protect this university from external forces who want to see us fail. We are on the same side of this battle.

At least I hope we are.

Click on image to enlarge and visit the Young Invincibles Student Impact Project for more information about state investment in higher education.Image of Young Invicibles 2016 Report Card: Michigan Budget Support for Higher Education

Statement on administration’s Spring 2016 course evaluation plan

On March 18, teaching and clinical supervisory faculty received an email from the registrar about Spring 2016 course evaluations, announcing that “course evaluation forms will be available for students to complete for all courses with more than 3 enrolled students.”

This means that student rating data will be collected for every section of every course taught this semester. This constitutes an administrative violation of Article 16 of the Agreement:

Article 16§4: “Student ratings shall be conducted in each class taught by a bargaining unit faculty member in at least one semester of each academic year (to be determined by the faculty member).”

In other words, Article 16§4 ensures that you decide which class section is evaluated in a given semester and that you decide the semester in which each class is evaluated, period. If you teach multiple sections of the same course, you need only have one section evaluated per academic year. According to the contract, if you already taught a course and had it evaluated in the fall, you are not required to have the same course evaluated again in the spring. Unfortunately, the administration is choosing not to honor the contract language this semester.

Language regarding the frequency of evaluation data collection has been in the contract for 35 years, and for the past 14 years, the faculty’s contractual right to make these decisions has been stated explicitly. (A timeline for how this language came to be in the contract and how it has evolved over the years is available here.)

It is the union’s job to defend the contract and protect faculty rights. Every single right and benefit in our contract is in there because faculty who came before us fought for it, won it, and had to give up something to get it. That is the nature of negotiation. Therefore, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, in consultation with the WMU-AAUP Association Council, voted to reject the proposal to conduct evaluations in all sections of all courses this semester when it was presented to us. We could not in good conscience agree to make a concession regarding language that has been in our contract since 1981.

WMU faculty are rightly proud of the top-quality instruction we provide to our students and deeply invested in receiving substantive feedback from them. The WMU-AAUP is equally invested in helping our faculty colleagues access reliable, useful feedback that is free of the kinds of racial, gender, and other bias that unfortunately many colleagues have experienced firsthand in their ratings and that has been well documented in the scholarly literature on student ratings.

These are problems that our 2011 and 2014 negotiation teams raised at the bargaining table. Both times, the administration refused to engage in conversation to try to solve them.

We value the time and energy that the members of the joint committee brought to this project, and we share their disappointment in the outcome. In collaboration with the Executive Committee, our 2014 bargaining team envisioned a process of brainstorming to generate creative solutions to improve course evaluation response rates and develop evaluation instruments that minimize potential bias, and we are still optimistic that this can be achieved without faculty conceding any contractual rights.

But given the growing body of research into bias in student ratings, it would have been irresponsible for the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee to agree to the expanded use of a flawed rating instrument or to allow a negotiated contractual right to be circumvented in the process.

In order to preserve as many of your rights under Article 16 as possible, you may choose not to release your Spring 2016 ratings data to your chair and dean. In this way, you will at least have the right to decide which data from Spring 2016, if any, are used in tenure and promotion decisions.

However, this does not mean that the administration’s plan to require evaluation of all sections of all classes taught in Spring 2016 does not violate the contract. It does.

The WMU-AAUP Association Council will discuss the faculty’s options for responding to this contract violation at the Council meeting scheduled for Friday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m., in room 210 of the Bernhard Center. All bargaining-unit faculty are invited to attend this meeting. (All Association Council meetings are open to all members of the bargaining unit.)

Timeline: Contract language on course evaluations 1976-present

Image of cover of 2014-17 Agreement

WMU faculty are rightly proud of the top-quality instruction we provide to our students and deeply invested in receiving substantive feedback from them. The WMU-AAUP is equally invested in helping our faculty colleagues access reliable, useful feedback that is free of the kinds of racial, gender, and other bias that unfortunately many of our colleagues have experienced firsthand in their ratings and that by now have been well documented as endemic to student evaluations of teaching. These are issues that our 2011 and 2014 negotiation teams raised at the bargaining table. Both times, the administration refused to engage in this conversation. Still, we remain hopeful that creative solutions can be found through open collaboration between faculty, administration, and students.

The first WMU-AAUP Agreement (1976-77):

The authority for determining how teaching effectiveness would be measured and reported belonged to the faculty: It was “the responsibility of the faculty in each department” to determine “the evaluation methods to be used” and “the procedures to be followed.”

A department’s procedures “may provide for” student ratings. Peer evaluation was required, while “external evaluation” was “encouraged in appropriate circumstances,” and “self-evaluation” was “strongly recommended.”


The role of the faculty is reaffirmed. New language appears, emphasizing that “student evaluations are primarily intended for use in faculty self-improvement.” Similar language is retained in every subsequent contract and still appears in Article 16 of the 2014-17 Agreement.


The original 1976-77 language along with the language added in 1977-78 is retained. The authority for determining how evaluation of teaching will be conducted and procedures for how evaluative data is reported remains with the faculty.


Student ratings are required for the first time “in at least one semester of each academic year.” Similar language governing the frequency of data collection appears in every subsequent contract, although it was strengthened in 2002 and the stronger version has been retained since then.


First contractual mention of a “nationally normed” rating instrument to be used across all departments at WMU, although it goes only as far as establishing a committee to consider such an instrument. No faculty rights from previous contracts are relinquished.

1987-90 and 1990-93:

Nothing here to indicate that a “nationally normed” instrument has been adopted at WMU, despite the 1984-87 directive. No mention again of a uniform instrument to be used across the university until 1993-96. No faculty rights from previous contracts are yielded in 1987-90 or 1990-93.


First contract language to require one university-wide instrument. Also notable because it appears to shift responsibility and authority for determining evaluation procedures away from department faculty. However, the instrument and guidelines for use are not specified, and the language of the next two contracts indicates that the university-wide instrument and guidelines envisioned in 1993 did not actually come to pass while the 1993-96 contract was in effect.

1996-99 and 1999-2002:

First to state that “Departmental faculty shall use a uniform student rating form” for all faculty in the department. No reference to a university-wide instrument, despite language included in the 1993-96 contract on that topic. Specifies that “Each department may maintain in use its own established rating form, or may generate its own form, or may select a rating form from a file of such instruments housed in the Office of Faculty Development.” The same language is used in the 1999-2002 Agreement.


Language governing the frequency for collecting student rating data in every contract since 1981-84 is revised and expanded. Original language directed that “Student evaluations shall be conducted in every class taught by unit faculty members in at least one semester of each academic year.” The 2002-05 version adds “(to be determined by the faculty member)” at the end of the sentence. This strengthened language from the 2002-05 Agreement has appeared in every subsequent contract and still stands in the 2014-17 Agreement.

Parties also “agreed to move, on a trial basis, over the course of this Agreement, toward the use of one valid and reliable student rating instrument by all members of the bargaining unit.” To that end, a new committee is established, along with a timeline for finding and adopting an instrument.

2005-08 and 2008-11:

Both preserve all faculty rights regarding the collection and use of rating data. 2005-08 adds new language regarding the use of a university-wide student rating instrument for use across all departments and establishes the ICES Steering Committee.

The parties “agree to the use of one valid and reliable student rating instrument by all members of the bargaining unit,” namely the one “recommended by the Evaluation Study Committee in its report of February 14, 2003,” a/k/a ICES (paper version). The same language appears in the 2008-11 contract, which also retains all faculty rights regarding the collection and use of rating data.


Language codifying the use of ICES online is added. All language articulating faculty rights regarding the collection and use of rating data is retained.

Context: Student participation rates in the online version of ICES introduced in 2010 were so low as to render the data practically meaningless. At the table in 2011, the administration’s team wanted an all-classes, every-semester model for evaluation as a fix. It appeared to be an attempt to get the WMU-AAUP team to give up a faculty right that has been in every contract since 1981 but would not solve the problems at hand. The WMU-AAUP team said no and challenged the general reliability of student ratings, citing research demonstrating that bias is endemic to student evaluations. The administration’s team was not interested in talking about that.

The two sides negotiated a Letter of Agreement (LOA) to establish a joint committee to work on ideas for improving student participation rates before the next negotiation (2014).


The joint committee established by the 2011 LOA was not successful. The WMU-AAUP appointees resigned when administrators on the committee tried to expand the committee’s charge and reconsider how faculty teaching is evaluated more widely, a contractual matter that was therefore better suited for the bargaining table. The committee was disbanded shortly thereafter.

At the table in 2014, the two sides again discussed the low student participation rates. Once again, the administration’s team suggested moving to an every-class, every-semester model, and once again they did not offer any evidence that this would improve per-class participation rates. The WMU-AAUP team said no and once again brought evidence of bias in course evaluations. And once again, the administration would not discuss this.

Another LOA establishing another joint committee was signed. This time, a timeline for the committee’s work was included. The committee’s recommendation in 2015 was to conduct a pilot study in which all sections of all courses would be evaluated, a model that the 2011 and 2014 WMU-AAUP negotiation teams had already rejected at the bargaining table.

The WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, in consultation with the 2014 team, voted against the proposal on grounds that it would violate the longstanding language in Article 16§4: “Student ratings shall be conducted in each class taught by a bargaining unit faculty member in at least one semester of each academic year (to be determined by the faculty member).”

All language articulating faculty rights regarding the collection and use of rating data is retained in the 2014-17 Agreement.


Some recent studies and reports on bias in course evaluations:

“An evaluation of course evaluations,” Stark and Freishtat, Science Open, September 26, 2014.

“Bias against female instructors,” Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, January 11, 2016.

“Do the best professors get the worst ratings?” Nate Kornell, Psychology Today, May 31, 2013.

“Evaluating students’ evaluations of professors,” Bragaa, Paccagnellab, and Pellizzari, Economics of Education Review 41, August 2014.

“Flawed evaluations,” Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, June 10, 2015.

“Needs improvement: Student evaluations of professors aren’t just biased and absurd—they don’t even work,” Rebecca Schuman, Slate, April 24, 2014.

“Online students give instructors higher marks if they think instructors are men, North Carolina State University News, December 9, 2014.

“Student evaluations of teaching (mostly) do not measure teaching effectiveness,” Boring, Ottoboni, and Stark, Science Open Research, January 7, 2016.

“Student course evaluations get an F,” Anya Kamenetz,, September 26, 2014.

“Student evaluations offer bad data that leads to the wrong answer,” Stuart Rojstaczer, New York Times, September 18, 2012.

“Student evaluations of teaching are probably biased. Does it matter?” Erik Voten, Washington Post, October 10, 2013.

“Students praise male professors,” Kaitlin Mulhere, Inside Higher Ed, December 10, 2014.


University of Wisconsin System Regents Approve New Policies Weakening Tenure

In the Spring 2016 issue of the WMU-AAUP Advocate newsletter, we reported on developments in Wisconsin regarding actions taken by the state legislature and Gov. Scott Walker to cut public higher education funding in that state by $250 million and significantly weaken tenure, due process, and shared governance rights for faculty at public universities in the state. (“Walker erodes college professor tenure,” Politico, July 12, 2015.)

We also reported that a task force had been appointed to write new policy language for tenure in the University of Wisconsin System and that the draft policy produced by the task force in December 2015 had raised serious questions and concerns for professors in Wisconsin.

(Click here to read the Advocate article.)

In early February, the language went before a committee of the UWS Board of Regents, whose members endorsed it without discussion and sent it on to the full board for review. On March 10, 2016, the board voted to approve statewide rules that will significantly weaken tenure and due process protections for faculty at all UW campuses.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported on March 11:

Under the new rules, UW officials will have the authority to discontinue academic programs and lay off tenured faculty for educational or financial reasons — such as if administrators decide other “higher priority” programs need funding. Professors could also face discipline, including firing, if they are found to be falling short of expectations under a new policy for post-tenure review.

(“Regents approve new policies for UW tenure over professors’ objections,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 11, 2016.)

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed, “regents cited the need, in an era of tight budgets, for ‘flexibility’ to close programs — and eliminate faculty jobs in the process.” Several amendments to the new policy language were proposed by faculty and by dissenting members of the board that would have strengthened tenure and due-process protections. Two of the amendments were voted down by the board 11-5. Another failed in an 8-8 deadlock. (“‘Fake’ Tenure?” Inside Higher Ed, March 11, 2016.)

As the Wisconsin State Journal reports,

Under the new rules, UW officials will have the authority to discontinue academic programs and lay off tenured faculty for educational or financial reasons — such as if administrators decide other “higher priority” programs need funding.

Professors could also face discipline, including firing, if they are found to be falling short of expectations under a new policy for post-tenure review.

One member of the UWS Board of Regents, José Vásquez, spoke out against the new policies at the meeting last Thursday where the new language was ultimately approved. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Mr. Vásquez “drew applause from the audience at the board meeting by protesting that the financial pressures on the system were not its own doing but the result of a lack of adequate financial support from the state”:

“It was not tenure that caused the fiscal crisis. It was not faculty who were entrenched and did not want to terminate programs,” Mr. Vásquez said. “The fiscal crisis that we have has been imposed on us.”

(“Wisconsin Regents Approve New Layoff and Tenure Policies Over Faculty Objections,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 10, 2016.)

Julie Schmid, executive director of the national AAUP, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the new rules “could set a precedent for weakening tenure protections across the country.” According to Dr. Schmid,

“The Board of Regents today voted to diminish tenure and academic freedom in the UW System, and with it to diminish the reputation of the system, and to undermine the Wisconsin Idea.”

The national AAUP issued a statement on March 10 in response to these developments:

Tenure in Wisconsin

It is now clear that the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has adopted a policy that provides weaker protections of tenure, and thus of academic freedom, than what has long been the norm in Wisconsin and than what is called for under the standards approved by the American Association of University Professors. What is not clear is why the regents have adopted such a policy. The policy appears to be only the latest step in an ongoing attack on the University of Wisconsin as a public good that exists for the benefit of all citizens of the state. It jeopardizes the working conditions of faculty and academic staff as well as the learning conditions of students in the university. Weakening tenure at the University of Wisconsin weakens the University of Wisconsin.

The regents had an opportunity to affirm the University of Wisconsin System’s commitment to academic freedom and to the university’s continued contribution to the common good, as enshrined in the Wisconsin Idea. They failed to do so. The reason for the adoption of the present policy will likely become apparent when it is put into practice. The American Association of University Professors and its chapters in the state will pay close attention to how these policies are going to be deployed.

Why this matters in Michigan:

WMU faculty, along with professors at all public universities in the state, should note that in Michigan, the authority to govern public universities rests with each institution’s Board of Trustees rather than in Lansing. This means that no act of the state legislature, like the bill passed in Wisconsin and signed by the governor last July, would be required to shift this authority to institutional governance boards because they already have it.

But we are fortunate that WMU is a union campus. This means that despite the constitutional autonomy that vests our Board of Trustees with considerable power, our WMU-AAUP contract is a legally binding barrier to instituting similarly draconian policies on our own campus.

But make no mistake: We are going to have to be vigilant.

As we wrote in the spring Advocate, we all need to pay close attention to the developments in Wisconsin. The political realities that have led to this point — where tenure protections, academic freedom, and faculty rights to due process in one of the most highly regarded state university systems in the United States are being systematically dismantled before our eyes — are not contained by state borders.

There are powerful people and organizations in this state and beyond who are watching what is unfolding in Wisconsin right now with gleeful anticipation. There is no question but that they would like to try to impose similar policies on state universities here in Michigan. And we are already seeing resource-shifting on our own campus that is cause for concern.

At WMU, the only thing standing in the way of the kind of abridgment of faculty rights that we are seeing in Wisconsin is our union contract. We are fortunate to have a strong union and powerful contract language. But the state legislature has shown no sign that they plan to back off on trying to pass more anti-union legislation, which is part of what made what is now happening in Wisconsin possible. Additionally, the misplaced priorities of the Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan and their ongoing disinvestment in public higher education indicate that tough times on our own campus are very likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.

That means if we intend to preserve our rights as faculty, we are going to have to fight for them. Complacency is not an option.

Please plan to attend the WMU-AAUP chapter meeting scheduled for Friday, April 8, at 1:30pm, in 105 Bernhard Center. We will discuss the situation in Wisconsin, how we can stand with our colleagues there, and how we can stand up against encroachments on tenure, academic freedom, and due-process rights here on our own campus. All members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit are encouraged to attend this important meeting.

Read more about developments in Wisconsin:

“Attack on college tenure threatens our humanities,” Hartford Courant, March 13, 2016.

“Attack on tenure harms academic freedom,” LaCrosse Tribune, Mar 7, 2016.

“‘Fake’ Tenure?” Inside Higher Ed, March 11, 2016.

“Regents approve new policies for UW tenure over professors’ objections,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 11, 2016.

“Wisconsin: Now the real battle begins,” Academe Blog, March 11, 2016.

“Wisconsin regents approve new layoff and tenure policies over faculty objections,” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 10, 2016.


National AAUP Issues Statement on Developments in Wisconsin
(As reported in the Spring 2016 issue of the WMU-AAUP Advocate newsletter)

At a time when faculty rights to tenure and due process are being challenged by administrators and lawmakers nationwide, as well as misrepresented to the public, the national AAUP’s Statement on Developments in the University of Wisconsin System, issued on November 5, 2015, is an important reminder of some of the foundational principles of our profession.

After the Wisconsin legislature removed tenure and shared governance protections for UWS faculty, the AAUP and AFT-Wisconsin called on the UWS Board of Regents to enact policies consistent with AAUP principles through a process involving faculty and staff governance bodies. The Regents temporarily enshrined prior statutory language regarding tenure and shared governance and created a system-wide task force to craft new policy. In an initial conversation with the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, the UWS administration pledged that the new policies would follow AAUP standards.

However, early draft recommendations from the task force were fraught with conflicts with AAUP policies and standards. But in December 2015, the task force finalized an improved set of draft policies, although some faculty members who served on the task force questioned draft language related to post-tenure review and language regarding layoffs added by the UW System general counsel. Faculty members worried that “allowing for layoffs to accommodate program changes short of discontinuation raises the risk that faculty will be targeted for engaging in unpopular speech or controversial lines of research.” (“UW tenure task force wraps up on a note of uncertainty,” Capital Times, December 24, 2015.)

Vice President of the UWS Board of Regents John Behling, who chairs the task force, wrote in an op-ed that UWS “must be able to operate more like modern private and nonprofit sector organizations that, in challenging and often unpredictable times, respond to changing market forces, demographics, trends and demands.” On layoffs, Behling wrote: “Our new policy proposal empowers chancellors to discontinue programs as necessary for educational or financial reasons, and, if absolutely necessary, it allows for faculty in those programs to be laid off.” (“Opinion: UW tenure reforms provide flexibility, accountability,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 22, 2015.)

While Behling maintains that “Tenure is a critical bedrock of higher education,” critics point out that the Regents “can’t have it both ways.” In a letter to the editor responding to Behling’s op-ed, Chad Alan Goldberg, Professor of Sociology at UW-Madison, wrote that the Regents “can either uphold a strong tenure policy or it can give administrators more flexibility to fire faculty.” He added that “The purpose of a strong tenure policy is precisely to limit administrators’ flexibility to reallocate resources and staff so that such decisions do not infringe on academic freedom and are based on educational considerations as determined primarily by the people most qualified to do so, namely, the faculty.” Finally, he reminded the Regents and the public that tenure is “not a ‘job for life’; it’s a right to due process.” (“Letter to the Editor: Regents can’t have it both ways,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 29, 2015.)

The draft policy will go to the UWS Board of Regents in February. Behling said that their staff “will refine the drafts” of the policies on tenure and on post-tenure review and that “the language could change further at the hand of regents.” (“UW tenure task force wraps up on a note of uncertainty,” Capital Times, December 24, 2015.)

The AAUP national staff and leadership, along with AAUP faculty and their chapters in Wisconsin, remain vigilant in working to ensure that UWS policies comport with AAUP standards, but current developments are not promising.

In Michigan, the authority to govern public universities already rests with each institution’s Board of Trustees. We need to watch the developments in Wisconsin because the political realities behind them are not bound by state borders. At WMU, the only protection for faculty rights is our union contract. Fortunately, we have a strong union and powerful contract language. But it will take our ongoing vigilance to preserve our rights as faculty.

Follow this link to read the full AAUP statement.

Guest post: In Support of Guns: Get Rid of Anthropology – and the Rest of the Liberal Arts

By Dr. Bilinda Straight
Professor of Anthropology
Western Michigan University

I recently revisited press coverage of the 2010 union win for faculty in anthropology and other disciplines at Florida State University, where an arbitrator reversed the termination of 21 tenured faculty members earlier that year, ruling that the firings had violated the FSU faculty union contract. The university’s administration, which had cited deep cuts in state appropriations to justify the firings, had also announced plans to merge some departments as part of its cost-saving efforts and to eliminate others, including anthropology.

These events of course prefaced a series of provocative comments made by Florida Governor Rick Scott the following year in which he declared that anthropology has no place in the state university system:

“We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state,” Scott told a radio talk show host in October 2011. “It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, in a speech to a business association, Scott asked them, “Do you want to use your tax money to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t.”

Much of the public discourse surrounding the Florida controversies, including articles defending the value of anthropology in response to the governor’s comments as well as the arbitrator’s report ordering the reinstatement of the fired faculty members, focused on the cost-efficiency of anthropology, including the grants brought in by the faculty alongside the high general education tuition dollars they generated and other budgetary advantages. As the arbitrator, Stanley H. Sargent, concluded: “It made no sense to eliminate anthropology from a budget standpoint.”

Responses to Scott’s comments also made strong cases for anthropology’s broad relevance while emphasizing its important role in STEM education and research. A statement by the American Anthropological Association pointed out to Scott that “anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, the African American heritage, and infant learning.”

Brent Weisman, chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida, made a similar case on behalf of his department: “Anthropologists at USF work side by side with civil and industrial engineers, cancer researchers, specialists in public health and medicine, chemists, biologists, and others in the science, technology, and engineering fields that the Governor so eagerly applauds. Our colleagues in the natural, engineering, and medical sciences view the anthropological collaboration as absolutely essential to the success of their research and encourage their students to take courses in anthropology to help make them better scientists. Anthropology is a human science in its own right.”

All this is true. And yet, making the case for anthropology on the basis of its contributions to STEM fields risks repeating what many well-intentioned scholars did in overemphasizing monuments to defend Africa’s contributions to civilization: a strategy that uses the colonizers’ yardstick to measure its own worth.

Anthropology makes intellectual contributions to STEM but it shares its moral relevance with the humanities. That moral relevance is in teaching students how to critically evaluate their world from a system-wide perspective.

The national siphoning off of financial support from the liberal arts is an unprecedented assault on the spirit of democracy. It is an assault on moral freedom, an assault on personal liberty, an assault on what the architects of the Constitution (and the women in their lives) saw as the most important reasons for educating the masses:

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large.” (Thomas Jefferson)

We do not have liberal arts for the sake of getting jobs. Universities were not founded solely or even primarily to offer vocational training. Were that true, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would not have supported free public education. As Adams wrote in 1785:

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Universities are laboratories of the civic mind, of the public good. To assert this as no longer true is to cherry pick the principles our founders espoused in creating our democracy.

We have a right to bear arms for the same reason that we have a right to have our minds illuminated as far as practicable. Otherwise we truly are dumb brutes wielding weapons without purpose.

There is no time for the right to bear arms to be invoked without a reminder of its absolutely necessary twin – the type of education that leads to illumination. The person who bears arms without illumination is only half of a democratic human being. We do not bear arms just for the sake of personal safety. We bear arms collectively, for the sake of collective freedoms.

The contemporary problems of joblessness and job insecurity are not due to the ways in which universities educate. That claim is an elaborate, beautifully crafted trick on the part of political ideologues whose best chance for election and re-election (and for further widening inequality for their own self gain) is by spreading confusion to an increasingly uneducated but well-armed electorate.

Universities – in this long view – will eventually become high tech vocational training scrubbed clean of any democratic debate. The most dangerous adversary to political despotism will be as quietly eradicated as the Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University is being eradicated today, as Africana Studies was yesterday, and as Sociology or Philosophy or maybe your own department or discipline may be tomorrow.

In that world, we may only need English for remedial purposes, for those who need additional support post-high school so they can write up their scientific findings, and History not at all. I remember once hearing that Philosophy explains what is possible and Science demonstrates it.

Perhaps we are on a path towards eliminating the need to explain anything – explanations can be reserved for the elite. For the rest of us: Conduct experimental trial according to instructions, replicate, eliminate what cannot be replicated, repeat. Replicate, eliminate, repeat. Aim gun, release trigger, repeat.

Editor’s note: The author is a Quaker pacifist and does not endorse violence. She does support the intent of the founding fathers (and women in their lives) to protect citizens from a despotic government that retains power through fear and the withholding of the right to enlightenment.

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.

In Case You Missed It: Higher Ed News Roundup

The University of Montana has announced that it will eliminate nearly 200 jobs this year, including 58 full-time faculty positions. According to The Missoulian, the jobs to be eliminated by June 30, 2016, will include “open positions that won’t be filled” as well as layoffs. (“UM will lay off 27 people, reduce 192 full-time positions by end of June,” The Missoulian, January 27, 2016.)

Faculty and students at the four-campus Connecticut State University system rallied last fall to protest contract proposals from the Board of Regents that called for eliminating faculty research support, allowing the transfer of tenured faculty between campuses without faculty consent, and weakening tenure. Negotiations have been stalled since December. (“Professors, students unite to protest Board of Regents contract,” New Britain Herald, October 29, 2015; “Connecticut, College Faculty Members Battle Over Tenure,” Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2015.)

Eastern Michigan University faculty have denounced a “closed search” process for the institution’s next president. With no public presentations or meetings with faculty, staff, or students, finalists will interview exclusively with the Board of Trustees. Similarly, the 2014 presidential search at the University of Michigan was conducted “completely in private,” according to the Detroit Free Press. (“EMU faculty not happy about closed presidential search,” Detroit Free Press, November 7, 2015; “Faculty Senate pulls all representation from Presidential Search Advisory Committee,” Eastern Echo, November 28, 2015.)

University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe and Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned in November under pressure from student activists, including more than 30 members of the football team. Faculty cancelled classes and walked out in support of the students, who were protesting a series of racial incidents on campus. (“U. Missouri president, chancellor resign over handling of racial incidents,” Washington Post, November 9, 2015.)

Some 50 faculty and staff at the City University of New York were arrested and handcuffed at a demonstration in November to protest an administration proposal for salary increases totaling six percent over six years, which demonstrators said would not keep up with inflation. CUNY faculty and staff have been working without a contract or salary increase since 2010. (“Dozens arrested at CUNY faculty, staff protest,” CBS New York, November 4, 2015.)

Faculty, staff, and students at the University of Iowa are protesting the hiring of President J. Bruce Harreld, whom the Board of Regents selected over objections of the faculty. Iowa faculty criticized the search process as well as the selection of Mr. Harreld, who has no experience in university administration. Faculty at eight other Big 10 universities have joined the Iowa faculty in calling on the board to “adhere to the principles of shared university governance and to ethical behavior and transparency.” (“Hundreds protest regents, call for Harreld to resign,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 22, 2015; “A controversial search ends with a controversial chief for the U. of Iowa,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 4, 2015.)

Following the ouster last year of University System of North Carolina President Thomas W. Ross, UNC faculty and other observers have raised concerns that Ross may have been removed for political reasons. In October, former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was named his successor, after a search that faculty members charge was conducted without transparency or shared governance. The UNC board chairman has since resigned. (“Questions linger over how UNC chose Spellings,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 23, 2015.)

Calvin College in Grand Rapids announced in October that majors in art history, classical languages, theater, Greek, and Latin will be eliminated, along with six faculty positions, following that institution’s recent academic program review. (“Calvin College cuts programs, eliminates 6 faculty spots,” Fox 17 West Michigan, October 16, 2015.)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a budget bill last July that cuts higher education funding by $250 million and significantly weakens tenure, due process, and shared governance rights for faculty at public universities in the state. (“Walker erodes college professor tenure,” Politico, July 12, 2015. For recent developments, see “Critics say UW tenure policy up for adoption won’t protect academic freedom,” Capital Times, January 30, 2016, and “Wisconsin Regents Committee Approves Tenure Changes Without Discussion,” by Hank Reichman, Academe Blog, February 6, 2016.)


Academic Freedom brown bag discussion Nov. 11

Wednesday, November 11, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
157 Bernhard Center

AAUP 100 Years of Defending Academic FreedomAs we all know, academic freedom is critical to our abilities as faculty members to create vibrant scholarship and creative works and for authentic engagement with students. As part of our year-long AAUP Centennial celebration, we invite you to join with faculty colleagues for a lunchtime discussion of academic freedom, including:

  • what we can learn from recent national cases about academic freedom
  • how WMU can demonstrate its commitment to robust, critical, and honest dialogue
  • how campuses can reconcile calls for “civility” with academic freedom
  • the role of the AAUP (and the WMU-AAUP) in protecting academic freedom
  • how faculty, students, staff, and administrators can be partners in promoting academic freedom.

We invite you to bring your lunch, your ideas, and your questions about academic freedom to 157 Bernhard Center on Wednesday, November 11, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Stop by the Bernhard Center cafe to pick up some lunch or just brown-bag it. We’ll provide drinks (sodas and water).

Hope to see you there!

visual image of chapter logo "stronger together"The American Association of University Professors

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.