Remarks to the Board of Trustees, September 20, 2017

by Lisa C. Minnick, WMU-AAUP President |


It’s been a year since the Presidential Search Advisory Committee began the work that resulted in the hiring of President Montgomery, whose inauguration we celebrated last week. President Montgomery, I am pleased to have this opportunity to welcome you officially on behalf of the WMU-AAUP, whose membership comprises the 900 members of the Board-appointed faculty in its entirety.

Last fall, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee met with faculty, staff, students, alumni, administrators, and community members to listen to their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges faced by Western Michigan University and, by extension, its next president. We asked them to describe the characteristics they thought the next president would need in order to succeed at making the most of the opportunities and addressing the challenges. We used what they told us to draft the position announcement and description of the characteristics and qualifications the university community wanted in its next president.

Despite the diverse needs and interests of these constituencies, I was surprised to hear the same themes repeatedly: WMU has the raw materials and is poised for greatness, but we need a leader who can help us get there. We need a leader who can help us make the most of our resources, the strongest and most valuable of which is of course our people. We need a leader who can help us build on our strengths, develop where we have been languishing, and realize our potential. We will all be on board for this journey, they said, but we need a leader who has the vision to help us figure out who we are, who we aspire to be, how to get there, and – critically – how to tell our story so the rest of the world will see what we see.

The repetition of these themes in conversation after conversation was striking. It made our charge simultaneously easier – because everyone wants the same thing! hooray! – and more difficult: How do we find someone with the skills, talent, experience, and energy to lead us in the colossal project we are setting out for ourselves? Is there actually a real person out there who can meet these standards? Can we find someone who can lead us effectively in the difficult work of crafting and articulating a collective vision for the university? Someone who can lead us to achieve our shared aspirations? Someone who can help us tell our story?

Obviously the ending of that particular story is already well known. We are very fortunate to have found a new president who is clearly more than prepared to do all those things. This is an exciting time for the university and for all of us who are part the enterprise.

Now that we are a few weeks into the academic year, and the inaugural festivities and the flurry and chaos of the beginning of the academic year are behind us, it seems like a good time to pause for a moment and think about the challenge of telling our story.

The phrase “tell our story” appears repeatedly in the notes I kept from the conversation sessions last fall and in my notes from meetings of the search committee itself. At the time, and again in reviewing these notes over the past few weeks, the idea of “telling our story” is one of the themes that stands out most for me.

I’m an English professor, so I could probably get away with saying that stories are my business. But I’m not a creative writer or a literature professor, so by that definition, stories are not actually my business. Still, as I was preparing Monday morning to teach my class in the history of the English language, I was reminded again not only that this course is built from a series of stories that I use to help students figure out why the language is the way it is, how it got to be that way, and what causes language to change over time, but really that all my classes are built around stories. I use stories to help make sense of things like how language variation is distributed, how and why people attach value to different ways of speaking, and what a phoneme is and why that definition can be so hard to make sense of. So, I’m going to claim it: Teaching and doing research in linguistics is storytelling. Stories are therefore my business.

But they’re everyone else’s business too. My faculty colleagues are all storytellers as well. This is true across disciplines. We all learn from the stories of the researchers, scholars, artists, and teachers who came before us. We build on these stories – and sometimes we change them: that’s discovery – and we share them with our students and colleagues. This is how knowledge is transmitted and continually generated and regenerated. It is a remarkable thing, this work we professors are engaged in.

Of course you can see where this is going. Storytelling is central not only to our academic mission but to our culture, and to every culture. Stories are how we go about figuring out the world – to the extent that any of us ever really figures it out – and telling stories is how we try to explain the world to others even as they use stories to figure it out for themselves and try to explain it to us. And when I say “we,” I don’t just mean professors. I mean human beings.

But even while my creative writing colleagues and students in the English department inspire me with their talent for creating compelling, original stories, we have to recognize that no story is made up out of whole cloth. All stories are ultimately built on and made of other stories.

This is all a long way of saying that the story of Western Michigan University belongs to all of us: students, faculty, staff, administration, alumni, members of the Board, retired faculty and staff colleagues, members of the community, and everyone else who cares about this institution. That means to tell the story of Western Michigan University is to tell our collective story. And that is something that cannot be done – at least, it can’t be done right – without a deliberate, intentional effort to listen to the stories of all us. Because that is the story.

What everyone told us last fall during the search suggests that we have been at a loss for a way to define ourselves and a way to tell the story of what makes Western Michigan University the special place we all know it is. I submit that much of this loss is a consequence of an unwillingness to listen. When the stories of people, of constituencies, and of academic disciplines are told by people who themselves have not listened to the people whose stories these rightly are, assumptions are made, people may be written off, and harmful decisions are sometimes made.

There is no possibility of a collective, collaborative enterprise achieving its full potential under those circumstances.

So I hope that with the new administration, we can start over. I hope we can do a better job of listening to one another, of respecting people enough to listen to them and to believe them when they tell their own stories.

On what may seem like but is not an unrelated note, I will add that I appreciate that the Board has ratified the new contract. I have mixed feelings about the contract although nothing but respect for my bargaining team, whose meticulous preparation and scrupulously professional conduct at the bargaining table throughout a long and grueling negotiation cycle sets an excellent example for how academic collective bargaining at Western Michigan University ought to be conducted.

I am concerned about the changes to our healthcare plan, including what are likely to be for many of my colleagues unsustainable increases to their out of pocket costs beginning in January. While I appreciate that the cost-of-living increases in the new contract are likely to keep pace with inflation, which would be better of course if we were not losing so much ground on healthcare, I am also concerned about the loss of benefits at the Sindecuse Health Center and Unified Clinics. Added to the already worrisome changes to our insurance costs, this is a substantial additional hit. As always, these changes will disproportionately affect colleagues on the lower end of the salary scale, but new this time is that those who are the sickest will pay the most. In sum, these changes are going to make people’s lives harder.

I wish that before we got to this point their stories had been sought out and listened to by the people who control the resources on this campus, and that is you all, ladies and gentlemen of the board, along with your administrative agents.

Prior to President Montgomery’s arrival, there was a tendency to dismiss or try to ignore stories that did not square with the administration’s official line. That kind of thing can damage any institution, and it has. In the spirit of a fresh start with our new president, I am asking all of you to join me in trying a different approach this time, one in which the stories of all the people who do the work of this institution are sought out, listened to, valued, and taken to heart.

Thank you for listening.

WMU-AAUP faculty approves new contract, trustees to vote Sept. 20

Letter to the faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa C. Minnick |

September 19, 2017 |

Dear colleagues:

The faculty has voted in favor of ratifying the tentative agreement.

The WMU Board of Trustees will meet tomorrow (Wednesday, September 20) to hold their ratification vote. If they approve the new contract, it will go into effect immediately.

Upon ratification by the Board of Trustees, a two-percent salary increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year for all WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit faculty on academic-year appointments and retroactive to July 1, 2017, for fiscal-year faculty. Additionally, all WMU-AAUP faculty will receive an additional salary adjustment (the research supplement) effective January 1, 2018, of an amount equivalent to one percent of the median salary at your rank.

The Board of Trustees will meet tomorrow at 11 a.m. in 157 Bernhard. As with all the board’s formal sessions, this meeting is open to the public. All faculty should consider attending. Important decisions that affect all of us will be made.

Better yet, please consider addressing the board at tomorrow’s meeting. The only way the trustees can know what faculty are thinking, feeling, and experiencing is if they hear it from us. Their interactions with faculty and staff are limited. They spend most of their time on campus with senior administrators. This obviously limits their perspective.

We can help them with that. And we should.

Your stories are powerful and deserve to be heard. The trustees will listen to what you have to say. Some of them will be moved by what they hear. All of them will learn from it.

Many of us enjoy the protection of tenure, and we all enjoy the protections that come with being union members. But these privileges come with the responsibility to use them in service to the greater good. As professors, of course, one of our foundational responsibilities is to serve others.

If faculty don’t do the work of engaging and educating the board — on our own behalf, on behalf of staff who are not protected the way we are, and ultimately on behalf of our students — things are unlikely to change in ways we would like them to.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the ratification vote and to all who supported our team throughout the negotiation process. We appreciate you.

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

Next WMU president to be announced April 12 (two events)

Letter to the faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

April 10, 2017

Dear colleagues,

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Board of Trustees will finalize and announce their selection of the next president of Western Michigan University at a formal session on Wednesday, April 12, at 11 a.m. in Heritage Hall. The president-select is expected to be present at the session, which is open to the public. All members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit are encouraged to attend as schedules permit.

Later in the day on Wednesday, the president-select will be introduced to the campus community at a special event to be held from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in 157-159 Bernhard. Bargaining-unit faculty are encouraged to attend this event as well.

As most of you know, I serve on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, along with 21 other colleagues from a diverse variety of campus constituencies, under the capable (and also generous and respectful) leadership of Trustees Bill Johnston and Jim Bolger. While I have had – and have expressed – discomfort with the confidential nature of the search, I am extremely pleased with the three finalists. The search committee recommended these three candidates to the Board of Trustees on March 29, following interviews on March 22-23 and extensive deliberation. All three are outstanding, and I would be overjoyed to welcome any one of them as the next president of Western Michigan University.

The search committee has not yet been informed of the Board’s choice, which we are told by Trustee Johnston was unanimous following their interviews of the three finalists on April 3-4. We are scheduled to meet with the Board on Wednesday morning before their public session. For now, I can say that each of the finalists would bring enormously valuable and unique talents, qualities, vision, and experience to the role of president, and that all three have demonstrated – across their careers and in their interviews and application materials – the kinds of smarts, skills, and values that many if not most us very much want to see in our next president. These values include a deep understanding of and respect for faculty and the work we do, commitment to maintaining and enhancing WMU’s profile as a research university, and genuine interest in helping our students achieve to their fullest potential.

This is an important and exciting moment in the history of our institution. Profound changes are coming our way beginning July 1, and I believe that these will be very positive changes. Along with our campus community, I appreciate President Dunn’s leadership these past 10 years, particularly his unwavering commitment to students and unrelenting passion for Western Michigan University. At the same time, I am also feeling newly energized by the prospect of new leadership, along with the leading-edge vision and direction our next president will help us find for this university in which we have all invested so much.

After Wednesday’s announcement, I am confident that many of you will be feeling the same way.

In solidarity,
Lisa

Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP
Associate Professor of English
and Gender & Women’s Studies
Western Michigan University

Remarks to the Board of Trustees, October 11, 2016

Remarks to the WMU Board of Trustees
by Lisa C. Minnick, WMU-AAUP President

 

Much has already been written and said about Dr. Mary Cain, who died on October 1 at age 91, including a statement by the WMU-AAUP published last week on our chapter blog. So I won’t spend time going over her many achievements and accomplishments. Instead, I want to talk about her work as the first woman president of the WMU-AAUP. She served two terms, from 1983-86.

As WMU-AAUP president, Mary is perhaps best remembered on campus for leading the legendary 1984 strike in September of that year, after contract negotiations broke down in late summer and mediation failed. The strike was settled quickly, but bad feelings persisted on campus into the fall semester as negotiations resumed.

In a speech to the WMU Board of Trustees on September 21, 1984, Mary challenged the Board to do the right thing by allowing faculty to make up work missed during the strike, pointing out that the administration had behaved dishonorably in making but not honoring compromises to end the strike but would face no consequences for their actions. Speaking from the wise perspective of a professor of education, and from her experience as a labor leader, she boldly set out the faculty’s position and argued that preventing faculty from making up the work, as the administration had chosen to do under then-President John Bernhard, would hurt WMU students as much as faculty. Her remarks are quoted in full on the WMU-AAUP blog, so I will just quote her briefly here:

The essence of the anger on our campus springs not from any single term or condition or event, but from an attitude which pervasively reflects a lack of respect for the faculty.

The faculty’s feelings arise in response to an attitude that tells rather than asks, that assails our civil liberties, that treats us as identical and interchangeable parts, like cogs in a bureaucratic machine – an attitude which fails to appreciate our diverse, continual, loyal, excellent [and often] unpaid service to Western, or to recognize that the faculty, together with the students, is the essence of any university.

Mary Cain spoke those words 32 years ago.

After her retirement in 1992, Mary continued to participate actively in campus life and to support the work of the WMU-AAUP. As recently as 2014, then 89-year-old Mary still regularly attended our Executive Committee meetings, representing Western’s Association of Retired Faculty, and she was as sharp, funny, and fearless as ever. She also participated in the chapter’s 2014 contract campaign, including as a guest speaker at our Union Pioneers Panel in February 2014 and as a frequent advisor to the chapter leadership.

The officers, Executive Committee, Association Council, and staff of the WMU-AAUP, on behalf of the Board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, offer our deepest condolences to Mary’s family and friends on this profound loss.

But it is not enough simply to offer condolences and remember her fondly. We owe this woman who committed her life to justice and equality for all people better than that. We owe her better than to try to erase the lived reality that she experienced, that women in this world and on this campus face when they dare to stand up, to speak up, and to lead.

In her obituary, Mary’s family writes that she “spent her adult life working for justice and equal rights for all people” and was “a champion of equal rights for women.” One of the many things I admired about her is that even though as chapter president she endured all kinds of blowback for the risks she took on behalf of the faculty, she never let what people thought of her or what they said about her stop her from doing what she knew was right. She just did it anyway. I admire that about her because I understand how hard that is, to live your convictions, to try to serve others honorably, to keep going, to just do it anyway. But I also know that the more of us who do it, the safer it is for other women to step up and do it too. This is how change happens. Every time I look at Mary’s portrait in our offices at Montague House and see her fabulous smile, I remember what’s at stake and what I owe her. I understand that I am standing in this spot today because of the trail that Mary Cain blazed. I take that responsibility very seriously.

But Mary knew, and I know, that cultural shifts are slow, that they take time and require persistence. This is why we can’t back down when we know we have justice on our side. And it works. Attitudes shift.

But at this point, that is not enough. We need to move faster and more decisively. The 2016 presidential election campaign and the horrifying discourse to which it has given voice, laden with the most vile and ignorant racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, should be a wake-up call for all of us. As an institution of higher learning, we have the responsibility to take the lead and stand up, individually as well as collectively, against these poisonous, dehumanizing values.

“Diversity” and “inclusion” have to be more than just words to us. At a time when public discourse has reached what is quite possibly its lowest point in recent memory, we need to understand the connections between the disgusting rhetoric that a major-party presidential candidate has attempted to legitimize and the more subtle and even casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, and other bigotries that are part of the everyday lived experiences of real people, including on this campus.

How are we to make sense of this poisonous campaign discourse for and with our students? And who are we to profess even that we can make sense of it, when the attitudes articulated in that discourse pervade even our own campus culture?

We still have women on this campus who are paid inequitably. The message to faculty and perhaps especially to support staff, who are predominantly women and among the lowest-paid employees on this campus, has been that pay equity is not a priority at WMU. Once in a while an individual salary adjustment is made. But the stubborn structural problems that create and perpetuate gender and racial inequity in the first place continue to be ignored. The equity problem persists because it is merely a symptom of something larger and a consequence of an institutionalized resistance on this campus to taking on the problems of structural sexism and racism at their roots.

Dr. Cain’s presidential terms and mine are 30 years apart. I don’t want to say that nothing has changed. Of course some things have improved. But if I am going to be honest here, and you know I am always honest here, I have to say that not enough has changed. And we are going to have to do better.

There are still too many people on our campus who think nothing of speaking to and about women, including in the workplace, in ways that are disrespectful, patronizing, inappropriately gendered, and even sexualized. Some of the people who talk this way appear not even to realize they are doing it.

I don’t want WMU to keep losing women faculty. We have an especially hard time retaining faculty women of color. Often the ones who stay feel isolated or are treated like they don’t belong here. I don’t want the women who do the work of this institution – from instruction and research and advising to office support, administration, food service, maintenance, and everything else that keeps this enterprise afloat – ever to be made to feel less than, to be paid less than, to be treated as less than.

Mary Cain spoke up for women over the course of her entire career and even after her retirement. I am trying to honor her example. But you all need to honor it to. The women and men of Western Michigan University – faculty, staff, students, alumni –  need to see a deliberate, conscious commitment that starts at the top – that is with you, ladies and gentlemen of the board – which could use more women on it, by the way – to say not only with words but with every action and in every interaction that we reject racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms.

Take the lead. Make this something distinctive and important about Western Michigan University. You won’t be doing it for me. You won’t even be doing it for Mary Cain, although it is the least that she deserves. You’ll be doing it for yourselves, for your families, for our students, our alumni, our community, and this institution. I’m not talking about lip service. I’m talking about soul searching.

Mary Cain, as I said, was the first woman president of the WMU-AAUP. Here I am, 30 years later, the fourth. And here we still are. I am speaking now to all the men on this campus, members of the Board of Trustees and everyone else: This kind of destructive, soul-stealing, dehumanizing behavior doesn’t stop until you join women and people of color in standing up to it. Stop tolerating sexist and racist jokes. Stop repeating stories that have no purpose but to hurt, to slander, to try to discredit. Stop standing silent while others engage in these behaviors. Say something. Set an example. Be an ally. You don’t have to participate actively in the behavior to be complicit in the damage it causes to others. All you have to do is nothing.

As I wrote in the WMU-AAUP statement about Mary, all WMU faculty and retirees owe her a debt of gratitude for her courage, foresight, strength, and humor. We are humbled by our responsibility to honor her legacy, but we know she is counting on us to stand together for the future of the faculty and the university to which we, like Mary, have committed our professional lives, and we are determined not to let her down. She understood the central role of faculty to the success of the university and the critical importance of faculty rights as autonomous professionals, entitled to meaningful participation in leading the development of the university’s priorities.

She also understood and experienced the damage that sexism, racism, and other bigotries cause to individuals and to the institutions that tolerate them, and she spent her life standing up against them.

Dr. Mary Cain lived her convictions. We owe it to her – all of us owe it to her – but also to ourselves and to our students to live ours. As we mourn her passing, we can take strength from the example she set for us and honor her by following that example.

WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees (June 29, 2016)

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
June 29, 2016


First, congratulations to our PIO and MSEA colleagues on the ratification of their new contracts. We are proud to work alongside these dedicated women and men and appreciate their important contributions to the smooth operation and academic mission of Western Michigan University.

This is a day of celebration, as we honor and recognize the 45 faculty members whose tenure and promotions are finally official. The Board’s approval today caps a grueling review process that spans nearly an entire academic year. Tenure and promotion in higher education take years to achieve, and it is wonderful to see these outstanding colleagues recognized for the many accomplishments that have led them to this moment.

In his remarks at last year’s tenure and promotion luncheon, Provost Greene praised the review procedures here at Western as more straightforward and clearly articulated than at other institutions where he has worked. I have waited a year to second his observation and to add an explanation, because that kind of thing doesn’t just happen. It is the result of deliberate effort. For 40 years, WMU faculty and administration have collaborated on establishing, refining, and most important, codifying these procedures in the Agreement between the WMU-AAUP and the WMU Board of Trustees, our union contract.

We and the colleagues who came before us haven’t achieved perfection, of course, but the collective wisdom of our faculty and administrators alike over four decades has given rise to agreed-upon guidelines for tenure and promotion with clear and specific timelines, criteria, and procedures.

Each academic unit also has its own Department Policy Statement (DPS), many of which set out tenure and promotion guidelines specific to each department, according to the standards in their respective disciplines and in adherence to the contract. A DPS is a governance document, as established in Article 23 of the Agreement, developed by the faculty with the input and feedback of their chair or director. Once approved by the faculty, DPS drafts are submitted to the administration’s Director of Academic Labor Relations and to the contract administrator for the WMU-AAUP, who evaluate them for compliance with the Agreement.

The DPS, which covers many facets of department-level governance, is analogous to the Agreement in the sense that both are examples of good-faith shared governance at its best. By that I mean they represent the kind of collaboration between faculty and administration in which faculty participation in decision-making has a real impact on the way we do things here, a genuine collaboration to create policies and procedures and ensure transparency, accountability, fairness, and equity.

To function effectively, the work of a university is necessarily collaborative. Many outside the academy do not understand the role of the faculty in this enterprise and imagine faculty simply as employees who are expected to follow the directives of administrators. But as we all know, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the faculty. Since the intellectual character and identity of any university is determined above all by its faculty, participation in shared governance, from the department level to the university level, is central to our work as faculty members.

Boards and administrators might sometimes forget or want to disregard that, especially when political or financial pressures tempt them to act unilaterally or with only the thinnest veneer of shared governance. But a university leadership distracted from the mission by crisis management and attempting to limit the role of the faculty in institutional governance risks doing the dirty work of those who want to weaken or even dismantle public higher education. If you are employed by a public college or university as an administrator or in any capacity, or if you serve on a board of trustees, it is your responsibility along with the faculty to stand up against those who would devalue or disparage the work we do, which disadvantages our students and the communities we serve.

Tenure is often misunderstood or misrepresented by people who favor disinvestment in public higher education and are eager to try to turn the public against its best defenders: professors. Despite the mythology, tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. It is simply the right to due process in the workplace. This is something that everyone who has to work for a living should have. That tenure even has to exist to assure the right to due process absolutely should raise questions for the public. Unfortunately, the meaning of tenure is often manipulated in cynical attempts to raise the wrong questions. For example, I would like for a public discussion of tenure to consider the question of why people can be fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. We are fortunate that WMU has taken a stand against that kind of discrimination, but many workplaces and even many states have not.

More specific to higher education is the question of what happens to local economies when institutions who are large employers reduce hiring and shift to an increasingly contingent workforce. This creates economic insecurity for the workers themselves, but it also adversely affects the local economy, including small businesses and the real estate market. It also threatens academic freedom on campus. Students are not well served when their instructors are reluctant to take intellectual risks out of fear for their jobs or when programs or course offerings are reduced or eliminated because of cutbacks. It’s all connected. We are all connected.

As with tenure and promotion, our union contract sets out clear and reasonable processes to follow if there is cause to consider the removal of a tenured faculty member. That termination cannot be threatened or carried out capriciously, in retaliation for speaking out, for political reasons, or as a way to try to silence controversial ideas in the classroom or in faculty research, is what tenure is for and why every worker in the academy should have the right to similar protections.

As I congratulate my PIO colleagues on their new contract, I also wish for them the academic freedom that ought to be their right. These are credentialed experts in their respective fields who deserve respect, fair compensation, and the same protections that tenure provides to members of my bargaining unit, including academic freedom and the rights to due process and participation in shared governance. They are members of our community and indispensible to our mission.

Finally, even on this day of celebration, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on two tremendous losses that our Western Michigan University family has recently endured. On behalf of the WMU-AAUP, I extend our deepest condolences to the families of Trustee Ron Hall and emeritus faculty colleague Dr. Charles Warfield, two highly accomplished men, respected colleagues, and inspiring leaders. Both will be missed terribly.

 

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