Guest post: WMU’s Communication Problems and a Culture of Fear

by Cathryn Bailey, Ph.D.
Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies
and former Associate Dean, WMU College of Arts and Sciences

Cross-posted at FliptheW.

In the years leading up to, and in the wake of, the faculty’s no-confidence vote in the provost, there’s been a lot of talk about a communication problem on campus. It’s a label I’ll accept if we can agree that this isn’t merely a cosmetic flaw to be remedied, say, by town hall meetings where those in charge pretend to listen. I’m more inclined to say we’ve got a fear problem, one that correlates pretty neatly with the institution’s reliance on a rusty, traditional power model, one that’s hierarchical, unidirectional, and has clearly defined rules of engagement. One expression of this is the expectation of managerial compliance the provost openly referred to in his message to CAS faculty and staff a few weeks ago.

According to this model’s dictates, when I’m with a higher up – and we should always be clear about who’s who on the food chain – my role is passive. I am to be talked at, explained to, given advice and schooled. I can ask questions of clarification, but not substantive or fundamental ones, and I must accept whatever is doled out to me in the guise of a response, whether or not it’s relevant, ethical or even makes sense. My primary function is to nod in agreement, thereby providing reassurance to the guy in charge that he is, in fact, in charge. The pervasiveness of this rickety power model helps explain why some of our leaders look so puzzled, irritated, or even visibly angry, when confronted with real questions about such issues as the academic program review, the university’s football program, budget and finance decisions, or gender equity. They seem to see such questioning as at best impertinence and at worst a violation of WMU’s social order.

I know I am not the only one who has noticed that when questions and concerns are presented to some of our leaders, or when they address groups of us, their tone frequently ranges, and can shift instantly, from jocular uncle to disappointed dad to pissed-off coach to irate general. It isn’t just one or two leaders, but, increasingly, this communication style seems to have become part of the WMU administrative ethos. It’s become pretty standard for some of them to bark out talking points and manage questions or concerns rather than actually listen to them and thoughtfully and spontaneously respond. If you haven’t experienced this first hand recently, get yourself invited to a Wednesday afternoon administrative Academic Forum, often a virtual parade of such didactic performances.

Too many of our campus leaders seem to have taken on the terrible burden of believing it’s their job is to know everything and to then fling that knowledge at those below. Their omniscient pretense is further reinforced by vague, dangled secrets and obfuscating references to complicated reports that staff and faculty couldn’t possibly be trusted with or expected to understand. That more of us haven’t been asking tough questions all along has, of course, been vital to maintaining this dynamic. It’s especially demoralizing to look around the room and see an audience nodding in drowsy approval. As if they were part of an actual dialogue.

It’s partly because I think there’s a gendered dynamic associated with this communication style that I find the handling of gender equity – with respect to both faculty and staff – to be so troubling. From where I sit, it looks like the women and men who care about gender equity are, in pretty standard fashion, being intimidated, ignored and shamed into silence. The very dynamic that created the problem they’re taking issue with in the first place – an objectively demonstrable social and material power imbalance – is being relied upon to keep them in line. Here, the woman’s expected role is one of passive acquiescence and polite helpmeet. That so many women have internalized these lessons – yes, we often are afraid and do doubt our own worth – makes this a predictably effective and especially offensive strategy.

What I think is most important about what’s happening now across campus, most visibly in the College of Arts and Sciences but across other colleges as well, is that some individuals and groups are challenging this dynamic. There is increasing recognition that we must insist on being treated like respected collaborators if we are to meet our responsibilities to each other and to the university. And the campus leaders who seek more from us than passive acquiescence – and I hope there still are such leaders at WMU – deserve our honest, robustly engaged partnership, in dialogue and in action.

That I have recently watched my immediate boss lose his job for speaking up suggests that I am not exaggerating WMU’s authoritarian dynamic. That I am contacted daily by individuals from across campus who whisper both their support and their terror speaks painful and embarrassing but also hopeful volumes. Those of us who speak up already know that there may be consequences. We may be vilified as disloyal, or dismissed as impertinent and naive. Women who speak up may also be dismissed as bitchy or hysterical. Certainly, it’s not much of a challenge to construct rationalizations for why we need not listen to those whose views we’ve already decided we care nothing about.

But despite the fear, we must continue to demand and expect more in terms of collaborative dialogue and shared governance. Our commitment and loyalty to higher education, to WMU, to our students, and to one another requires such vigorously engaged participation. Exceptional work is being done all around us by staff, faculty, students and administrative colleagues whose expertise and wisdom are necessary to make this place better. What if WMU colleagues across all levels acknowledged our shared vulnerability and felt empowered to communicate authentically about the real problems that urgently need our attention? What if we were not afraid?

Letter from Provost Tim Greene to CAS Faculty and Staff

The letter below was emailed to College of Arts and Sciences faculty and staff on Wednesday, January 28. We reprint it here unedited and without comment.

Subject: Update on leadership transition
Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2015 16:45:46 -0500
From: WMU Provost Tim Greene <>
Reply-To: WMU Provost Tim Greene <>

Faculty and Staff:

I would like to bring you up to date on the transition in CAS dean leadership. There have been a multitude of unofficial messages and emails regarding this transition, leading to a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding both on campus and in the community. I am sorry for this, and assure you it was not how it was planned.

Dr. Enyedi’s term as dean has included many significant accomplishments. They include developing a college strategic plan, helping to launch the University Humanities Center, celebrating accomplishments of faculty, staff and students, and recruiting a distinguished group of new faculty to join the college.

Notwithstanding the many attempts to resolve leadership issues with Dr. Enyedi, it has become apparent that a change in leadership is necessary. These issues have included declines in enrollment, declines in funded research, expectations of how to manage budget allocations, transparency in communications to university administrators, and support for decisions made by either the Provost’s Council or by me.

For the orderly management of a university, there has to be a recognized organizational structure and rules of management. While there should be vigorous discussions among management leaders, in this case the deans, there comes a time when a decision is made by the senior manager. Once a decision is made, then the deans must implement and support that decision. If they cannot implement the decision, then they have the obligation to relinquish their leadership position and return to the faculty.

Leadership is fostered in the trust between managers. A senior leader, in this case a provost, must be able to trust that a dean will do what has been agreed upon without fail. Quite simply put, when any manager acts in opposition to a leadership directive, that person would normally expect to no longer be a member of the management team.

This personnel change was not an easy decision. But, there were multiple issues taken into consideration when determining whether to offer a new appointment.

Certainly change is difficult. We all know that. There is never a good time to make a change in leadership, since there is always a lot of work to be done in a college. Right now this includes tenure and promotion review, academic program review and planning, faculty hiring, general education review and more. I am confident that the college will, with the leadership of an interim dean, successfully address each of these priorities and other items on behalf of our students, faculty and staff. The University administration is committed to assisting the college in all aspects for a smooth transition.

On Monday, I met with the associate deans, chairs and directors of the academic departments. I asked the chairs and directors to recommend possible candidates to serve as interim dean, and I have received their input. I will meet once again with the academic chairs and directors on Friday to complete this conversation.

During the Monday meeting with the associate deans, chairs and directors, we began the discussion of the qualifications a candidate must possess to be successful as dean in the college. We also discussed the search process for a new dean. On Thursday, I will meet with the staff directors and immediate reports to the dean to have a similar discussion.

Initial steps to select a new dean have already been taken. Our conversations together will identify the qualities we are looking for in that individual. These conversations will lead to the formation of a search committee, and a national search will be undertaken. That search will of course include extensive input from the college.

This message confirms that effective July 1, 2015, Dr. Alex Enyedi will be returning to the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences. Effective immediately, different duties will be assigned to him during these next five transitional months. An interim dean will be appointed to fulfill the college duties for which Dr. Enyedi was previously responsible.

Dr. Enyedi has an extensive record as an educator and researcher. I am certain that Dr. Enyedi will continue to contribute his pedagogical expertise with the college and our students. Please join me in recognizing his contributions as dean. Finally, I plan to send you additional updates as we move through this time of transition.

Tim Greene
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Results of Faculty Surveys of CAS Dean Alex Enyedi (2011 and 2014)

Faculty Evaluation of Dr. Alex Enyedi, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Conducted by the WMU-AAUP in 2011 and 2014 per Article 19 of the Agreement

Results of 2014 Evaluation

Note: The 27 pages of results from the 2014 faculty evaluation of CAS Dean Alex Enyedi include a number of categories focusing on issues that could be perceived as more important to the faculty than to senior university administration, such as statements about whether the dean is “sensitive to faculty concerns.” (83 percent of CAS faculty participants agreed or strongly agreed that Dean Enyedi is.) The information below focuses on key measures that would (ideally) be considered important by both faculty and senior administration.

Click on images to enlarge.

Faculty Evaluation Data

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2011 Evaluation of CAS Dean Alex Enyedi (summary results):

2011 Faculty Evaluation Data

WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees on January 22, 2015

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

WMU Board of Trustees Meeting on January 22, 2015Photo by Christian Randolph/Kalamazoo Gazette

First, a few words in support of our support staff colleagues in their efforts in pursuit of pay equity. We have a situation on campus in which some of our support workers are making eleven dollars and fifty cents an hour after eight or ten years of service to the university, some who are only making a dollar an hour more now than when they started here five years ago or even ten years ago, and even some – brace yourselves for this one – some who have served this university for 20, 25, and even 30 or more years but are still making only 12 or $13 an hour.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Enyedi believed that we could do better. He believed that we should do better, that the support staff colleagues who keep this whole enterprise afloat deserve to be compensated fairly and sufficiently. And he’s right. They do.

As president of the WMU-AAUP, my constituency is the board-appointed faculty, not the support staff, and not the dean. So in a way it seems right that my usual speaking slot on the board’s agenda has been eliminated as of today – and it was left to a support staff colleague to have to break that news – because right now I am speaking not as the president of the faculty union but simply as a faculty member, and as a member of the community of people who are this university, and as a colleague and friend of the mostly women but also a few men who do the difficult and indispensable but often invisible and underappreciated work of keeping our offices running smoothly and functioning effectively.

This is my eleventh year of service to Western Michigan University, and I could not be more proud of our students or have more respect and admiration for my faculty and staff colleagues. But today, as I stand here as the elected representative of the 870 members of the board-appointed faculty – and I won my re-election in November with nearly 70 percent of the vote – as I stand here speaking during the public comments, rather than alongside the other faculty and student leaders, I have to say that I am disappointed.

Last semester, members of the board, you extended President Dunn’s contract and increased his salary. In doing so, Chair Hettinger, you rightly cited the need for stability on campus during a time that is transitional for us, for the state, and for the country, and you correctly noted the importance of steady leadership in such times.

That is exactly what we have in Dean Enyedi, whose leadership of the largest college on campus has demonstrated precisely those qualities that we should be seeking out, developing, and rewarding in our leaders: vision, transparency, creativity, accountability, respect for the faculty and staff who do the work of the college and for the students we serve, and above all, that elusive quality of competence. How can we afford to remove an outstanding, effective leader and risk destabilizing the largest and one of the most productive colleges on campus? I am calling on you, Provost Greene, President Dunn, and members of the board, to reverse this decision, which goes against the wishes and judgment of 91 percent of the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, who answered yes to the question of whether Dean Enyedi should be kept on in their evaluation of the dean, conducted by the WMU-AAUP.

To conclude, members of the board, I am asking you to give our support staff colleagues a fair hearing and to reconsider the termination of one of the most competent, ethical, and respected administrators on this campus.

Click here to view MLive video of TAU President Eric Denby and PIO President Tom Kostrzewa addressing the board.

WMU Board of Trustees Meeting on January 22, 2015Photo by Christian Randolph/Kalamazoo Gazette



WMU Faculty Perspectives from the 2014 WMU-AAUP Negotiation Survey

In April and May 2014, as part of the preparation for contract negotiations, the WMU-AAUP conducted a survey of the Board-appointed faculty at Western Michigan University.

The survey addressed various topics and issues, including faculty priorities for negotiations as well as their perceptions about university leaders, campus initiatives and priorities, and the availability and allocation of institutional resources. Faculty members were also asked about cultural, climate, and aspirational issues. The survey was sent by U.S. mail to the 877 members of the Board-appointed faculty in early April 2014. A digital option was made available as well.

A total of 250 respondents returned the completed survey by mail or completed it electronically, for a rate of return of 28.5%. While a larger rate of return is obviously preferable, the results provided the WMU-AAUP leadership and negotiation team with interesting and useful insights into the perceptions and perspectives of a substantial number of WMU faculty members. Additionally, the trends suggested in the survey data largely correspond with perspectives that have been widely articulated in formal and informal discussions with and among faculty members across disciplines, colleges, and departments leading up to last summer’s contract negotiations.

Although the data was collected primarily for the WMU-AAUP negotiation team to use as they prepared to bargain the 2014-17 contract, and therefore much of it was not intended to be made public, we are releasing the information below in light of recent events on campus, including Provost Tim Greene’s decision not to renew the contract of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Alex Enyedi.

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demographicsprioritiesFavorability Ratings

Update from Jan. 23 meeting; special chapter meeting scheduled for Jan. 30

At the chapter meeting on Friday, January 23, the faculty voted to authorize the WMU-AAUP to put the question of confidence in Provost Tim Greene to a faculty vote.

In authorizing the vote, faculty members present cited a pattern of behavior, including Provost Greene’s recent decision not to renew the contract of CAS Dean Alex Enyedi, along with concerns about a perceived lack of respect for the faculty and for shared governance, lack of transparency in decision-making, mishandling of gender equity cases, problems with the academic program review, failure to communicate appropriately with the faculty, and other concerns.

The faculty also directed the WMU-AAUP leadership to call an emergency chapter meeting next week for further discussion. That meeting has been scheduled for Friday, January 30, at 1:30 p.m. (location TBA).

In other news, the proposal to decrease dues from 0.83 percent of salary to 0.8 percent was approved and will go into effect as soon as the change can be made in the payroll office.

All bargaining-unit members will receive notification about these developments on Monday via email. In the meantime, please share this information with faculty colleagues.

Thanks to all who came out for the January 23 meeting for your attendance and for your thoughtful and wise words. The administration would do well to listen to the voices of the faculty.

We look forward to another lively discussion at the meeting on January 30. Please plan to attend if you can.


Support for CAS Dean Alex Enyedi

Letter of support from Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox, Department of English:

Dear Colleagues:

Since becoming dean on July 1, 2010, Dr. Alex Enyedi has worked to enhance and improve every aspect of the College of Arts and Sciences at WMU. He oversaw a strategic planning process that has resulted in a consistent improvement in the ability of the college to deliver a world-class education to undergraduate and graduate students.  He has appointed an administrative team of associate deans who have done a fantastic job of streamlining the day-to-day and long term operations of the unit.

The physical spaces that the college inhabits, from the Friedmann Hall undergraduate advising office to the hallways and common areas in Sprau Tower to the public spaces in Brown Hall, have been refurbished and present a community feel that has bolstered the morale of everyone who works in the college.

Most importantly, Dean Enyedi has been a tireless advocate for the importance of the arts and sciences to the university’s mission as a whole, and he has attempted to provide departments with the resources that they need to best serve their students. He has been a transparent, ethical, and thoughtful leader who has listened carefully to the opinions and ideas put forward by every constituent group. His support of research and global engagement has given faculty and staff numerous opportunities to pursue their scholarly projects, and he has encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration with other colleges at WMU. Even during an economic downturn and multiple budget cuts, Dr. Enyedi has protected the academic mission of the college, and he has tried to align staff salaries with cost of living increases.

In our most recent faculty evaluation of the dean’s performance, 91% of board appointed faculty in the college indicated that they wished Dr. Enyedi to continue on as dean.  For this reason, it is particularly surprising to learn that Provost Greene has chosen not to renew Dean Enyedi’s contract.

Dean Enyedi has been a strong supporter of the faculty, staff, and students in the College of Arts and Sciences, and now it is up to these constituents to stand up for him and for the future of our college.  If, like me, you value Dean Enyedi’s ethical, transparent, fair, effective, and engaged leadership, please do all you can to communicate to the administration that you would like an explanation as to why, with his substantial record of effective leadership and management, Dean Enyedi is being asked to step down.

In solidarity,

Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox
Department of English