Concerns about use and privacy of FARS data

Last year, we brought concerns to the administration about the then-new online faculty activity reporting system (FARS). These concerns had to do with a private vendor mediating the internal transmission of faculty data, including our personal information and intellectual property; the privacy and security of our data in the hands of this vendor; the (required) participation of faculty in a private, for-profit venture without our informed consent; and the vendor’s published policy that our use of their platform to enter our data constitutes our consent for them to track our activities online and to share information about us with “third-party services.”

We noted also that Article 42.§12 codifies the purpose for professional-activities data collection as “to enable Western and the Chapter to assess the workload activities of faculty” and that the WMU Office for Institutional Research (OIR) FARS FAQs page cites applications and audiences for FARS data that appear to go beyond the agreed-upon contractual intent.

For example, one FAQ, “What will be done with the information that is reported?” is answered thusly: “Information collected through FARS will be used to apply for accreditation, for program review, for faculty tenure/promotion, and for other reporting purposes.”

Leaving aside for the moment that there is no reference here to the contractual uses of this data (i.e., “to assess the workload activities of faculty,” per 42.§12), along with our (as yet) unsatisfied curiosity about what these “other reporting purposes” might involve, the uses listed here clearly go beyond what is codified in the Agreement. Because the collection and use of FARS data are explicitly contractual, decisions about other uses for these data should not be made unilaterally. The WMU-AAUP Chapter would have been open to a conversation about the application of FARS data as a way to streamline the work of accreditation reviews and reports and for other legitimate purposes, had we been approached to participate in one. The Chapter’s participation was limited to an August 2017 invitation for an officer to beta test the new system, by which time it was already a done deal.

More concerning is the inclusion of “faculty tenure/promotion” on the OIR list of intended uses for FARS data. Tenure and promotion review processes are of course governed by negotiated language in Articles17 and 18 of the Agreement. That means if the administration wants to propose changes to how tenure and promotion reviews are conducted, they are obliged to bring those proposals to the bargaining table for negotiation. Further, in addition to being contractual, decisions about how we conduct tenure and promotion reviews are central to the faculty’s right to participation in shared governance.

Further, the answer to another FAQ, “Who has access to the FARS system?” raises additional concerns about intended uses for faculty data that go beyond what’s in the contract: “A FARS governance committee will oversee all access to the system. Generally speaking, faculty will have access to the system and can update and use their data at any time during the year. Chairs will have access to the PAR data for their departments and deans will have access to their college’s PAR data. Other access (some broad and some narrow) will be available to Institutional Research, OVPR, Institutional Effectiveness, HIGE, and University Relations (i.e., publication and creative activity).”

We requested last fall that the administration provide the faculty with the University’s policies regarding privacy and use of FARS data so that we could evaluate whether these policies comport with the WMU/WMU-AAUP Agreement. The administration declined to provide this information, directing us instead to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which we did, with our request including but not limited to “all privacy, use-of-data, and disclosure policies and agreements (and drafts thereof).” The approximately 50 pages of materials we received in response, for which the WMU-AAUP Chapter was charged $246 by the administration, did not answer our questions or assuage faculty concerns. (These materials can be viewed here.)

We are working to open a dialogue with the administration again this year, in the hope that new senior leadership on campus will help us get answers and resolve these issues. We will keep you informed about how that goes. Obviously there is not going to be a resolution before our FARs are due next week, but given the gravity of faculty concerns, this is going to be a longer-term conversation. For now, faculty can review the FARS project charterthe WMU-AAUP’s 2017 inquiry to OIR, our FOIA request, the documents we received in response, and the OIR’s online information about FARS

Fall 2018 academic-year faculty return date: August 29

Letter to the faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick |
August 13, 2018 |

Dear colleagues:

We are receiving reports that some chairs and other administrators have been informing academic-year (AY) faculty (erroneously) that they are required to report back to work for the new academic year on August 15, 2018.

That is not accurate.

For the 2018-19 academic year, AY faculty are not required to report before August 29.

If you are just interested in getting the correct date and don’t want to get into the minutiae of contract language, you can stop right here. Have a great day!

For those interested in the contractual justification for this statement, please read on. If you serve on the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee or Association Council, please read on and please share this information with your chair or director (and dean if necessary). 

The WMU/WMU-AAUP Agreement is explicit on this topic: Article 38 states the return date for faculty on AY appointments as the first day of classes. For Fall 2018, the first day of classes is August 29.

The relevant language appears across several sections of Article 38, including the definition of “academic year” in 38.§4.1 (emphasis added):

38.§4.1 Academic Year. Bargaining unit faculty members on academic or alternate academic year appointments shall not be required to work during the following University recognized holidays and breaks: two (2) days at Thanksgiving; single days for Christmas Eve; Christmas Day; New Year’s Eve; New Year’s Day; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; Memorial Day; Independence Day; Labor Day; and a designated Western Spirit Day (none of these days shall be a Saturday or a Sunday); nor during periods between semesters and sessions when classes are not scheduled to meet, except in the limited circumstances envisioned in 38.§2 of this Agreement.

Additionally, 38.§2 uses the term “outside the calendar” for periods of time when AY faculty “shall not be required to work” per 38.§4.1. It explicitly defines the following periods of time as “outside the calendar”: “before the fall semester begins, between the fall and spring semesters, and after the spring semester ends.”

Appendix D of the Agreement articulates the specific dates for each year of the contract (2017-20) for all periods of time referenced in Article 38, including all university holidays, breaks, and other important dates. Excerpts from that calendar are listed below:

  • August 29 Wednesday – Classes begin at 8 a.m.
  • September 3 Monday – Labor Day recess
  • October 17-19 Wed.-Fri. – Fall Break
  • November 21 Wednesday – Thanksgiving recess (noon)
  • November 26 Monday – Classes resume
  • December 10-13 – Final examination week
  • December 15 Saturday – Semester ends – commencement

There are a few exceptions. Article 38.§2 provides for limited exceptions for matters that legitimately require attention at times that are contractually “outside the calendar.” However, these provisions may be used only in accordance with the constraints outlined in that section. A general early-return requirement does not meet the contractual criteria.

Please note also that pay period dates set by the payroll office have no bearing on the contractual work dates for AY faculty. Pay period dates are set by the payroll office to ensure that faculty are paid on the 5th and 20th of each month, per the twice-monthly pay schedule established in 2015, beginning with the first AY pay date of September 5. To honor the September 5 pay date, the first pay period of the 2018-19 AY begins on August 15.

However, some administrators may be using the pay-period start date to try to compel faculty to return on August 15. This is an error on their part.

The date that a pay period starts (or ends) has no relation to the academic calendar as defined in the contract nor to our contractual obligations, except to ensure our timely paychecks in relation to the academic calendar. The payroll office has simply set up its schedule so that we can be paid on time (which we all appreciate). But that is the extent of it.

The administration is required to follow the legally binding contract language regarding the academic calendar, period. For the 2018-19 academic year, faculty are not required to report prior to August 29, 2018.

We are assuming that once your chairs and directors (and deans) are informed about the contractual start date, any claims of an August 15 start date, or other early start date, will be retracted in order to avoid a violation of the contract.

Please contact the WMU-AAUP Chapter immediately if you are an AY faculty member who is being instructed to report earlier than August 29.

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

 

 

Ohanna named interim contract administrator

photo of Dr. Natalio Ohanna

Dr. Natalio Ohanna

Dr. Natalio Ohanna, Department of Spanish, has been named interim contract administrator for the WMU-AAUP, effective August 1, 2018.

In addition to his interim appointment, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee has also voted to recommend Natalio to complete the two-year term that runs though August 31, 2019. The Association Council will meet to discuss this recommendation and hold a confirmation vote at its first meeting of the 2018-19 academic year on September 21.

Natalio joins the leadership team with a strong background in union activism and distinguished service on the WMU-AAUP Association Council.

Natalio writes:

“I feel honored to be selected for this job, because I recognize its significance, the obligations involved, as well as the tremendous value of advocating for our labor rights and for just and healthy work relations. I am aware that the colleagues selected for such service carry the weight of great responsibility, as they are defenders of many of the fundamental values of our WMU community, such as academic freedom, shared governance, ethical conduct, fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for others. Above all, I welcome this nomination as a passionate advocate for fairness and justice in our workplace.”

Please join us in welcoming Natalio to the WMU-AAUP leadership team. We look forward to working with him and extend our thanks to him for his willingness to serve in this challenging but essential role.

AC reps Wallace and Hennlich to be honored April 6

Dr. Luchara Wallace (Special Education and Literacy Studies) and Dr. Andrew Hennlich (Frostic School of Art), will be recognized at the WMU-AAUP spring chapter meeting on April 6 as 2017-18 Outstanding Association Council Representatives.

As Association Council reps, Luchara and Andrew serve not only their department faculty but the entire WMU-AAUP bargaining unit, routinely going far beyond what is asked or expected of them in their elected roles. Their efforts strengthen the chapter and improve the quality of life on campus for all faculty.

photo of Dr. Luchara Wallace

 

Dr Luchara Wallace
Special Education and Literacy Studies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Andrew Hennlich
Frostic School of Art

 

 

The WMU-AAUP Chapter is fortunate to have an exceptional group of faculty serving on the Association Council, with representation from every academic unit and a deep bench of seasoned and emerging union leaders, including Luchara and Andrew. They are part of a core group of our most active AC reps who can always be counted on to join us on the front lines when it comes to defending the contract, fighting to preserve and strengthen academic freedom and shared governance rights, and working to maintain and enhance the quality of our professional lives. This work takes resourcefulness, stamina, courage, and above all a calling to serve others. And they do most of it when nobody’s looking, all of it without extra compensation or release time, and usually with only a fraction of the appreciation and recognition they deserve.

Congratulations, Luchara and Andrew! Congratulations and thank you!

#StrengthInSolidarity

WMU-AAUP spring chapter meeting is Friday, April 6, at 1:30 p.m. in 157 Bernhard. 

WMU-AAUP resolution honors Dr. Howard Bunsis

At the WMU-AAUP chapter meeting on November 10, 2017, the faculty voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to honor Dr. Howard Bunsis, professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, for his eight years of service as chair of the national AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress.

During his tenure as AAUP-CBC chair (2009-17), Howard was an active and supportive friend to the WMU-AAUP Chapter and a tireless advocate for collective bargaining rights, higher education as a public good, and the empowerment of faculty nationwide.

Full text of the resolution appears below the image.

Image of resolution document.

Resolution of Appreciation Honoring Dr. Howard Bunsis

WHEREAS Dr. Howard Bunsis has dedicated himself to serving college and university faculty, students, and the cause of higher education as a public good;

WHEREAS he has demonstrated his passion for and commitment to empowerment through education, both as a professor and in his work to educate faculty nationwide about AAUP ideals as well as training us in the practical skills of understanding university finances;

WHEREAS he has fought tirelessly and fearlessly to preserve and strengthen collective bargaining rights, academic freedom, and the faculty’s right to participate in shared governance;

WHEREAS he has stood up consistently and relentlessly to advocate for faculty, individually and collectively, inspiring many in the process to take more active roles ourselves;

WHEREAS he has been instrumental to organizing and building new chapters, strengthening existing chapters, and identifying, supporting, and mentoring emerging leaders;

WHEREAS during his eight years of service as chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, he has been an extraordinary and actively supportive friend to the WMU-AAUP Chapter, instrumental to our growth in recent years and to our strength today;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Western Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, authorized by a unanimous vote of its members:

Recognizes and honors Howard’s wisdom, generosity, and fierceness in advocating on behalf of the WMU-AAUP Chapter as well as on behalf of the profession more widely; and

Expresses its deepest appreciation, respect, and gratitude for Howard’s contributions, his tenacity, and his friendship to faculty everywhere and to our chapter in particular; and

With our congratulations on the completion of his eight years of service as chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, we offer this resolution to acknowledge at least in this small way the great debt of gratitude we owe him. And we wish for him going forward the lighter workload that he has clearly earned and deserves, the satisfaction of his positive impact on the future of the profession and on thousands of lives, and finally, more time to spend on other things that matter to him and especially with the people who matter most to him: his family.

Passed unanimously by the members of the WMU-AAUP Chapter
on November 10, 2017.

 

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.

Tentative agreement info, absentee ballots, and important dates

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

September 12, 2017 |

Dear colleagues:

There is a lot to share with you today, so I thank you in advance for bearing with me.

1. Chapter meeting and ratification vote. As you review the tentative agreement in advance of the ratification vote next week, please be sure to put the following events in your calendar:

  • Friday, September 15: WMU-AAUP chapter meeting to discuss the tentative agreement. (3:30-5 p.m. in 157 Bernhard)
  • Tuesday, September 19: Faculty vote on ratification. (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in 204 Bernhard)
  • Tuesday, September 19: Members of our bargaining team will be on hand all day to answer your questions about the TA, should you have additional questions after the chapter meeting this Friday or are not able to attend the meeting. (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in 205 Bernhard, adjacent to the room where the ratification vote is being held.)

It’s important to have as much faculty participation as possible for the chapter meeting and especially for the ratification vote. The union is the faculty, and a high turnout for both events, regardless of where you stand on the issues, will remind the administration that the faculty is engaged and well informed. It also helps to build on our collective strength, a project we can never stop working on. #StrengthInSolidarity is more than just a hashtag.

All bargaining-unit members with questions are also invited to contact our team, chapter officers, and/or your Exec Committee representative (that’s your college-level rep) at any time. We want every colleague to have as much information as possible about what this contract will look like for you if it is approved. You can contact us directly (my email address is linked here) or send your questions to the chapter staff to be directed to the appropriate respondent(s).

2. Timeline for ratification vote. We realize that this is a tight timeline to go from TA reached on September 5, publication of the details on September 8, chapter meeting on September 15, and ratification vote on September 19. The faculty has big decisions to make, and you need and deserve time to give it serious thought, get your questions answered, and do your due diligence. I think we would all prefer to have more time for this important part of the process. However, the Board of Trustees has scheduled their vote on the TA for Wednesday, September 20. This is 10 days earlier than in 2014, and it means that we need to move more quickly than we might have liked.

This leaves us with a lot for faculty to digest in the next seven days before our ratification vote. That is why it’s critical for you to attend the chapter meeting on Friday if it is humanly possible for you to make it. We also invite you to stop by Montague House this week to meet with officers, give us a call (345-0151), or send us an email if you want to talk about the TA. And again, the bargaining team will be available all day on Tuesday the 19th to meet with you and answer questions.

3. Absentee ballots. If you need an absentee ballot, please contact the WMU-AAUP office ASAP at 345-0151 or via email. The staff will provide you with your ballot and instructions for submission. All absentee ballots must be returned electronically or received in hard copy to the WMU-AAUP no later than close of business on Tuesday, September 19.

4. Eligibility to vote. Please note that only dues-paying members are eligible to vote. If you need to activate your membership, please contact the WMU-AAUP office at 345-0151or via email as soon as possible to ensure your eligibility.

5. Switching gears: Tenure and promotion workshop rescheduled for Thursday, September 21. Because the faculty’s regular business continues no matter how many other things are going on, so does the business of the WMU-AAUP. However, sometimes we do have to move some things around. The tenure and promotion workshop scheduled for this Thursday, September 14, has been rescheduled for next Thursday, September 21, 1-3 p.m. in 204 Bernhard. We apologize for the conflict this causes for those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah. (I am one such celebrant, and I would like for us to do better. However, with the ratification vote taking up so much of our calendar, having to work around the officers’ teaching schedules, and the tenure and promotion deadline coming up so quickly, this is looking like the best we can do this time, much to our consternation. Please accept my apologies on behalf of the chapter.)

Additional sessions are scheduled for Wednesday, September 20, in 204 Bernhard, and Tuesday, September 26, in 205 Bernhard, both 1-3 p.m.

Many thanks for your patience with this long message. Hoping to see you all on Friday for the chapter meeting and again on Tuesday for the ratification vote. As I wrote last Friday, we still have a lot to talk about and a lot of work left to do, and we need everyone in on this conversation.

#StrengthInSolidarity
#WMUAAUP2017
#WeAreWorthIt

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