Course evaluations and the contract in Spring and Summer 1

As we wrote in March 2016, the administration collected student rating data for all sections of every course taught in Spring 2016, an action that was not in compliance with Article 16 of the Agreement:

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

In other words, Article 16§4 ensures the faculty’s contractual right to decide which class sections are evaluated in a given semester as well as the semester in which a course is evaluated. Faculty who teach multiple sections of the same course need only collect rating data for one section per academic year, although individual faculty members are of course free to choose to collect rating data for as many sections as they wish.

Why are we still talking about this?

In response to the administration’s actions, the WMU-AAUP Association Council voted at their March 25 meeting to file a chapter grievance alleging administrative violation of Article 16. The chapter grievance, filed in April, was denied by the administration and at the request of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee has recently moved into mediation.

But wait, there’s more.

There is a new development to report: Faculty who taught in Summer 1 2016 and logged onto GoWMU with the intention of opting out of participation in rating data collection, as is their right under Article 16§4, were unpleasantly surprised to learn that they could not do so and that rating data would again be collected for every section of every course.

On June 6, 2016, WMU-AAUP Chapter President Lisa Minnick contacted Dr. Nancy Mansberger, the administration’s Director of Academic Labor Relations, to inform her that faculty members teaching Summer 1 2016 were finding that they were not able to opt out of evaluating their courses if they so chose but — as in Spring 2016 — were only offered the option to ‘opt out’ of having ratings data sent to chairs and deans after it is collected, in contravention of Article 16.§4. Dr. Mansberger responded in an email, dated June 9, that rating data would be collected for all courses taught at WMU in Summer 1 2016. In her email message, Dr. Mansberger claimed that

The [letter of agreement] authorizing the pilot study detailed that a pilot study be run during the 2015-2016 Academic Year, which concludes at the end of the Summer I session. I have been informed by the Office of Assessment that the pilot study conditions will be lifted and the original ICES programming conditions will be reinstituted in time for the Summer II session evaluation process.

However, on May 9, 2016, faculty teaching in Summer 1 had received an email from Dr. David Reinhold that included the following statement, indicating that Article 16.§4 would be honored during Summer 1 2016:

If you are a full-time bargaining-unit faculty member you have the option whether or not to evaluate your course(s) this semester. If you choose to not evaluate this semester/session you must access ICES Online and indicate, section by section, whether you are evaluating that course.

This information turned out to be inaccurate, as was the case in Spring 2016, after faculty had received an email containing the same language on January 11. Faculty members who intended to exercise their rights under 16.§4 found when they accessed ICES in Summer 1 that they were preventing from doing so, just as they had been in Spring 2016.

In June, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee authorized the filing of a second chapter grievance alleging violation of Article 16 in Summer 1.

The Summer 1 chapter grievance also alleges a violation of Article 2. In her June 9 email, asserting the administration’s right to conduct its ‘pilot study’ during Summer 1, Dr. Mansberger claimed that “the 2015-2016 Academic Year. . . concludes at the end of the Summer I session.” However, according to Article 2 (Definitions) of the Agreement:

(a.) ‘Academic year’ means the fall and spring semesters.

Is there is a solution?

The June 2016 chapter grievance proposed the following remedies:

  1. Any bargaining-unit faculty member who so chooses shall be able to access the “Course/Instructor Evaluation System (ICES Online)” though the “My Work” channel in GoWMU and, by June 28, 2016, exercise the option not to collect student ratings for their courses in Summer I 2016. [Unfortunately, the clock has since run out on this proposed remedy.]
  2. By April 2017, the administration shall receive an evidenced-based report prepared and presented by representatives of the board-appointed faculty on best practices for collecting ratings data that is “valid and reliable” (as required by Article 16) and for the use of ratings data. Further, the administration shall engage in a good-faith dialogue with the faculty on this topic in response to the report, with the mutual goal of improving the quality and value of student ratings data.
  3. The faculty’s report and consequent dialogue shall address documented problems with the reliability of student ratings, as indicated by the growing body of research indicating significant biases against women faculty and faculty members of color. The WMU-AAUP Chapter has previously cited a key study released earlier this year (see Boring, Ottoboni, and Stark 2016), one of many that have found that student ratings may be “better at gauging students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are at measuring teaching effectiveness” and “are biased against female instructors in particular in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible.” The authors conclude that for these reasons, student ratings “should not be used for personnel decisions.” The administration shall collaborate with the faculty in a good-faith effort to address the racial and gender biases endemic to student evaluations of teaching and work with faculty to develop an unbiased, equitable system for collecting and using student ratings.

UPDATED 4 P.M. ON JULY 12: The grievance hearing was held today and the grievance has subsequently been denied by the administration. On July 8, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee authorized a request for mediation in the event of denial of this grievance. 

Why does this matter?

Language regarding the frequency of evaluation data collection has been in the contract for 35 years, and for the past 14 years, the faculty’s contractual right to make these decisions has been stated explicitly. (We published a timeline in March 2016 for how this language came to be in the contract and how it has evolved over the years, available here.)

It is the union’s job to defend the contract and protect faculty rights. Every single right and benefit in our contract is in there because faculty who came before us fought for it, won it, and had to give up something to get it. That is the nature of negotiation. Therefore, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, in consultation with the WMU-AAUP Association Council, voted to reject the proposal to conduct evaluations in all sections of all courses in Spring 2016 when it was presented to us. We could not in good conscience agree to make a concession regarding language that has been in our contract since 1981. When the administration chose to go ahead with the plan regardless of the contract language precluding it, and despite our repeated warnings that their plan would violate the contract, we filed the first chapter grievance, which is still active and pending mediation.

Similarly, when it came to our attention in Summer 1 that faculty rights articulated in Article 16 were once again being denied, we filed the second chapter grievance and expect the hearing to be scheduled soon.

Do faculty want student feedback? YES.

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

These are problems that our 2011 and 2014 negotiation teams raised at the bargaining table. Both times, the administration refused to engage in conversation to try to solve them. Both times, the faculty had to settle for letters of agreement establishing joint committees of faculty and administration to address the problem of low response rates that resulted from the switch in 2010 from paper to online evaluations. The problem of low response rates was the only issue the administration would consider with regard to course evaluations. While it is a significant issue, it is far from the only or most pressing problem associated with the collection and use of course evaluation data.

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

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

What happens next?

The WMU-AAUP officers and Executive Committee will keep the faculty informed as the two chapter grievances discussed here move forward. As always, faculty input and feedback are invited.

 

Developing an online course with EUP? Don’t sign your rights away!

It recently came to the attention of the WMU-AAUP officers and Executive Committee that the EUP course development agreement that faculty are required to sign when they develop an online course does not comply with Article 30 of the Agreement. Faculty members who signed these course development agreements with EUP were (inappropriately) required to choose between compensation for their course development work and retention of their intellectual property rights. However, Article 30.§5 of the Agreement guarantees faculty intellectual property rights for online course materials without regard to payment of the course development stipend.

The EUP course development agreement form, in use from May 2013 to May 2016, provided three options, two of which directed the faculty to “specify limited rights usage agreement,” with a third option to waive the $3,000 course development stipend in return for “retain[ing] exclusive intellectual and usage rights to the course content which they have solely developed for the purposes of facilitating this course.”

However, Article 30.§5 already explicitly assigns ownership to the faculty member who develops the online course (emphasis is added):

30.§5 Intellectual Property. Copyright of  recordings of courses, course presentations, computer-assisted instructional content, course content developed, or other digital materials created by the faculty member(s), shall be owned by the faculty member(s), as in the case of traditional course material.

Further:

30.§5.1 The faculty member (or an appropriate faculty body) who develops course content for use in eLearning shall exercise control over the future use, modification, and distribution of instructional material, and shall determine whether the material should be revised or withdrawn from use.

These contractual ownership rights are unqualified and should not be represented as contingent on faculty members waiving their rights to compensation for course development. This contract language was hard-won by the faculty over the years, and the WMU-AAUP intends for it to be honored.

Accordingly, in April 2016, the WMU-AAUP filed a chapter grievance on behalf of the faculty, requesting that EUP and the administration work with the WMU-AAUP to revise the EUP’s online course development agreement to comply fully with Article 30.§5 and that all ambiguous, misleading, or noncontractual language be removed.

The chapter grievance also called for EUP and the administration to compensate any faculty members who were found to have waived the stipend or relinquished ownership rights because they were misled by the language of the EUP course development agreement form to believe that waiving one was a legitimate condition of accepting the other. We also called for the administration to take all other appropriate remedial actions to prevent future violations of Article 30.

Dr. Nancy Mansberger, the administration’s Director of Academic Labor Relations (the title of her position was formerly Director of Academic Collective Bargaining), declined to hear the grievance, claiming that there was no evidence of harm to faculty members, but she agreed to work with WMU-AAUP grievance officer John Saillant to revise the letter.

In May, the WMU-AAUP requested mediation of the grievance, under the terms outlined in Article 12, and the administration agreed.

In early June 2016, a mediation team was appointed, composed of one faculty member appointed by the WMU-AAUP and one representative appointed by the administration, again according to procedures set out in Article 12. After reviewing the case, the mediation team proposed that the chapter and the administration collaborate on revising the EUP course development agreement form, with a deadline of August 1, 2016.

Also in early June, the WMU-AAUP submitted a request to the administration under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of all EUP online course development agreements entered into by bargaining-unit faculty since September 6, 2014 (the start date of our current contract). We have recently received these documents and are reviewing them to determine whether any faculty members were denied contractual rights as a consequence of entering into course development agreements with EUP.

On June 24, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee voted to accept the mediation team’s proposed resolution, leaving open the option to file additional grievances if necessary once the FOIA request was fulfilled (it had not yet been on June 24) and once the signed EUP course development agreement letters had been reviewed. As of today (July 11), the administration has not yet informed the chapter as to whether they will accept the proposal submitted by the mediation team.

A new concern has also arisen: One of the signed EUP course development agreements we received in the FOIA package was a revised version of the form, with the revision date given as May 2016. It had been signed and dated by EUP on May 31 and by the faculty member on June 1. The revised version also fails to comply with Article 30 and does so no less egregiously than the previous version. It is troubling that a new but still noncontractual version of the letter was introduced in May 2016 and used as recently as June 1, 2016, well after the chapter grievance calling this issue to the attention of EUP and the administration was filed in April.

This is an ongoing matter of concern for the chapter. The officers and Executive Committee of the WMU-AAUP will continue to investigate the extent to which faculty members may have been misled into relinquishing their rights or their rightful compensation and will work to make sure that these errors be corrected and that these colleagues be made whole.

Have you signed an EUP course development agreement and had to choose between being compensated for your work and retaining your intellectual property rights? Are you thinking about developing an online course sometime in the future and want to make sure your contractual rights are honored? If you answered yes to either of these questions, please contact us. We can help. Call us at 345-0151 or email staff@wmuaaup.net.

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.

 

Statement on administration’s Spring 2016 course evaluation plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline: Contract language on course evaluations 1976-present

Image of cover of 2014-17 Agreement

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


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

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

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

1977-78:

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

1978-81:

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

1981-84:

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

1984-87:

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

1987-90 and 1990-93:

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

1993-96:

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

1996-99 and 1999-2002:

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

2002-05:

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

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

2005-08 and 2008-11:

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

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

2011-14:

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

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

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

2014-17

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

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

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

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

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


 

Some recent studies and reports on bias in course evaluations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

University of Wisconsin System Regents Approve New Policies Weakening Tenure

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

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

(Click here to read the Advocate article.)

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

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported on March 11:

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

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

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

As the Wisconsin State Journal reports,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenure in Wisconsin

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

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

Why this matters in Michigan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read more about developments in Wisconsin:

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow this link to read the full AAUP statement.

Guest post: Why Belonging to a Strong Faculty Union Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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