Letter to the faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

Letter to the faculty re. national student walkouts March 14 and April 20, 2018 |

February 26, 2018 |

Dear colleagues,|

As you are probably aware, plans are underway for several events that could impact your classes, including two planned national student walkouts responding to gun violence in schools, including the recent incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 14 students and three teachers.

The first of these walkouts is scheduled for Wednesday, March 14. Its organizers, Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, are “calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkout for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. across every time zone” as a call to Congress and state legislatures to take meaningful action to prevent gun violence. (Learn more about the March 14 action here.)

A second walkout, this one organized by high school students led by Lane Murdoch, a 15-year-old sophomore in Ridgefield, Connecticut, is scheduled for Friday, April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings that killed 12 students and one teacher in 1999. The organizers write: “National Student Walkout is a nationwide protest of our leaders’ failure to pass laws that protect us from gun violence. After the horrific massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, young Americans are taking matters into their own hands. Together, we will send a message that we won’t tolerate any more inaction on this issue.” (Learn more about the April 20 action here and here.)

As many of you who are parents already know, students at several local schools have announced their plans to participate in the March 14 walkout, including students at Loy Norrix, Mattawan, and Portage Central High Schools and Milwood Middle School. Others are likely to join as well.

I am writing today because WMU students may also choose to participate in the walkouts, which could impact your classes if you teach on those days.

Faculty are fully within their rights to hold students to attendance policies set out in their course syllabi, including if the reason for the absence is to participate in constitutionally protected activity like the walkouts. Faculty members are also within their rights if they choose to waive attendance penalties to allow students to participate in these actions without consequence. Should a walkout occur at WMU, it is up to each faculty member to decide whether to penalize students for missing class if they choose to participate in a walkout. Obviously, any penalties should be consistent with the existing attendance policy.

However, students may not be disciplined or penalized, by faculty or by the institution, for expressing political views or participating in a peaceful protest. This is to say that there may be a penalty for a missed class meeting but not for any lawful political activities the student engages in while absent from class.

As always, and regardless of how you decide to proceed in the event of a student walkout, the WMU-AAUP is here to provide support and information to the faculty and to protect your rights. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions.

Those are the facts. I hope you find them helpful.

But there is of course a lot more to all of this than the facts about policies governing attendance and about laws protecting students’ rights to free expression.

As an intellectually diverse faculty, we bring a variety of viewpoints and perspectives to how we conduct ourselves as professors and are not likely to be of one mind when it comes to how we choose to respond when students participate in political actions.

With that understanding, I offer my perspective on the upcoming walkouts. I am writing as a faculty member concerned about the safety of the students in our classrooms, not to mention our own safety and that of all members of our campus community. But I will note that this perspective is necessarily informed by my experience as the president of the WMU-AAUP Chapter, which is part of a national organization whose executive board and national council I sit on and which is active in the effort to keep firearms off college campuses.

I will support any and all WMU students who choose to participate in any kind of constitutionally protected action to protest the epidemic of gun violence on school campuses.

Yes, it is definitely inconvenient and frustrating when a class meeting is interrupted. It may make it difficult or impossible to cover important course material, and that affects all students, including those who choose not to walk out. I do understand that and feel it myself on occasions when I lose class time.

But we are poised at a unique cultural and historical moment, which young people around the country and in our own community have courageously seized. Some of these young leaders experienced the unimaginable horror of watching their friends, classmates, and teachers die two weeks ago. Others around the country have joined their movement. Something important is happening, something more important than what I have planned for my classes on any given day.

The students are taking the lead, but we are all in this together. In my role as chapter president, I have spoken with many of you over the years about concerns for your safety and that of your students and about the proliferation of dangerous weapons in our community and the possibility that they could one day be allowed on campus. I have listened to your stories about odd and in some cases alarming interactions you have experienced on campus and heard you talk about your fears about whether you will be able to get your students out of your classroom safely should it ever come to that.

Every one of these stories is unique, but they are all variations on a theme. And they are all heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because as we watch yet another school shooting and its aftermath unfold, we know that there is no rhyme or reason to any of it, no sense to be made, and no way to know whether and when our students might be in danger, or whether and when we might be in danger ourselves. Heartbreaking because every single colleague I have ever had a conversation like this with has made it clear that they would take a bullet for their students if they had to. Every single one of you.

In our determination to protect our students, we are no different from our colleagues across the nation, K-12 teachers and university professors, tenured faculty and part-timers alike. We share what many of us have come to understand as an almost sacred responsibility that comes with the job: to protect students, potentially even with our lives.

But we shouldn’t have to do that.

It is outrageous and unconscionable that we should be expected to die on the job and to be responsible for the literal lives of our students. It is equally unconscionable and outrageous that there are some in our communities who believe that we should also be responsible for taking the lives of students or others on campus who might pose a threat, people who believe that killing should be part of our job 

And yet here we are.

Many of us got into this line of work because we are inspired to work with young people to help them fulfill their potential and become as fully actualized as human beings as they possibly can. This is where I find the deepest satisfaction in my work as a professor, and I know a lot of you feel the same way. I love linguistics a lot, but even more I love watching students thrive and mature into their best selves. When I am able to help them with that, I feel that I am honoring one of the most important purposes of my work as a professor.

There is a lot more I could say about all this, but I think I have said enough to try to explain why I will excuse my students from their academic responsibilities on March 14 and April 20, 2018, and on any other day if they choose to participate in actions and take a stand for something they believe passionately about.

This is a pivotal moment in their lives and in our culture. We are engaged in a new civil rights movement that includes stands against racially motivated police violence, against discrimination and violence against people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, and women, and now the #NeverAgain movement launched by a group of courageous teenagers who are inspiring other young people across the nation. If our students here at WMU feel inspired to be part of this movement, I not only want them to have that experience, but I also want them in this battle because they’re our best chance to succeed where those of us who came before them have fallen short. There is nothing I can teach them about language variation or historical linguistics or anything else I do in my classes that will matter more to their education and development as human beings than the experience of standing up for what they believe in, being part of history, and possibly even chalking up a few wins.

That means on March 14 and April 20, if some or all of my students decide that instead of coming to class or working on their data analysis projects or meeting me for office hours, they will walk out of their classes and add their voices to those of young people across the U.S. to say Never Again, they’ve got my blessing and I’ve got their backs.

While it is for each individual faculty member to decide how to handle a possible student walkout, I hope many of you will join me in standing with these brave young people.

In solidarity,

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


Contract Negotiations and “Work to Rule,” by Allison Hart-Young

From: Allison Hart-Young |
Sent: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 2:18 p.m. |
To: Regena Nelson, Chair, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Studies
Cc: Ming Li, Dean, College of Education and Human Development I
Cc: Susan Stapleton, Interim Provost and VP for Academic Affairs |
Subject: Work to Rule Labor Action |

Dear Regena,

I am writing to inform you that I will be among the tenured faculty members who will participate fully in the WMU AAUP’s “work to rule” action scheduled for Wednesday, 6 September 2017 beginning at 12:01am, should a tentative agreement is not met in the final round of negotiations prior to the expiration of the current contract.

I will absolutely continue to fulfill all of my contractually mandated responsibilities. As you are well aware, my commitment to students is my primary concern. Thus, I will be mindful of my teaching duties so that students will not be impacted by my participation in the action. As I understand it, “work to rule” is not a strike, stoppage, or slow down. It is a legal action that helps to convey the idea that WMU expects its faculty (and other employees) to do significant uncompensated work on a regular basis. It is particularly concerning because this institution has expressly denied its responsibility to fairness and equity for its employees. As a tenured, full professor, I feel it critically important to shoulder this burden so that my untenured and part-time colleagues, as well as staff members, do not have to compensate for this action.

I have taught at WMU for 21 years. It is my home and I have committed my entire professional life to this institution and its students. As you know, I have served over 4,200 students in my career – I care very much for these students and the programs that serve them. In this regard, I feel that the best way I can advocate for the continued success of this institution is to stand with my colleagues across campus in solidarity with this action.

Please let me know if you have any concerns. I will be more than happy to discuss them with you.

Allison Hart-Young, Ph.D.

Secondary Education Program Unit Coordinator
Teaching, Learning, and Educational Studies
College of Education and Human Development
Western Michigan University
4121 Sangren Hall
1903 W Michigan Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI 49008



Work to Rule Labor Action, by Gwen Athene Tarbox

From: Gwen Athene Tarbox |
Sent: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 10:41 a.m. |
To: Nicolas Witschi, Chair, Department of English |
Cc: Carla Korestsky, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences I
Cc: Susan Stapleton, Interim Provost and VP for Academic Affairs |
Subject: Work to Rule Labor Action |

Dear Nic:

The Agreement between the WMU-AAUP and the WMU administration is set to expire at tonight at midnight. If the teams are unable to arrive at a tentative agreement, I will follow the directive of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee by participating in a legal labor action called “work to rule,” withdrawing “from all work outside our contract and letters of appointment, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6, 2017” (“Sept 6 Work to Rule Notice to WMU-AAUP Faculty,” WMU-AAUP Blog, 8/31/17). Work to rule actions include all voluntary labor that a faculty member provides to the institution. As Dr. Lisa Minnick, President of the WMU-AAUP points out, without the uncompensated labor of the faculty, “it would be impossible for the institution to honor its commitments and its mission.” Work to rule is designed to demonstrate the value of the faculty to the institution.

As you know, over the years, I have provided significant uncompensated labor to the Department of English. For instance, I have worked with many students over the summers, even though I serve on a 9-month appointment. This voluntary labor has helped ensure that our PhD students complete their degrees in a timely manner and enjoy success on the academic job market, earning tenure track positions at California State University-Northridge, Shippensburg University, West Chester University, and the University of Texas-Dallas, among others. I have also met in the summer to help undergraduates with their successful applications to graduate programs at institutions such as Harvard University, the University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, and Syracuse University.

Just as I have willingly undertaken uncompensated labor to help my students, I also appreciate the importance of honoring my commitments to my faculty colleagues in our efforts to receive a fair contract. Currently, WMU faculty members earn lower salaries than faculty members at many of the schools included on WMU’s Peer Institution list. WMU faculty members deserve respect for our contractual labor, not to mention our uncompensated labor. Hopefully, this legal, peaceful work to rule action will underscore our positive contributions to the institution.

Of course, I will be actively teaching this week and starting on the administrative tasks that we agreed I would handle as part of my contractual workload, and I will make sure that my undergraduate students and my doctoral advisees continue to receive timely instruction and advice. I am proud to be a part of our department and our college, and I know that we are at the beginning of what will be a productive and engaging academic year. I am also proud to be a member of our union, and I am optimistic that we will have a mutually beneficial contract in place soon.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions regarding the work to rule process. I have attached a paper copy of this letter, with my electronic signature, as well.

Best wishes,

Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox
Department of English
Western Michigan University
1903 W. Michigan Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5331

Website: http://gatarbox.wixsite.com/home

Work to Rule statement, by Chris Nagle

From: Christopher Nagle |
Sent: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 8:12 a.m. |
To: Nicolas Witschi, Chair, Department of English |
Cc: Carla Korestsky, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences I
Cc: Susan Stapleton, Interim Provost and VP for Academic Affairs |
Subject: Work to Rule statement |

Dear Nic,

I write this letter to inform you that I will be one of those tenured faculty members who will participate fully in the WMU AAUP’s “work to rule” action, beginning on Wed., 9/6/17 at 12:01am, if a tentative agreement is not met in the final round of negotiations prior to the expiration of our current contract.

I hasten to add that I will continue to fulfill all of my contractually mandated responsibilities, and will be especially mindful of my duties to my students, who should not be impacted by this commitment. My understanding is that “work to rule” is completely different from a strike, stoppage, or slowdown, and that it is legal, permissible, and in my judgment, ethically necessary in an environment where an institution such as WMU continues to expect its employees to do significant uncompensated work on a regular basis–especially when that institution expressly denies its responsibility to fairness and equity for its employees. It seems equally vital to me that untenured and part-time colleagues, as well as staff members, are not asked to shoulder an additional burden to compensate for this action.

I love and respect this school and have committed the entirety of my postgraduate professional life to it. I believe the best way that I can continue to show my support for its success, both at present and into the future, is to stand with my colleagues across campus in solidarity with this action.

Please let me know if you have any concerns, and I certainly will do my best to address them.


Christopher C. Nagle
Associate Professor of English
and Gender & Women’s Studies
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5331
p: (269)387-2591
f: (269)387-2562
e: christopher.nagle@wmich.edu
w: http://www.christophernagle.com
Pronouns: he/him/his


Why I will WORK TO RULE if we don’t have a contract by midnight tonight, by Berni Proeschl

From: Bernard S. Proeschl |
Sent: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 12:13 a.m. |
To: Richard W Zinser, Chair, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences |
Cc: Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development |
Cc: Susan Stapleton, Interim Provost and VP for Academic Affairs |

Hi Rick,

I am writing this as a show of support for my colleagues that are negotiating for an equitable contract. As I’m sure you are well aware, if there is not a tentative agreement by midnight September 5, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee has requested that all bargaining-unit faculty be prepared to participate in a “work to rule” labor action and withdraw from all work outside our contract and letters of appointment, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6, 2017.

I honestly thought President Montgomery and his administration would want to usher in a meaningful regime change rather than promote the current environment that devalues the contributions of faculty and staff alike. It would have been a wonderful gesture to communicate to faculty that, after years of compromise and sacrifice on our part, there would be a significant shift in university priorities to be reflected in our new contract. That opportunity has been lost. Unless maybe there is to be a dramatic last-minute surprise entrance at the negotiating table tomorrow?

Tomorrow morning at 9am, with a smile (and I am not a good morning person), I will start another year of teaching my undergraduates about all things design. They are young, and it would be irresponsible of me to try to share with them the soul-crushing reality of an administration that truly does not give a damn about our faculty, our staff, and our resources. Despite being told more times than I care to remember that my program is simply not a priority, and despite the fact that there are no longer any other tenured or tenure-track colleagues in my program (I thought for sure that I would be a mentor at this point in my career), I am prepared as always and willingly accept my responsibilities as a teacher.

Again, I write this to go on record voicing solidarity for those that have worked so hard on my behalf, and not as a personal affront.

Best Regards,

Faculty (and staff) claps back at admin’s midnight email blast

Photo by Kent Baldner, Department of Philosophy

Since the administration’s mass email arrived in our inboxes just after midnight on Saturday, August 19, we have been hearing from our colleagues about what they think of the administration’s proposals and what they are looking for in our next contract. We share here some of what they had to say.

(Got something to add? Comment on this post or email us!)

A faculty colleague in the Haworth College of Business writes:

“That email from the admin actually makes me feel so much better about your efforts. I have even more energy and support for our union.

“How much did the admin spend on the renovation to Heritage Hall? How much in the negative does our athletic department run? How much were we willing to pay PJ Fleck to stay another 10 years? I bet all these answers are 20 million plus or close to it. It is all about priorities.

“The email from the admin makes them look misguided. They have lost their way. The WMU experience begins and ends and revolves around the faculty. We are the bridge to our students, alumni, employers, etc., and all other constituents. The admin is supposed to support and reward us and often they do neither.

“I will be fine either way. I just feel terrible for the majority of my colleagues who really struggle to maintain a quality of life that should be had with our profession. We need a gesture of good faith from the admin to end this nonsense and set a new tone for a better relationship where we can move forward together.

“I will see you on Wednesday!”

He adds: 

“I am assuming whoever sent this email in the middle of the night was intoxicated. The administration owes us an apology for sending an emotionally charged email on the weekend in the middle of the night and on a Sunday morning. It is very rude, inappropriate, and unprofessional. It speaks to how they value the faculty, but still, no excuse. They may as well have knocked on my door Saturday night.”

From the College of Fine Arts:

What Do We Want?

“An employment agreement that enhances the quality and character of the faculty and the institution!”

A CFA union rep agrees: “There’s something to get behind!”

A faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences writes:

“I can only imagine what other faculty are going to have to do in order not to go under water financially if this current offer is accepted in any form. The Michigan economy is on an uptick. In spite of insane things happening in Washington, D.C., the overall economy is strong. There is no reason for this to be happening.

“I know that the team must have worked their butts off and be feeling really demoralized by the admin. I support the team’s efforts, and am grateful for all that the team has done!”

An administrative staff colleague writes:

I’m a staff member. I took a pay cut 18 years ago to come to WMU for the great benefits. I hope I don’t regret that decision.

U.S. professors take stand against executive order on immigration — we can, too

Thousands of professors from across the U.S. have signed on to a letter protesting the president’s January 27 Executive Order banning the entry of refugees and immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and four other predominantly Muslim countries into the United States:

“The people whose status in the United States would be reconsidered are our students, friends, colleagues, and members of our communities,” the professors write. “The implementation will necessarily tear families apart by restricting entry for family members who live outside of the U.S. and limiting the ability to travel for those who reside and work in the U.S. These restrictions would be applied to nearly all individuals from these countries, regardless of their immigration status or any other circumstances. This measure is fatally disruptive to the lives of these immigrants, their families, and the communities of which they form an integral part. It is inhumane, ineffective, and un-American.”

Click here for the full letter and instructions for how to sign on.

The concerns raised in the letter are of course applicable to WMU faculty and students. Two incidents that occurred this weekend hit particularly close to home:

  • A Stanford graduate student originally from Sudan was detained and handcuffed at JFK airport in New York on Saturday. The student, a Harvard graduate, is a legal resident of the United States, where she has lived since 1993.
  • Two faculty members at UMass Dartmouth, Dr. Mazdak Pourabdollah Tootkaboni and Dr. Arghavan Louhghalam, were detained at Logan airport in Boston on Saturday on their way back from attending an academic conference in France. Professors Tootkaboni and Louhghalam are both originally from Iran and have legal resident status in the United States. A district court ruling in Boston early Sunday ordered their release and blocks similar detentions at Logan.

In November 2016, the WMU-AAUP faculty voted by an overwhelming margin to approve a Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students, including the international and immigrant students for whom the Executive Order raises immediately pressing fears. The Resolution was a good first step, but now we must do more to stand in solidarity with these students and with our international and immigrant colleagues.

What can we do to help?

  1. Talk with students and colleagues. Make sure they know we have their backs, that we will support them, that we will listen to them, and that we will not betray them.
  2. Contact President Dunn and urge him to take a public stand in support of our international and immigrant students and colleagues. Updated January 31: Read President Dunn’s statement here.
  3. Print out a copy of the Resolution of Solidarity and post it on your office door and/or contact the WMU-AAUP office to request a solidarity card for your office door.
  4. Sign on to the Academics Against Immigration Executive Order letter and share it with colleagues.
  5. Join or donate to the American Civil Liberties Union to help them bring legal challenges against discriminatory activities resulting from the Executive Order and follow them on Twitter to stay up to date on their progress.
  6. Participate in demonstrations against the Executive Order and use social media as another way to make visible your support for and solidarity with students and colleagues.
  7. Check in frequently with your favorite news sources to keep informed about this developing story. Things are happening fast and changing constantly and are likely to continue to do so.
    • For example, a federal judge in New York blocked a key provision of the Executive Order Saturday night. On Sunday morning, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement suggesting that it may not comply with the rulings.
    • A White House spokesman now (as of Sunday morning, January 29) “appears to be walking back” the part of the Executive Order that would ban re-entry into the U.S. for permanent legal residents with green cards.

Links to more info about this developing story:

Some Colleges Warning Foreign Students on Travel After Trump’s Immigration Order, by Michael Edison Hayden. ABC News, January 28, 2017.

As protests roiled, professors who were detained at Logan airport waited, by Nestor Ramos. Boston Globe, January 29, 2017.

U.S. colleges rush to help students, scholars affected by Trump’s immigration order, by Valerie Strauss. Washington Post, January 29, 2017.

Sudanese student at Stanford detained, handcuffed at JFK airport, by Queenie Wong. San Jose Mercury News, January 28, 2017.

University of Michigan president states support for international students, by Martin Slagter. MLive, January 29, 2017.

Oklahoma University President David Boren affirms support for students, staff affected by immigration ban in statement, by Greg Brown. Fox 23 News (Tulsa, OK), January 29, 2017.

Colleges brace to shield students from immigration raids, by Alan Gomez. USA Today, January 26, 2017.

Colleges Are Warning Thousands Of Muslim International Students Not To Travel, by Molly Hensley-Clancy. Buzzfeed, January 28, 2017.

Protests erupt at airports around the U.S. following Trump travel ban, Fox News, January 29, 2017.

Protesters Rally as Doctors, Students Blocked From Entering Country After Trump’s Orders, by Eli Rosenberg, Perry Russom and Melissa Buja. NBC Boston, January 28, 2017.

PHOTOS: Thousands Protest At Airports Nationwide Against Trump’s Immigration Order, by James Doubek. NPR, January 29, 2017.