Letter to the faculty: Take your fall break October 17-19

photo of forest with tall trees, sun peeking through, and red autumn leaves

October 16, 2018

Dear colleagues:

We’ve been receiving inquiries about whether faculty are required to report for work during the fall break, which takes place Wednesday through Friday of this week.

The answer, for both fiscal-year and academic-year faculty, is NO.

The fall calendar change this year, with the earlier academic-year start date, was negotiated in 2017 at the bargaining table and constituted a significant trade-off for us. What we got in return was (1.) a little more money than what had been on the table thus far and (2.) fall break. A deal is a deal. Faculty should absolutely take these three days off.

We encourage all faculty to take advantage of the fall break, not only because you deserve it (which of course you do), but also because the best way to protect the rights and benefits that have been negotiated and won at the bargaining table, including this one, is by using them. If some faculty show up to work during breaks, it can make it harder for us to enforce the rights of everyone else to take the time off to which all faculty are entitled.

Obviously taking a few days off is one of the easier and more fun ways to defend the contract, so this is a perfect opportunity for all of us to participate in a collective action to protect faculty rights. (And what’s not to love about a five-day weekend?)

In sum, fall break was negotiated at the bargaining table. And as you all know, we don’t get anything for free, including this. So please take it.

If you are being informed that you are obliged to report at any time during the break, please contact us immediately at 345-0151. Our office will be open until 4:30 p.m. today (Tuesday, October 16), after which we will be closed until Monday in observance of fall break. After close of business today, please email chapter officers directly with your concerns. Our contact info is linked here.

#5DayWeekend
#WeAreWorthIt
#StrengthInSolidarity

In solidarity,
Lisa

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

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

 

 

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.

Sincerely,
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,
Gwen

Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox
Professor
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.

Respectfully,
Chris

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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

 

LABOR ACTION: Sept 6 Work to Rule notice to WMU-AAUP faculty

Letter from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

August 31, 2017

Dear colleagues:

With the 2014-17 Agreement between the WMU-AAUP and the WMU Board of Trustees set to expire at midnight on Tuesday, September 5, we remain optimistic that our bargaining team and the administration’s team will reach a tentative agreement (TA) by the deadline.

However, we need to be prepared in the event that the two sides do not reach a TA by midnight on Tuesday.

This message serves as notice to the faculty that if the two teams do not come to a tentative agreement by the deadline, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee requests 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.

The teams have been at the table for more than five months now, and our team has worked tirelessly to bring us a fair contract and to complete negotiations in a timely way, even agreeing to start bargaining on the Monday after spring break, which is considerably earlier than usual. If the two teams do not reach a tentative agreement by midnight on September 5, the unresolved issues will be compensation and healthcare.

Faculty salaries at WMU remain below those of our those of our colleagues at peer institutions, while the costs to us for health insurance have increased sharply in recent years for faculty as well as staff. If the administration’s team gets its way, many faculty and staff colleagues will experience significant economic hardship. Some already do as a result of previous insurance premium spikes. Meanwhile, senior administrators prosper, enjoying large salaries, perks, and in some cases even substantial cash bonuses. As a percentage of salary, their insurance premiums, which in dollars are the same as ours, are surely far more manageable. This institutionalized inequity is unacceptable. We do understand the budget and finance challenges facing the institution. But we also know that every institution has choices about how to invest its resources. And we disagree with an administration whose priorities have gone far adrift from our collective academic mission. [1]

As is well known on campus, all WMU faculty (and staff) perform a massive amount of work beyond what we are hired and paid to do. The institution is heavily dependent on these goodwill donations of labor.

In “working to rule,” we demonstrate to the administration, Board of Trustees, campus community, and the public that the faculty and staff of Western Michigan University are its heart, its soul, and its conscience; that we are dedicated to this institution and especially to its students; that it would be impossible for the institution to honor its commitments and its mission without our goodwill donations of labor; that the value of our uncompensated work saves the university far more than it would cost to compensate all of us fairly; and that we are aware of our value to WMU and demand that our contributions and those of our staff colleagues be respected and appropriately compensated.

A “work to rule” labor action is not a strike. Nor is it a work slowdown or stoppage. It is simply a demonstration that we are fully aware of the extent to which our institution not only benefits from but cannot do without the uncompensated work we and our staff colleagues regularly perform. “Work to rule” is a lawful, peaceful labor action. We will continue to comply fully with the contract.

“Work to rule” actions can take different forms and vary widely across industries, institutions, and professions. For us, “work to rule” means that we would continue to do the work we are hired and paid to do (the “rule” is our union contract along with our letters of appointment) but that we would do only that work. We would suspend – immediately and indefinitely – the extensive volunteer work that we donate to the institution.

While by law the WMU-AAUP can bargain only on behalf of the 900 members of the Board-appointed faculty, it is well known on campus that most of WMU’s other employee groups also receive many of the benefits we win at the table and endure the same cuts that are imposed on us.

We will act, then, if a TA is not reached by midnight Tuesday, not only on behalf of the 900 members of our WMU-AAUP bargaining unit but also in solidarity with our staff colleagues, many of whom are not protected by unions and none of whom outside of our unit are protected by tenure.

Click here to learn more about what a work-to-rule action might look like at WMU, including why we believe that the possible impacts on our students will be minimal if any, the kinds of work this type of action is likely to involve, and how tenured faculty can help to protect pre-tenure and term-appointed colleagues during a work-to-rule action (or any other labor action).

Finally, I include here a reminder that all bargaining-unit members should plan to join us for a special chapter meeting on Tuesday, September 5 (3:30-4:30pm in 157 Bernhard) to discuss the status of our contract negotiations and the logistics of a work-to-rule action should the two sides not reach a TA by midnight on the 5th. After the meeting, we hope to see you at Montague House for the WMU-AAUP Fall BBQ (5-7pm), where we will rally for our team at 6:20pm and accompany them across the street to Walwood Hall as they head back to the table for their final scheduled bargaining session before the midnight deadline. (More details about these events are available here.)

If we do not have a contract by midnight on September 5, expect a call from the chapter leadership for all WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit members to withdraw immediately from all the voluntary yet essential work that we regularly perform beyond our full contractual workloads.

Many thanks to all of you for standing with our team throughout this long and grueling negotiation cycle. Your energy, smarts, collegiality, generosity, humor, and dedication to Western Michigan University and especially to our students are inspiring and remind us every day of why what we are fighting for is so important.

Thank you also in advance for bearing with us for a little longer, staying strong until we have a fair contract, and being prepared to work to rule if the teams do not reach a tentative agreement by midnight on Tuesday.

See you on September 5!

#StrengthInSolidarity
#WMUAAUP2017

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

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Note:

[1] The linked documents are extracts from an analysis by Dr. Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University and immediate past chair of the national AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress. Howard’s full analysis is linked here.