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


Join protest against “imminent” Saudi executions of 14 young men, including WMU student

Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat. (Source: Reprieve, a British human rights organization.)

We join our colleagues at AFT-Michigan, along with our AFT-affiliated colleagues here at WMU, the Professional Instructors Organization (PIO) and Teaching Assistants Union (TAU), in condemning in the strongest possible terms the death sentence of admitted WMU student Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat. We are horrified and outraged by the grotesque human rights violations that his arrest, imprisonment, and especially his imminent execution constitute.

A citizen of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Al-Sweikat was admitted to Western Michigan University to begin classes in the fall of 2013 but has never attended the university. In 2012, when he was 17, he was arrested at the airport on his way to the United States. He was charged with participating in pro-democracy demonstrations, convicted, and sentenced to death. He has been in prison ever since.

Reports are now coming out that his execution is “imminent,” according to the London-based human rights advocacy organization Reprieve.

PLEASE CALL THE WHITE HOUSE AT (202) 456-1111 to urge the president, who has developed a close relationship with the Saudi king, to use his influence with the king to try to stop this horrific miscarriage of justice and heinous violation of human rights.

Please also consider signing the petition linked here as a way to stand in solidarity with Mr. Al-Sweikat and 13 other young men sentenced to death along with him for participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Read more about Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat:

From AFT:

From Reprieve:

Association Council recommends faculty approval of solidarity resolution

WMU-AAUP Association Council Recommends Faculty Approval of
Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students

Letter to the faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

November 15, 2016

Dear colleagues,

After a lengthy and intense discussion at the WMU-AAUP Association Council meeting last Friday, the AC voted to draft a resolution to express support for WMU students in response to disturbing incidents that have occurred on our own campus and others over the past week.

Once drafted and circulated, the proposed resolution was approved 44 to 1 in a secret-ballot vote (plus one abstention) of the WMU-AAUP Association Council, Executive Committee, and officers, who now recommend full faculty approval. All members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit will soon receive an electronic ballot to vote on whether to approve.

Click here for the text of the proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students.

As most of you are aware, many of our students have reported feeling unwelcome, vulnerable, and even fearful for their safety and wellbeing or for the safety of classmates. Students of color, LGBT students, international students, and other minority students report feeling particularly vulnerable since the presidential election last week.

At a student-organized meeting on campus on November 10, I listened to what many of these students had to say. Their reports were chilling and disheartening: Some of our LGBT students said they will not be going home for Thanksgiving next week because family members have told them that they are not welcome, or they are afraid to go home because of concerns about increased hostility from relatives who do not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. International and immigrant students report that they are fearful of attacks and deportation. More recently, some students have reported harassment on the street or on campus and finding notes on their cars with racial or homophobic epithets.

In other contexts, I have had occasion to observe that the intellectual character of a university is determined by its faculty. While that is critically important to our role at Western Michigan University, intellectual character is not the only kind of character that matters, nor is it the only kind that faculty model regularly for our students and community, even though we may not always be fully aware that we are doing so. Our ethical principles and moral convictions are critical to our work as faculty members, and never more so than when they are being tested, as they are now.

Listening to these students at the meeting last Thursday, it occurred to me that they might appreciate a reminder of how seriously we take our charge to do right by them, not only intellectually but also as the mentors and role models we are for them.

I brought this topic to the Association Council last Friday, and the result of that conversation – which was intense, passionate, painful at times, but also inspiring – is the proposed Resolution in Solidarity we present now for your consideration.

We understand that some of our colleagues may not be comfortable with this resolution or its intentions. We hope that you will be willing to engage in a dialogue about how we can best honor our commitments to one another as a faculty as well as to our students at a time when some of them feel that they have reason to be afraid for their lives.

The next meeting of the WMU-AAUP Association Council is Friday, January 20, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. Association Council meetings are open to all bargaining-unit members, and we encourage you to join us on January 20 so that we can all listen to and talk about the diverse perspectives our colleagues bring to these issues. We’ll meet in 157 Bernhard.

As individuals, we don’t need to have felt unsafe ourselves to understand why it is important to make a public statement in solidarity with our students. Even those of us who have never been targeted or felt vulnerable because of the color of our skin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, disability, national origin, or religious beliefs can of course empathize with those who have. And sadly, many of our faculty colleagues have felt this way themselves, including right here on our own campus. It is important that we stand with these colleagues, and I look forward to our conversations in the near future – and I hope at the January 20 AC meeting – about how we can all do a better job of that.

But today I am asking you to consider the proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students.

The Association Council and I understand also that there may be concerns about the possibility of causing hurt or distress to students who may not be members of protected groups but who may also fear backlash because of their political beliefs. We share these concerns and have crafted the resolution to try to make clear that we are here for all Western Michigan University students, even while we are also trying to address the immediate safety concerns that disproportionately affect students of color, LGBT students, and international students.

Many thanks in advance for your thoughtful consideration of this important matter.

In solidarity,

Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP

Proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students

Recommended by the WMU-AAUP Association Council, Executive Committee, and officers, for the faculty’s consideration. WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit members are now voting on this proposal, with votes due electronically by 4 p.m. on Friday, November 18. More information about the proposed resolution is available by clicking here.

Proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity
with Western Michigan University Students

Whereas the Board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, represented by our collective-bargaining chapter of the American Association of University Professors, stands for academic excellence, shared governance, higher education as a public good, and academic freedom;

Whereas our core academic mission includes the work of instruction, research, scholarship, creative activity, and professional service;

Whereas this work is foundational to the development of our students as knowledgeable and engaged citizens, informed participants in the democratic process, and possessors of a spirit of tolerance and acceptance;

Whereas the intellectual character of a university is determined by its faculty;

Whereas the faculty therefore also appropriately models character for our students and for the community in other ways, including with respect to our ethical principles and moral convictions;

Whereas these values inform our understanding and acceptance of the immense and humbling responsibility that we carry in the form of our students’ trust in us: that we will treat them with respect, with fairness, with compassion, and with generosity of spirit;

Whereas the faculty takes seriously its role in modeling, teaching, and facilitating critical thinking and respectful discourse;

Whereas we recognize the challenges inherent in the exploration of controversial issues and ideas as well as the intellectual growth that can result from engaging these ideas respectfully and thinking critically about them;

Whereas many Western Michigan University students are now feeling vulnerable, unwelcome, or even fearful for their safety and wellbeing or for the safety and wellbeing of their classmates;

Whereas every student is welcome at Western Michigan University and deserves to feel accepted, included, empowered, and safe here;

Be it resolved that the Board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, individually and collectively, stands in solidarity with the students of this university and extends to them our attention, our understanding, our support, our advocacy, and – when and if they need it – our protection, at this singular moment in our nation’s history and always.

Faculty: Please support WSA student voter registration initiative

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

Dear colleagues:

A fundamental goal in higher education is to prepare students for thoughtful citizenship and participation in our democratic society. A starting point for this participation is voting, yet many students are effectively disenfranchised in Michigan if they are not registered to vote in their college communities.

This year, the Western Student Association has once again launched an extensive voter registration initiative on our campus, this time under the capable leadership of WSA Political Affairs Chair Chiante’ Lymon.

Recognizing the importance of student voter registration, the WMU-AAUP has joined with student leaders to support this non-partisan, student-led initiative. Part of our role in this is to encourage you, the faculty, to talk with your students about voter registration, to remind them that they can (and should) register to vote on campus, and to invite trained student volunteers to visit your classes and get your students registered.

This is an essential initiative. Too often, students miss out on exercising their voting rights. They may believe they are registered to vote when they are not or that they are eligible to vote in Kalamazoo if they are registered in their home precincts. As faculty, we can help to clear up these misconceptions, encourage students who are uncertain about their registration status to register in Kalamazoo, and inform them about how they can do so easily, thanks to this registration project.

We ask also that you be aware of and help to address challenges that can result in student disenfranchisement. Students registered at their home addresses who plan to vote by absentee ballot may be discouraged at election time by the planning and lead time required. Additionally, at WMU and nationwide, erroneous claims that registering locally will impact their financial aid eligibility or affect their insurance coverage may discourage many students from registering on campus. We can help by informing our students that there is no truth to these often-repeated urban legends.

Finally, please consider allowing WMU students trained in voter registration to visit your classes before the October 11 deadline for the general election in November.

These visits are an effective way to reach students and to get them registered. In just a few minutes, the volunteers can provide registration forms, answer questions, and collect completed forms.

Ms. Lymon and her team have set a goal to register or re-register (for students who have moved) over 5,000 voters before the voter registration deadline of October 11, 2016. She reports that the in-class registration process takes approximately 12 minutes, including Q&A.

If you are wiling to have a student trained in voter registration visit your class between now and October 11, please email the following information to Ms. Chiante’ Lymon at wevote@wmich.edu:

Class/section name:
Faculty name:
Faculty phone:
Date(s) they can visit your class(es):
Building and room numbers of class(es):
Days and times your classes meet (beginning and end times):
Approximate number of students in your classes:

On behalf of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, many thanks to all of you in advance for your participation in this important initiative.


Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP

WMU Invisible Need project reports urgent needs — How faculty can help

The WMU Invisible Need project provides support and resources, including a campus food pantry, for students who are struggling financially. Sadly, a number of WMU students experience food insecurity on a regular basis. For these students, the food pantry is an invaluable resource. Unfortunately, the pantry’s food supply is very low at the moment. The faculty’s help is needed.

Your donations of non-perishable food items can be dropped off at multiple locations on campus. Perishable items can be delivered to the food pantry in the Faunce Student Services Building during their business hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Additionally, food pantry staff will make a pick-up in room 105 of the Bernhard Center on Friday afternoon, April 8, at 3:30 p.m., following the WMU-AAUP chapter meeting.

If you plan to attend the WMU-AAUP chapter meeting on Friday (1:30 p.m. in room 105) or the brown bag lunch on campus safety (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Faculty Dining Room of the Bernhard Center), please consider bringing one or more items from the following list and/or other nonperishable foods:

  • pasta (not mac and cheese, please)
  • rice
  • cereal
  • fruit
  • snacks
  • desserts
  • condiments
  • other nonperishables

Thank you for your support of the WMU Invisible Need project.


WMU-AAUP Seita Scholar Gift Card Initiative

In honor of the National AAUP Centennial, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee is launching a chapter project to raise money to purchase gift cards for students in the WMU Seita Scholarship program. These will be Visa gift cards that can be used anywhere that accepts Visa.

We invite faculty to support this initiative by making contributions in any amount.

In consultation with Seita program staff, we have set January 2016 as our target date for distributing the gift cards to the Seita Scholars. The program staff has outlined the challenges that these students face upon returning to school after the holidays, a critical time of year when finances are often stretched to their limits.

The WMU-AAUP office is now collecting faculty donations to this project, with the goal of raising enough money to fund gift cards for all Seita Scholars, who are projected to number approximately 150 this academic year. Our objective is to provide gift cards in the amount of at least $25 apiece.

We understand that many faculty are already active supporters of the Seita program and the students it serves, and we appreciate your support for this important campus initiative.

If you’d like to join your faculty colleagues as a WMU-AAUP Seita contributor, there are several ways to donate:

  • Send your check (payable to the WMU-AAUP) via campus mail to mail stop 5401.
  • Bring your donation to the WMU-AAUP Fall BBQ on Sept. 8.
  • Stop by Montague House with your cash or check donation. (Note: The office will be closed August 24-September 7 for the semester break.)

At this time, we do not have an online donation option, but we hope to offer one soon.

Thank you in advance for your support of the WMU-AAUP Seita project!

visual image of chapter logo "stronger together"The American Association of University Professors