Remarks to the Board of Trustees, September 20, 2017

by Lisa C. Minnick, WMU-AAUP President |


It’s been a year since the Presidential Search Advisory Committee began the work that resulted in the hiring of President Montgomery, whose inauguration we celebrated last week. President Montgomery, I am pleased to have this opportunity to welcome you officially on behalf of the WMU-AAUP, whose membership comprises the 900 members of the Board-appointed faculty in its entirety.

Last fall, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee met with faculty, staff, students, alumni, administrators, and community members to listen to their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges faced by Western Michigan University and, by extension, its next president. We asked them to describe the characteristics they thought the next president would need in order to succeed at making the most of the opportunities and addressing the challenges. We used what they told us to draft the position announcement and description of the characteristics and qualifications the university community wanted in its next president.

Despite the diverse needs and interests of these constituencies, I was surprised to hear the same themes repeatedly: WMU has the raw materials and is poised for greatness, but we need a leader who can help us get there. We need a leader who can help us make the most of our resources, the strongest and most valuable of which is of course our people. We need a leader who can help us build on our strengths, develop where we have been languishing, and realize our potential. We will all be on board for this journey, they said, but we need a leader who has the vision to help us figure out who we are, who we aspire to be, how to get there, and – critically – how to tell our story so the rest of the world will see what we see.

The repetition of these themes in conversation after conversation was striking. It made our charge simultaneously easier – because everyone wants the same thing! hooray! – and more difficult: How do we find someone with the skills, talent, experience, and energy to lead us in the colossal project we are setting out for ourselves? Is there actually a real person out there who can meet these standards? Can we find someone who can lead us effectively in the difficult work of crafting and articulating a collective vision for the university? Someone who can lead us to achieve our shared aspirations? Someone who can help us tell our story?

Obviously the ending of that particular story is already well known. We are very fortunate to have found a new president who is clearly more than prepared to do all those things. This is an exciting time for the university and for all of us who are part the enterprise.

Now that we are a few weeks into the academic year, and the inaugural festivities and the flurry and chaos of the beginning of the academic year are behind us, it seems like a good time to pause for a moment and think about the challenge of telling our story.

The phrase “tell our story” appears repeatedly in the notes I kept from the conversation sessions last fall and in my notes from meetings of the search committee itself. At the time, and again in reviewing these notes over the past few weeks, the idea of “telling our story” is one of the themes that stands out most for me.

I’m an English professor, so I could probably get away with saying that stories are my business. But I’m not a creative writer or a literature professor, so by that definition, stories are not actually my business. Still, as I was preparing Monday morning to teach my class in the history of the English language, I was reminded again not only that this course is built from a series of stories that I use to help students figure out why the language is the way it is, how it got to be that way, and what causes language to change over time, but really that all my classes are built around stories. I use stories to help make sense of things like how language variation is distributed, how and why people attach value to different ways of speaking, and what a phoneme is and why that definition can be so hard to make sense of. So, I’m going to claim it: Teaching and doing research in linguistics is storytelling. Stories are therefore my business.

But they’re everyone else’s business too. My faculty colleagues are all storytellers as well. This is true across disciplines. We all learn from the stories of the researchers, scholars, artists, and teachers who came before us. We build on these stories – and sometimes we change them: that’s discovery – and we share them with our students and colleagues. This is how knowledge is transmitted and continually generated and regenerated. It is a remarkable thing, this work we professors are engaged in.

Of course you can see where this is going. Storytelling is central not only to our academic mission but to our culture, and to every culture. Stories are how we go about figuring out the world – to the extent that any of us ever really figures it out – and telling stories is how we try to explain the world to others even as they use stories to figure it out for themselves and try to explain it to us. And when I say “we,” I don’t just mean professors. I mean human beings.

But even while my creative writing colleagues and students in the English department inspire me with their talent for creating compelling, original stories, we have to recognize that no story is made up out of whole cloth. All stories are ultimately built on and made of other stories.

This is all a long way of saying that the story of Western Michigan University belongs to all of us: students, faculty, staff, administration, alumni, members of the Board, retired faculty and staff colleagues, members of the community, and everyone else who cares about this institution. That means to tell the story of Western Michigan University is to tell our collective story. And that is something that cannot be done – at least, it can’t be done right – without a deliberate, intentional effort to listen to the stories of all us. Because that is the story.

What everyone told us last fall during the search suggests that we have been at a loss for a way to define ourselves and a way to tell the story of what makes Western Michigan University the special place we all know it is. I submit that much of this loss is a consequence of an unwillingness to listen. When the stories of people, of constituencies, and of academic disciplines are told by people who themselves have not listened to the people whose stories these rightly are, assumptions are made, people may be written off, and harmful decisions are sometimes made.

There is no possibility of a collective, collaborative enterprise achieving its full potential under those circumstances.

So I hope that with the new administration, we can start over. I hope we can do a better job of listening to one another, of respecting people enough to listen to them and to believe them when they tell their own stories.

On what may seem like but is not an unrelated note, I will add that I appreciate that the Board has ratified the new contract. I have mixed feelings about the contract although nothing but respect for my bargaining team, whose meticulous preparation and scrupulously professional conduct at the bargaining table throughout a long and grueling negotiation cycle sets an excellent example for how academic collective bargaining at Western Michigan University ought to be conducted.

I am concerned about the changes to our healthcare plan, including what are likely to be for many of my colleagues unsustainable increases to their out of pocket costs beginning in January. While I appreciate that the cost-of-living increases in the new contract are likely to keep pace with inflation, which would be better of course if we were not losing so much ground on healthcare, I am also concerned about the loss of benefits at the Sindecuse Health Center and Unified Clinics. Added to the already worrisome changes to our insurance costs, this is a substantial additional hit. As always, these changes will disproportionately affect colleagues on the lower end of the salary scale, but new this time is that those who are the sickest will pay the most. In sum, these changes are going to make people’s lives harder.

I wish that before we got to this point their stories had been sought out and listened to by the people who control the resources on this campus, and that is you all, ladies and gentlemen of the board, along with your administrative agents.

Prior to President Montgomery’s arrival, there was a tendency to dismiss or try to ignore stories that did not square with the administration’s official line. That kind of thing can damage any institution, and it has. In the spirit of a fresh start with our new president, I am asking all of you to join me in trying a different approach this time, one in which the stories of all the people who do the work of this institution are sought out, listened to, valued, and taken to heart.

Thank you for listening.

Some thoughts on Labor Day

by Lisa Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP

Who are we? That’s a good question. (Western Michigan University promotional image)

September 4, 2017

Our contract expires at midnight on Tuesday, September 5. As I publish this, that is less than 36 hours from now. And our team needs us more than ever to stand with them and fight for a fair contract that respects our contributions to the institution by moving us forward rather than backwards.

The faculty and staff have been expected time and time again over the last several contract cycles to take one for the team. And we have done it. Repeatedly. By now, we have take so many for the team for so long that a lot of us are starting to feel that we’re not actually considered part of the team by some of the university’s senior leadership.

Most of us have reached the limit of sacrifices that we can reasonably make or should reasonably be asked or expected to make. Many of our faculty and staff colleagues at the lower end of the salary spectrum reached that limit long ago. These are personal sacrifices I’m talking about, financial hits that affect the lives of real people and their families. Faculty and staff have been called upon again and again, year after year, to make personal sacrifice after personal sacrifice.

Many of our bargaining-unit members and staff colleagues are feeling real pain as a result. They can’t afford their insurance premiums. They are struggling to make their student loan payments (PhDs are expensive). They are having a hard time making their mortgage payments. They’re afraid that they won’t ever be able to retire, that they will have to keep working until they are physically or cognitively incapable of working any longer. And then they fear the very real possibility that they will live out their elder years in permanent financial distress.

Meanwhile, the people across the table from our team enjoy a mean salary of $190,000. One of them even got a $25,000 cash bonus in March 2017, which is of course unheard of for faculty and staff. Where are their sacrifices?

So, to my WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit colleagues: I am asking all of you in advance for your forgiveness, because I am no longer interested in being polite and saying please. We have real people, faculty and staff, who every single day give everything they’ve got to Western Michigan University. We do this out of our deep love for this institution, for our students, our alumni, this community, our academic disciplines, learning and knowledge (including for its own sake), and for our work as professors, teachers, researchers, scholars, artists, and mentors. These gifts, which go way beyond what we are hired or paid to do, are always happily (if not humbly) accepted by the institution. The university administration understands as well as we do that both our actual compensated work (as defined by the contract and in our letters of appointment) and our goodwill donations of labor are essential to keeping this whole enterprise afloat.

But still they refuse to compensate us fairly. Sometimes I like to try to imagine what they’d get out of us if we felt appreciated, including when we open our paychecks. Imagine what we could all achieve if taking care of the people who do the work of the university was among its highest priorities. I wonder if that is something they ever think about.

At this point, I don’t think trying to be nice about it (“Please sir, can I have some more?”) is something that would work (it never has), nor is it sufficiently worthy of our dignity. I am hoping that instead, our showing up to tomorrow’s events in large numbers and demanding that the administration finally start doing right by the faculty and staff will be the action it takes to close the deal in a way that appropriately honors the work we do.

I am preparing for tomorrow’s events (the chapter meeting at 3:30 in 157 Bernhard, BBQ 5-7 at Montague House, and rally at 6:20 at Montague House), still optimistic that these actions will result in a contract deal we can agree to by the midnight deadline Tuesday night.

But if they don’t, I am fully prepared on behalf of the chapter to mobilize the faculty and launch the work-to-rule labor action at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6.

I do think that one thing the faculty and administration can agree on is that we would all prefer not to have the 900 members of the Board-appointed faculty starting the new academic year without a contract. I believe that we all want a tentative agreement by the deadline.

But we will not agree to a contract that is beneath our dignity. We will not stand for the quality of our professional lives, the economic security of the 900 families we represent, or the morale of the faculty and staff of Western Michigan University to be eroded and degraded any further.

Join me.

In solidarity,
Lisa

#StrengthInSolidarity
#WMUAAUP2017

Financial Analysis of Western Michigan University, by Dr. Howard Bunsis

Dr. Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University and Chair of the National AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, addressed the faculty at Western Michigan University on February 16, 2017.

Click here to view the slides from Howard’s presentation.

 

Meet Your 2017 WMU-AAUP Bargaining Team

Meet the team in person and get the latest news about 2017 contract negotiations at the special chapter meeting on Thursday, February 16. Click here for more information.    


Dr. Cynthia Klekar-Cunningham, WMU-AAUP Chief Negotiator (English)

Photo of Dr. Cynthia Klekar-Cunningham

Cynthia Klekar-Cunningham (PhD, West Virginia) joined the WMU faculty in 2005. Her scholarship focuses on the intersections between gift exchange and capitalism, theories of benevolence, and systems of obligation in 18th-century literature and culture. She is co-editor of The Culture of the Gift in 18th-Century England (Palgrave, 2009) and has published articles in the journals 18th-Century Studies, Philological Quarterly, and 18th-Century Theory and Interpretation, among others. Cynthia served as WMU-AAUP chief negotiator in 2014 and as associate chair of the English department as well as two terms apiece on the CAS Women’s Caucus Steering Committee and Faculty Senate. She has been an active WMU-AAUP Association Council representative since 2011.

Cynthia writes: “Faculty have the right to shape the university’s identity. The administration seems to want to deny us this right by limiting faculty involvement in decisions that impact the university’s core mission and has increasingly emphasized ‘productivity’ at the expense of shared governance and prioritized the bottom line over quality instruction. How a university assigns workload is no less than the measure of an institution’s level of commitment to intellectual inquiry and to the cultivation of critical thinking and democratic citizenship. Along with the team, I will work hard to defend our professional autonomy and academic freedom.

“How a university assigns workload is no less than the measure of an institution’s level of commitment to intellectual inquiry and to the cultivation of critical thinking and democratic citizenship.”

Cynthia Klekar-Cunningham

“We must stand up and make the case for renewed investment in the university’s core academic mission. It is unacceptable that a university should seek to subsidize its misplaced priorities, including bloated salaries of administrators and coaches, at the expense of excellence in teaching and research.”


Dr. Whitney DeCamp (Sociology)

Photo of Dr. Whitney DeCamp

Whitney DeCamp (PhD, Delaware) joined the faculty at WMU in 2011 and is associate professor of Sociology and Associate Director of the Kercher Center for Social Research. He teaches and conducts research primarily in criminology, focusing on copyright and intellectual property law. His work appears in Youth and Adolescence, Sport and Health Research, Survey Practice, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, and Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, among other journals. He has served several terms as the WMU-AAUP Association Council representative for Sociology and was recently elected to the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee.

Whitney writes
: “Serving the faculty by representing them at the bargaining table is an honor and a privilege. Each member of the team brings different strengths to this work, and it is my hope that my expertise in law and intellectual property will serve the team and the faculty well. I look forward to working with this great 2017 team.”


Dr. Bruce Ferrin (Marketing)

Photo of Dr. Bruce Ferrin

Bruce Ferrin (PhD, Penn State) has been teaching and conducting research in logistics and integrated supply management at WMU since 1998. His work appears in the Journal of Business Logistics, Decision Sciences, Journal of Supply Chain Management, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, and Industrial Marketing Management, among other publications. He serves on the Faculty Senate Committee to Oversee General Education and co-chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on Gen Ed. Bruce is also on the Executive Council for the Integrated Supply Management Program in the Haworth College of Business and the HCOB Advisory Council of the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. He has been active in the WMU-AAUP for many years, serving as chapter treasurer in 2012 as well as several terms on the Association Council and Executive Committee, to which he has recently been re-elected.

Bruce writes: “Having worked at several universities where faculty do not have collective bargaining representation, I understand clearly its importance and value.

“We must maintain constant vigilance to protect academic freedom, faculty rights to create and maintain university curricula, and our rights to participate in shared governance, all of which I intend to fight for at the bargaining table.”

Bruce Ferrin

“In my capacity as a member of the WMU-AAUP Exec Committee, I witnessed the administration’s inappropriate treatment of faculty members accused of disciplinary infractions, experiences that strengthened my commitment to protecting the due-process rights of WMU faculty. We must maintain constant vigilance to protect academic freedom, faculty rights to create and maintain university curricula, and our rights to participate in shared governance, all of which I intend to fight for at the bargaining table. Collective bargaining representation is essential if we are to succeed in these objectives.”


Professor Jeremy Hierholzer (Aviation)

Photo of Professor Jeremy Hierholzer

Jeremy Hierholzer (MA, Western Michigan) is an FAA Certified Airframe and Powerplant mechanic with Inspection Authorization who also holds a private pilot certificate. He teaches aircraft systems for mechanics and pilots, reciprocating engine overhaul, and turbine engine systems. Before joining the faculty at WMU in 2012, Jeremy taught composites, turbine engines, electronics, and aircraft systems at Southern Illinois University and Purdue University. His expertise includes performing heavy maintenance on the Pratt and Whitney JT8D turbine engine and maintaining single-engine and light twin-engine aircraft. He has published a number of papers on preventive maintenance, investigating and analyzing engine and landing-gear failures, and safety behaviors of maintenance students. Jeremy serves on the New Faculty Orientation Committee and as faculty advisor to the WMU chapter of SkillsUSA. He recently joined the WMU-AAUP Association Council.

Jeremy writes: “My reasons for stepping up to serve on the 2017 bargaining team are simple: It is the job, if not the calling, for faculty to motivate, stimulate and educate our students. The only way we can achieve these important objectives is if we have a positive and equitable work environment, affordable health care, and a competitive compensation package so that we can focus our full attention where it belongs: on our students, our research, and the wellbeing of the institution.”


Dr. Michael Miller (Human Performance and Health Education)

Photo of Dr. Michael Miller

Michael Miller (PhD, Western Michigan) directs the master’s program in athletic training and has done extensive grant and contract work since joining the faculty at WMU in 2002. He has co-authored five textbooks as well as numerous articles, which appear in the Journal of Athletic Training, Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Athletic Training & Sports Health Care, and other publications. Mike serves on the Human Subjects Institutional Review Board and the Faculty Research and Creative Activities review committee and previously served on the Graduate Studies Council and the Campus Planning and Finance Committee. His service includes a term on the Association Council and as the WMU-AAUP Contract Administrator.

Mike writes: “I am looking forward to bringing to the table this year my past experience as contract administrator, which included supporting and assisting the 2005 bargaining team. Additionally, because of my disciplinary interests and experience, I have been able to build trusted professional relationships with colleagues in the healthcare industry who can provide us with valuable data and insight into how healthcare costs are assessed and distributed. Finally, I will bring to the table the temperament to engage in negotiations, even when they might become tense, and I am fully prepared to stand my ground on behalf of the faculty.”


Dr. Lisa Minnick, WMU-AAUP Chapter President
(English and Gender & Women’s Studies)

Photo of Dr. Lisa Minnick

Lisa Minnick (PhD, Georgia) joined the faculty at WMU in 2004. Her teaching and research focus on language variation and change, historical linguistics, feminist and queer linguistics, and linguistic applications to literature. Her work appears in Language and Literature, Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom, Varieties in Writing in English: The Written Word as Linguistic Evidence, and elsewhere. Her book, Dialect and Dichotomy: Literary Representations of African American Speech (Alabama, 2004), was an American Library Association CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title. After several terms on the Association Council and serving on the 2011 bargaining team, Lisa became chapter president in 2013 and was re-elected in 2014 and 2016. Elected to the AAUP National Council in 2014, she also joined the national AAUP Executive Committee last year.

Lisa writes: “Since the intellectual character of any university is determined by its faculty, participation in shared governance is central to our work. The collaborative work between faculty and administration that happens during our contract negotiations is a perfect opportunity to reclaim our rightful place in helping to determine the priorities of the institution.

“It is up to all of us to remind the administration and the public that a ‘national top 100 university’ invests in its faculty.”

Lisa Minnick

“We have an outstanding team this year, and they will be extraordinarily well prepared at the table. But they can’t do this work alone. As always, the faculty’s standing in solidarity with our team will be critical to their success. If you care about shared governance, academic freedom, and investing in the core academic mission (and who among us doesn’t?), we need you to join us in saying so, loudly and repeatedly. We will keep you informed about developments at the table and about contract campaign events, but we’ll also need you to hold up your end by attending chapter meetings and events and especially by standing with our team. It is up to all of us to remind the administration and the public that a ‘national top 100 university’ invests in its faculty.”

 

Special chapter meeting on negotiations Feb. 16, with guest speaker Howard Bunsis


Howard’s presentation will be the first item on the agenda of a special chapter meeting to discuss 2017 contract negotiations.


WMU-AAUP SPECIAL CHAPTER MEETING
Topic: 2017 contract negotiations

Featuring a public* presentation by

DR. HOWARD BUNSIS

Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University
Chair of the National AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress

“A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES: UNDERSTANDING UNIVERSITY FINANCES”

Thursday, February 16, 2017, at 2:30 p.m.
Fetzer Center (Putney Auditorium) at Western Michigan University

howardbunsisDr. Howard Bunsis, professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University and chair of the national AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, will present “A Question of Priorities: Understanding University Finances” on Thursday, February 16, 2017, at 2:30 p.m. in the Putney Auditorium at WMU’s Fetzer Center. Howard’s presentation will kick off a special chapter meeting to discuss negotiations.*

A dynamic speaker and nationally recognized expert on university finances and athletic spending, Howard’s presentations are as entertaining as they are informative. His analyses of WMU’s budget and finances have become indispensable resources for our negotiation teams over the past several contract cycles. (Click here for the slides from Howard’s 2014 presentation, “Western Michigan University: Strong Financially, Weak on Priorites.”)

On February 16, Howard returns to our campus to share his 2017 analysis of WMU finances and to help us make the case for renewed investment in the university’s core academic mission. “The resources are here,” he says. “The question is how the administration chooses to deploy them. Too often, they choose athletic subsidies and administrative salaries over instruction and research.”

This event is free and open to the public.*

*Please note that while Howard’s presentation will be open to the public, attendance at the remainder of the chapter meeting will be limited to members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit.

WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students

Click here for printable version.
Click here to see our ad in the January 9 issue of the Western Herald (scroll to p. 9).

WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students

Approved by the faculty on November 18, 2016

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.

Remarks to the Board of Trustees, October 11, 2016

Remarks to the WMU Board of Trustees
by Lisa C. Minnick, WMU-AAUP President

 

Much has already been written and said about Dr. Mary Cain, who died on October 1 at age 91, including a statement by the WMU-AAUP published last week on our chapter blog. So I won’t spend time going over her many achievements and accomplishments. Instead, I want to talk about her work as the first woman president of the WMU-AAUP. She served two terms, from 1983-86.

As WMU-AAUP president, Mary is perhaps best remembered on campus for leading the legendary 1984 strike in September of that year, after contract negotiations broke down in late summer and mediation failed. The strike was settled quickly, but bad feelings persisted on campus into the fall semester as negotiations resumed.

In a speech to the WMU Board of Trustees on September 21, 1984, Mary challenged the Board to do the right thing by allowing faculty to make up work missed during the strike, pointing out that the administration had behaved dishonorably in making but not honoring compromises to end the strike but would face no consequences for their actions. Speaking from the wise perspective of a professor of education, and from her experience as a labor leader, she boldly set out the faculty’s position and argued that preventing faculty from making up the work, as the administration had chosen to do under then-President John Bernhard, would hurt WMU students as much as faculty. Her remarks are quoted in full on the WMU-AAUP blog, so I will just quote her briefly here:

The essence of the anger on our campus springs not from any single term or condition or event, but from an attitude which pervasively reflects a lack of respect for the faculty.

The faculty’s feelings arise in response to an attitude that tells rather than asks, that assails our civil liberties, that treats us as identical and interchangeable parts, like cogs in a bureaucratic machine – an attitude which fails to appreciate our diverse, continual, loyal, excellent [and often] unpaid service to Western, or to recognize that the faculty, together with the students, is the essence of any university.

Mary Cain spoke those words 32 years ago.

After her retirement in 1992, Mary continued to participate actively in campus life and to support the work of the WMU-AAUP. As recently as 2014, then 89-year-old Mary still regularly attended our Executive Committee meetings, representing Western’s Association of Retired Faculty, and she was as sharp, funny, and fearless as ever. She also participated in the chapter’s 2014 contract campaign, including as a guest speaker at our Union Pioneers Panel in February 2014 and as a frequent advisor to the chapter leadership.

The officers, Executive Committee, Association Council, and staff of the WMU-AAUP, on behalf of the Board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, offer our deepest condolences to Mary’s family and friends on this profound loss.

But it is not enough simply to offer condolences and remember her fondly. We owe this woman who committed her life to justice and equality for all people better than that. We owe her better than to try to erase the lived reality that she experienced, that women in this world and on this campus face when they dare to stand up, to speak up, and to lead.

In her obituary, Mary’s family writes that she “spent her adult life working for justice and equal rights for all people” and was “a champion of equal rights for women.” One of the many things I admired about her is that even though as chapter president she endured all kinds of blowback for the risks she took on behalf of the faculty, she never let what people thought of her or what they said about her stop her from doing what she knew was right. She just did it anyway. I admire that about her because I understand how hard that is, to live your convictions, to try to serve others honorably, to keep going, to just do it anyway. But I also know that the more of us who do it, the safer it is for other women to step up and do it too. This is how change happens. Every time I look at Mary’s portrait in our offices at Montague House and see her fabulous smile, I remember what’s at stake and what I owe her. I understand that I am standing in this spot today because of the trail that Mary Cain blazed. I take that responsibility very seriously.

But Mary knew, and I know, that cultural shifts are slow, that they take time and require persistence. This is why we can’t back down when we know we have justice on our side. And it works. Attitudes shift.

But at this point, that is not enough. We need to move faster and more decisively. The 2016 presidential election campaign and the horrifying discourse to which it has given voice, laden with the most vile and ignorant racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, should be a wake-up call for all of us. As an institution of higher learning, we have the responsibility to take the lead and stand up, individually as well as collectively, against these poisonous, dehumanizing values.

“Diversity” and “inclusion” have to be more than just words to us. At a time when public discourse has reached what is quite possibly its lowest point in recent memory, we need to understand the connections between the disgusting rhetoric that a major-party presidential candidate has attempted to legitimize and the more subtle and even casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, and other bigotries that are part of the everyday lived experiences of real people, including on this campus.

How are we to make sense of this poisonous campaign discourse for and with our students? And who are we to profess even that we can make sense of it, when the attitudes articulated in that discourse pervade even our own campus culture?

We still have women on this campus who are paid inequitably. The message to faculty and perhaps especially to support staff, who are predominantly women and among the lowest-paid employees on this campus, has been that pay equity is not a priority at WMU. Once in a while an individual salary adjustment is made. But the stubborn structural problems that create and perpetuate gender and racial inequity in the first place continue to be ignored. The equity problem persists because it is merely a symptom of something larger and a consequence of an institutionalized resistance on this campus to taking on the problems of structural sexism and racism at their roots.

Dr. Cain’s presidential terms and mine are 30 years apart. I don’t want to say that nothing has changed. Of course some things have improved. But if I am going to be honest here, and you know I am always honest here, I have to say that not enough has changed. And we are going to have to do better.

There are still too many people on our campus who think nothing of speaking to and about women, including in the workplace, in ways that are disrespectful, patronizing, inappropriately gendered, and even sexualized. Some of the people who talk this way appear not even to realize they are doing it.

I don’t want WMU to keep losing women faculty. We have an especially hard time retaining faculty women of color. Often the ones who stay feel isolated or are treated like they don’t belong here. I don’t want the women who do the work of this institution – from instruction and research and advising to office support, administration, food service, maintenance, and everything else that keeps this enterprise afloat – ever to be made to feel less than, to be paid less than, to be treated as less than.

Mary Cain spoke up for women over the course of her entire career and even after her retirement. I am trying to honor her example. But you all need to honor it to. The women and men of Western Michigan University – faculty, staff, students, alumni –  need to see a deliberate, conscious commitment that starts at the top – that is with you, ladies and gentlemen of the board – which could use more women on it, by the way – to say not only with words but with every action and in every interaction that we reject racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms.

Take the lead. Make this something distinctive and important about Western Michigan University. You won’t be doing it for me. You won’t even be doing it for Mary Cain, although it is the least that she deserves. You’ll be doing it for yourselves, for your families, for our students, our alumni, our community, and this institution. I’m not talking about lip service. I’m talking about soul searching.

Mary Cain, as I said, was the first woman president of the WMU-AAUP. Here I am, 30 years later, the fourth. And here we still are. I am speaking now to all the men on this campus, members of the Board of Trustees and everyone else: This kind of destructive, soul-stealing, dehumanizing behavior doesn’t stop until you join women and people of color in standing up to it. Stop tolerating sexist and racist jokes. Stop repeating stories that have no purpose but to hurt, to slander, to try to discredit. Stop standing silent while others engage in these behaviors. Say something. Set an example. Be an ally. You don’t have to participate actively in the behavior to be complicit in the damage it causes to others. All you have to do is nothing.

As I wrote in the WMU-AAUP statement about Mary, all WMU faculty and retirees owe her a debt of gratitude for her courage, foresight, strength, and humor. We are humbled by our responsibility to honor her legacy, but we know she is counting on us to stand together for the future of the faculty and the university to which we, like Mary, have committed our professional lives, and we are determined not to let her down. She understood the central role of faculty to the success of the university and the critical importance of faculty rights as autonomous professionals, entitled to meaningful participation in leading the development of the university’s priorities.

She also understood and experienced the damage that sexism, racism, and other bigotries cause to individuals and to the institutions that tolerate them, and she spent her life standing up against them.

Dr. Mary Cain lived her convictions. We owe it to her – all of us owe it to her – but also to ourselves and to our students to live ours. As we mourn her passing, we can take strength from the example she set for us and honor her by following that example.