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The WMU-AAUP

Founded in 1915, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in colleges and universities in the United States. The AAUP's mission is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.

The Western Michigan University chapter was founded in 1950 to champion the causes of academic freedom, shared governance, and due process here on our own campus and to advocate for higher education as a public good. In March 1974, Western’s board-appointed faculty voted to unionize, and the WMU-AAUP became a collective-bargaining chapter. In August 2022, the AAUP affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), making the WMU-AAUP also a member of AFT, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), AFT Michigan, Michigan AFL-CIO, and the South Central Michigan Area Labor Council.

Today, the WMU-AAUP is a thriving organization of WMU's over 700 board-appointed faculty members. We are an active community of teachers, scholars, researchers, and artists committed to student success and academic excellence. The WMU-AAUP is a faculty-driven, faculty-led organization that continues to advocate for academic freedom, due process, shared governance, and the preservation of higher education as a public good.

WMU's AAUP Advocacy Chapter of the 1950s and 1960s

by Sharon Carlson, Former Chapter Treasurer

The WMU Chapter of the AAUP was founded in 1950 to champion causes of academic freedom, shared governance, and support of higher education. In 1950, Western Michigan College of Education had just embarked on the construction of buildings on the new west campus and student enrollment was just over 4,100. Much would change at WMU between 1950 and 1975. Some issues such as compensation, academic freedom, teaching and technology have resurfaced time and again.

The earliest account of a meeting of the Chapter is dated January 10, 1951. A set of minutes indicates it was the “second organization meeting of the proposed chapter of the American Association of University Professors.” There is no record of the first but it was likely held in late 1950. The first regular meeting occurred February 28, 1951 and twenty-nine members elected the first Chapter leadership. Charles Starring, History, was elected president, and Leonard Meretta, Music, was elected vice president. After the presentation and discussion of a paper titled “Economic Implications of the United States Denazification Program in Germany,” the meeting resumed its business session and turned its attention to the faculty concerns about compensation. According to the minutes, “The matters considered were the current status of the salary position of the college staff, and a canvassing of what was being done and what the chapter itself might do to improve the situation.”

The records are fairly complete beginning in 1952 and many of the issues discussed during the first decade are eerily similar to the work of the WMU-AAUP today. The minutes of January 30, 1952, identify a “committee studying teaching loads, discussion of definition of ‘education objectives’ and presentation of Extension [Program] problems.”

Dr. Ralph N. Miller, English, was one of the most active members and served as president of the Chapter in its infancy. Miller arrived on the WMU campus in 1946. His Ph.D. was from Northwestern University, where he had also taught for five years. Miller would spend 37 years at WMU and serve four terms as president of the WMU-AAUP, including the years when the Chapter voted to form a union.

Salaries and benefits are frequently referenced in the reports and minutes. In the fall of 1956, Chapter President Miller noted that “A Faculty Council committee on insurance does exist” and that “This committee should look into the plans that have been adopted in institutions of various kinds and sizes.” He rightly noted that “It is quite likely that the ‘fringe benefits’ available to college faculty will seem very important by any person who is considering an offer of appointment to this faculty.” By the late 1950s, the Chapter also discussed lagging faculty salaries with increasing regularity.

WMU’s Faculty Senate also explored the topic and prepared a report in 1964 comparing salaries at 280 institutions in 1959-60 and 1963-64. The Faculty Senate report found that the average salary at WMU had dropped from 127th to 180th place and identified a multi-year plan to bring WMU salaries in line with similar institutions. When this was presented by the Faculty Senate to the AAUP, the following resolution was adopted: “The proposals of the Faculty Senate Salary Committee are hopelessly inadequate, and we recommend that the Senate adopt the proposed 1968-69 standard as its recommendation to the university administration for 1965-66.” The motion passed. Other factors cited included the competitive hiring climate of the mid-1960s and the fact that new faculty were being hired in with salaries higher than established faculty.

The salary issue remained unresolved, as evidenced by a resolution documented in the minutes from a meeting on October 12, 1967: “Resolved, that the Western Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors does encourage the Western Michigan University Faculty Senate Salary committee to explore the possibility of securing funds for the employment of a professional consultant to gather salary data in a scientific manner and to build a more effective case for a better salary program at Western Michigan University.”

Some of the issues discussed were very much products of the day and time in which the early Chapter operated. An announcement for a joint meeting of the Kalamazoo College and WMU Chapters on December 10, 1957, included a panel of scientists from both institutions to discuss “The Implication of Sputnik on American Education.” On a more somber note, Professor Dennenfeld, English, brought forth a resolution in early 1959 relative to the National Defense Education Act of 1958. WMU was not exempt from the tense climate of the Cold War. The national AAUP had asserted that portions of the Act were vague and unconstitutional. The WMU-AAUP agreed and passed a motion, which was sent to elected representatives: “Resolved: that the Western Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors strongly protests the Disclaimer Affidavit in the National Defense Education Act and endorses the American Association of University Professors Statement of November 1, 1958 relative to said disclaimer.”

Issues surrounding teaching and the use of the newest technology of the day (i.e., television) also received attention for several years in the early 1960s. The WMU-AAUP newsletter dated April 3, 1962, noted that the April 10 Chapter meeting would focus on television instruction and feature a “panel of faculty who are now or have been involved in courses taught by television.” The discussion would cover release time for preparation of lectures, efficiency of instruction and “freedom to introduce or remove courses from the television instruction site.” The TV Policies Committee was formed in 1964.

In 1961, the Chapter advocated for a statement of “procedural rights” in the faculty handbook. While the late 1950s and 1960s were good ones for the university, when it came to disputes about tenure or promotion, the faculty had little recourse. The Chapter could prevail on the national organization to investigate, but it didn’t have any real teeth beyond bad publicity for the institution or the annual salary listings.

By the early 1970s, the country was in a recession and inflation was a serious economic issue hitting both administration and professors. Western’s faculty salaries continued to lag behind other universities in Michigan, with assistant professors ranked at the very bottom of the 14 public institutions. But it is probably too simplistic to cite salaries as the reason a majority of Western’s 900 faculty voted to unionize and become a collective bargaining chapter in March 1974. There were also a number of non-economic issues concerning shared governance and university policy decisions.

The steps to obtaining the first faculty contract were arduous and the process took over two years. Much of this history is recounted in the 2003 video history of the WMU-AAUP, One Chapter, Many Voices. Perhaps the most compelling statement in the video is one by past WMU Chapter of the AAUP President, Ernest Rossi: “[T]he rise of the importance of this university and the coming of collective bargaining came at the same time,” President Rossi observed. The factors that contribute to the rise of a university and faculty morale are inextricably intertwined.