It was a memorable first meeting for the two newly sworn-in members of the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees, as around 30 members of the WMU part-time instructor union swarmed the inside and outside of the Room 157 of the Bernhard Center Wednesday afternoon, protesting the university’s refusal to sign a new three-year contract with the organization.
Six union members expressed their outrage over the lack of vote of the proposed contract during the public remarks section of the meeting, who all said the board is reneging on a promise to sign the new deal made late last week. Members who refrained from addressing the board held up signs and applauded at the conclusion of their colleagues’ remarks.
Much of the protesters ire weren’t aimed at the men and women sitting at the front of the room, though, but at lawmakers in Lansing. According to union members, the agreement fell through after Republicans in the state legislature pressured the university to reconsider.
“A third party, politicians from Lansing, are dictating a free negotiation between the university and its faculty,” said Thomas Kostrzewa, president of the WMU Professional Instructors Organization, the union that represents part-time faculty. “That isn’t right.”
The instructors who spoke during the meeting said any interference from state legislators in contract negotiations should be considered illegal.
“They’re not allowing the university to micro and macro manage their affairs, as they have done admirably,” said Terry Williams, an adjunct theater instructor and chair emeritis of “They’re not allowing [WMU President John Dunn] and his staff to do their job, they want to micro manage from Lansing and break the law.”
The board members themselves refrained from commenting on the issue at the conclusion of the meeting.
The protest outside the meeting came together rather quickly, as the union first received word that the university wouldn’t put the new contract to a vote over the weekend, Kostrzewa said. Earlier in the month, the PIO held a march through main campus, calling for the university to increase the wages of the university’s 675 part-time instructors.
Wednesday marked the first meeting of the board of trustees during the spring semester, as well as the first official meeting for new board members Michelle Crumm and Ronald Hall, who were swore into office earlier in the day at an informal session held inside the President’s Dining Room. The pair was selected by Governor Rick Snyder last fall to replace outgoing members Dennis Archer and Larry Tolbert, whose terms expired at the end of the year.
The board also shook up their lineup of officers at the meeting, unanimously electing former vice chair and WMU alumna Jeanne Carlson to serve as the new chair, replacing Bill Johnson as the head of board. Carlson wasn’t able to attend the meeting in person, leading the meeting remotely over speakerphone.
“Like Trustee Johnson, I am determined that this university will continue to move forward and prosper,” Carlson said. “My focus in the coming year will be on enhancing the university’s strengths, raising its profile both locally and nationally. But above all, my focus, and the focus of each of us, is on our students and our responsibility that they have the opportunities and academic experiences here that will allow them to be productive and prosperous citizens and leaders in our community.”
Taking over her old position as vice chair is James Hettinger, another alumnus of the university.