WMU faculty member helps found “Feed the Fight Kalamazoo”; urges WMU colleagues to donate or volunteer

A WMU faculty member has been at the heart of efforts to simultaneously support local healthcare efforts and the Kalamazoo economy. Dr. Sally Hadden (History), together with Jodi Michaels (executive director of Colleagues International) and Adam Strong-Morse (local entrepreneur) have started a group called Feed the Fight Kalamazoo. It launched publicly and delivered its first meals this past Monday. As of today, FTFK has delivered over 700 meals to Bronson Health Center, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Family Health Center, and is working to develop additional partnerships. The meals are funded by public donations so restaurants are financially compensated for their efforts. More information is at FTFKalamazoo.org.

Feed the Fight began in Washington D.C., but each city group is independent, so all money raised in Kalamazoo stays here. The process is as follows: the public donates to FTFK (tax deductible, 501(c)3), FTFK places an order with a restaurant to purchase the meals (the number matching the request we get from hospital or KDPS), and then the meals are delivered to the hospital or KDPS and distributed to workers. It’s effective, Dr. Hadden says, because “restaurants get income, people at home get to support both restaurants and frontline workers by sending them free meals while remaining socially distant, and frontline workers against Covid19 get support directly from the communities they serve and live in.” FTF Kalamazoo is a non-profit organization, run solely on a volunteer basis, and all funds go to purchase meals.

WMU faculty questions highlight need for collaboration with faculty in university decision-making

Below is a partial compilation of questions expressed by Chapter members in recent weeks through emails, social media, direct conversations, and comments from various meetings. Do you share any of these concerns? What would you most like Chapter leaders to know about how WMU’s response to the pandemic is impacting you, your families, and your students? What can we all do to better ensure that faculty and staff are included as collaborators in WMU’s ongoing decisions during these volatile times?

Please attend today’s virtual all-Chapter meeting (Friday, April 17, 1:30-3) prepared to share your thoughts about the issues below, as well as your particular questions, concerns, and good news with Chapter leadership and other faculty colleagues.

WMU-AAUP member concerns (a partial list, culled from emails, social media comments, direct conversations, and comments made at various meetings)

  1. WMU will receive 15.5 million dollars as part of the federal stimulus package related to the pandemic. What will the WMU-AAUP do to ensure that there is transparency, and that the voices of faculty and other employees will be included, in WMU’s allocation decisions?
  2. When will decisions be made about how Summer II and Fall classes will be conducted? What steps is the Chapter taking to ensure that faculty will be involved in this decision-making?
  3. In its March 26th open letter to WMU about staff lay offs, the WMU-AAUP made specific requests, including that WMU “immediately appoint WMU-AAUP members” to a task force charged with collaborating in future decision-making, and that WMU “provide a complete and detailed report of the financial situation that has justified” staff layoffs, and “share the numbers of WMU employees impacted by these measures.” Did WMU admin respond to any or all of these demands? If not, what steps have been, or will be, taken by the Chapter to ensure that these WMU-AAUP requests, and those made in the future, will be taken seriously by WMU?
  4. How is the Chapter addressing the impact that admin’s policy decisions have on faculty research, for example, grant preparation support and access to campus facilities?
  5. How was the decision made to move summer classes online? Given the contractual issues involved, was the Chapter consulted first? How? What was the Chapter’s response?
  6. How has the employment of bargaining unit faculty been impacted by admin’s decisions, for example, term faculty contracts that have been frozen, or term position conversions that have been halted? What plan does the Chapter have for following up on this given the devastating impact on term faculty colleagues and their families?
  7. How has the work of individual faculty or faculty groups been contributing to the pandemic response efforts? Do we have a way of acknowledging and celebrating the efforts of faculty who are using their expertise to help address the pandemic?
  8. How is the Chapter following up on faculty concerns about both students and instructors being properly resourced with respect to distance education, e.g., access to high quality teaching and learning tools, and appropriate measures to ensure cyber security and the protection of intellectual property rights?
  9. Assuming there continue to be restrictions on large gatherings, what backup plan does the Chapter have for catalyzing member engagement, for example, effectively organized virtual meetings, or alternative forms of direct action, e.g., protests, should these become necessary as negotiations proceed?

Why should I care about the WMU-AAUP’s 2020 negotiations? Four core values at the heart of the struggle

As the WMU-AAUP heads into another contract negotiation cycle, all members have the opportunity to highlight our most fundamental values when talking with colleagues, students and other community members. They may already know that the WMU-AAUP fights hard for salary and benefits at the negotiating table, but be less aware of how other campus concerns show up on the Chapter’s agenda. Here’s a quick summary, then, for the next time you run into someone who’s not quite able to connect the dots between their daily professional burdens and battles and the hard work of our negotiating team.

Foundational WMU-AAUP values and concerns:

  • Shared governance: faculty are primary stakeholders at WMU; we must be consulted, as directed and implied by the Agreement, and ought to be consulted on other matters likely to impact WMU’s campus community; important decisions made by WMU admin without consultation with the Chapter are of legitimate concern to our members
  • Working conditions: the requirements and demands made upon faculty time, as well as the campus climate, are of central interest to members, for example, fair and equitable workload, as well as large-scale administrative initiatives (e.g., general education overhaul or program review), and campus climate issues such as harassment and bullying
  • Academic freedom: the ability to explore, discuss, disseminate, and teach without fear of interference or reprisal is critical; examples of issues associated with this value might be: WMU’s use of faculty activity reporting, workload reports, and student evaluations; the shift away from tenure-track positions and increasing reliance on temporary instructional labor (e.g., part-time and term colleagues); administrative monitoring or undue scrutiny of faculty expression in, for example, syllabi, blogs, social media, or the classroom
  • Fair and equitable compensation and robust benefits: Fairly compensated, tenure-track faculty positions with competitive benefits packages ought to be among WMU’s very highest priorities; in general, the prioritization of people and resources central to WMU’s core academic mission as a research-intensive university are to be highlighted

Thank you for having the WMU-AAUP’s core values close at hand the next time someone wonders about the purpose or efficacy of our collective bargaining unit. The briefest response may simply be that the WMU-AAUP stands for what is best about higher education: research and creative activity, student success, and the dignity and viability of the professional lives at the heart of the academic mission. Together we are stronger!

Can WMU do more to address the student mental health crisis?

At a Board of Trustees meeting, the WMU-AAUP urges greater attention to student mental health and the faculty professionals who provide mental health services

Delivered by WMU-AAUP President, Prof. Carol Weideman
December 13, 2019

Thank you for this time to speak. The WMU-AAUP is a faculty voice that isn’t always easy to hear. I understand that it may seem like we consistently identify problems, but it is our job to protect the contractual agreement that was signed between the BOT, administration, and our board appointed faculty. By doing this, it creates a safe place where we can challenge each other, and ultimately have a stronger institution.

First and foremost, I’m proud to be a faculty member of WMU, ranked #1 in the top 10 best Hidden Gems of public universities in the US. We will be celebrating the next group of graduates this upcoming Saturday, and I’m looking forward to seeing the fabulous smiles, the jubilation, selfies, and as always, the shoes.

In the short time I have for my remarks, I’d like to raise an important concern. In a meaningful discussion with President Montgomery last week, the WMU-AAUP VP, Mark St. Martin and I raised our concerns about the current status of student counseling needs and transparency between the administration and the university community as a whole. I can speak more about the transparency conversation at a later date; for now, I’ll focus on the mental health/counseling needs.

This was not an unfamiliar topic with President Montgomery, and so we were able to freely express the basis of why we brought the topic of counseling needs and faculty security to our meeting. President Montgomery understands the mental health concerns we are facing, and Mark and I felt the discussion was lively and heartfelt. Just a few days before our meeting, the Kalamazoo Gazette featured an article entitled “Student need for counseling surges.”, with the subtitle “More college kids are turning to schools for help with their mental health, and schools are struggling to meet demand.” (December 1, 2019.) This article outlined the disparity between need and available resources across many university campuses. WMU is not alone with trying to find ways to counter the number of students needing mental health treatment, and we understand the administration is working on this challenge.

This is some specific data I will share regarding the mental health status of college students from a national data set. There is a distinct trend in the increase in percentages of students experiencing overwhelming anxiety (30.7% last 2 weeks, 14.1% 30 days) and felt so depressed that it was difficult to function (17.5% last 2 weeks, 8.9% last 30 days). There also is an increase in students coming to campus with diagnosed mental health issues. In this same report, 24% of students indicate diagnosis or treatment by a professional due to anxiety and 20% with depression, and 12.3% reporting panic attacks within the past 12 months. Approximately 53% of students reported that their academic responsibilities are very difficult to handle. These are just a snapshot from the undergraduate data from the Spring 2019 American College of Health Association National College Health Assessment. Our university last participated in this assessment in 2015, and the data is an important resource for our programmatic planning.

With the development of Think Big, there was a clear ‘new purpose for higher education in society’, and that is wellness. The presenters at the fall Town Halls provided many infographs, and one that stood out to me was the placement of mental health as the foundation. As stated on the wmich.edu/thinkbig website, “Wellness combines with a strong mind and becomes central to our purpose.”

As we enter 2020, we need to consider how we will move forward with providing sufficient mental health care for our students as well as providing the excellent staff we currently have with positions that have stability.

First question: Do we have enough counselors? The International Association of Counseling Services recommends one therapist for every 1,000 – 1,500 students (https://iacsinc.org/staff-to-student-ratios/). The Fall 2019 Census data indicates 21,470 students, from the Sindecuse directory, it appears we have 10 counselors and one intake staff. Only one of those 10 holds a Ph.D and is the only licensed psychologist in the center. Our counselor/student ratio is dismal compared to the accepted recommendations. As a reference point, GVSU has 10 PhD level licensed psychologists (in addition to their master level counselors).

Second question: What is our mental health resource plan for Think Big and are mental health professionals on the planning team? If so, who? The resource plan that is available online is the WMU Healthy Campus 2020 Student Mental Health Action Plan. Two objectives are identified: the first to increase utilization of mental health resources and the second to increase resiliency. This plan appears to be developed on the proportion of students who have same day appointments vs improving the quality of mental health resources. We must first act to ensure we have the professionals to take care of these students. Second, we must ensure we take care of those who take care of our students.

Having a solid team of tenure track counselors, who don’t have to constantly worry whether they have a job next year or not, that can provide students consistent mental health treatment throughout the academic career is what can and should set us apart. Students are coming to campus with more mental health concerns, and treatment consistency is what they seek. Having counseling appointments with the same professional allows a connection to be formed which research shows is the biggest factor in therapeutic change, diminishes the need to reexplain their history and presenting concerns, and provides the opportunity for intensive work.

Currently, we have a crisis where the majority of counselors are on term appointments, which is defined as “appointments are for one-year periods and are renewable annually for up to five (5) consecutive years.” With mental health support the foundation of the Think Big initiative, we raise the need for stability for the Counseling Services faculty. It’s well understood that employees who are risk of losing their jobs show higher perceived stress, anxiety, depression, and negative feelings and lower levels of positive feelings compared to employees not at risk of losing their jobs. People with job insecurity also feel less belonging and lower ties with the working population. This is what many of our counselors face on a yearly basis.

The challenge the WMU-AAUP is facing is how to encourage the administration to recognize the precarious position these individuals are in. We stand in the faith that the BoT and WMU administration believe in shared governance and academic freedom. Providing the pathway to tenure which is ensured in the 2017-2020 agreement will provide these individuals to fully participate, contribute, and better our university. The union urges the administration to work with the faculty to tackle the reality that it’s time to give our counselors the support they need to fully support our students. Mark stated it well when he said “We have to take care of the people who are taking care of our students.”

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to share this message from the bargaining unit.

(Image above from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/emotional-crisis)