07/08/20 Relations with the WSU Administration IN the context of covid-19

This is to keep you informed of the progress of the efforts to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis by the University. The Union leadership is still at the beginnings of a conversation with the Administration over the financial response to the crisis. It is as yet unknown how many students will register and pay the tuition that provides almost two-thirds of the University’s general fund during the current fiscal year. We will keep you informed as the discussions progress.

I want to commend the Administration for initiating the formation of the Restart Committee and its various subcommittees to address the University’s response to the various dimensions of the crisis we collectively face in our institution. The work of the Committee and its subcommittees has been for the most part sensible and helpful to meeting the challenges faced by the University in these difficult times. However, the process of forming the committees raised some important issues.

Representation on Restart Committees. Unfortunately, it was a struggle to get representation of the Faculty and Academic Staff in the membership of the Restart Committee and its subcommittees. The chief manner in which we have a voice in the operation of the University is through the organizations in which we elect our own leaders: our Academic Senate and our Union. In short, our instruments of academic governance and of our representatives who negotiate our terms and conditions of employment. The divergence between the interests of administrators, who have increasingly come to dominate colleges and universities and those of the people who actually deliver the services that justify their existence has become increasingly obvious. A recent book by Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011) is but one useful example of many examinations of this phenomenon. It is ironic that intellectuals wage their wars with the ever-burgeoning assemblages of higher education administrators by writing down their ideas. They often assume that their arguments, if made forcefully enough, will win the day. Their opponents, the administrators, for the most part, wage these wars of ideas by ignoring them and working every day to accumulate power memorandum by memorandum.

President Wilson Insists on His Right to Choose Senate Representatives. The COVID-19 crisis provided the grounds for yet another skirmish between these forces at WSU. The first impulse of President Wilson was to appoint members of these Restart Committees without consulting either the Senate or the Union. He maintained to the Senate President that he could appoint representatives of the Senate instead of them being appointed by the Senate itself. In the initial appointments of administrators to the Committees, those who held retreat positions on the Faculty were identified by an asterisk as Faculty representatives when memberships on these groups were initially published on the University’s website. For example, the Dean of CLAS, as with other such administrators, were identified as Faculty members.

Following protests by the Academic Senate, President Wilson added representatives chosen by the Senate and the Union with one significant exception. The President of the Senate was designated by the Senate Policy Committee for membership in the Finance Restart Subcommittee. President Wilson refused to appoint her to it. The struggle to get President Wilson to recognize the right of the Senate to appoint its own representatives to University committees continues.

For example, the President is in the process of establishing a “Social Justice Action Committee.” In a memorandum to the Senate President he stated: “Faculty representation will be important and I am requesting that you and the Policy Committee of the Academic Senate provide me with fifteen names of potential faculty from which I can select five to be on the various subcommittees.” It is clear that he is committed to the patronizing principle that the Senate cannot be trusted to designate its own representatives. On the five committees that make up the Social Justice Action Committee (no central committee was named), roughly half of those named as members are administrators, there were five unnamed Academic Senate slots on four committees and four student slots on one committee. The AAUP-AFT was not asked for names for appointment to any of the committees.

The charge to the committees from President Wilson is: “(1) examining internal policies, procedures, and practices to identify and eliminate bias throughout the Wayne State University campus that may disproportionately disadvantage historically marginalized peoples, and (2) recommend specific actions for consideration of immediate, short term, medium term, and long term implementation to advance social justice and equity for historically marginalized peoples at Wayne State University.”

Social Justice and Race at WSU. In establishing the Social Justice Committee, the President does not ask that it focus on the University’s obligation to the city of Detroit within which it lives. I would hope that the Committee would examine the issue of what we could do to raise the number of our Black graduates. President Wilson and his senior administrators have been celebrating the increased percentage of Black students graduating from the University. I have suggested that the effusive self-congratulations should be tempered by the fact that during his Administration, the number of Black students at the University has declined dramatically, and there are no policies in place to address this issue. When President Wilson came to Wayne State in 2013, we graduated 527 Black students. This year, we graduated 473 Black students, 10 percent fewer. My communication, slightly revised, to the Board of Governors that deals with this issue is attached. Also attached is a copy of Governor Sandra Hughes O’Brien comments published in Deadline Detroit on this same subject. The pertinent question is what should be the social justice action responsibilities to the community of a university situated in the heart of a city with a population that is 80 percent Black, with half of its children below the poverty level. Why is Wayne State’s Administration committed to a program that touts a higher graduation percentage based on a falling number of Black graduates and a dwindling number of Black students?

Conclusion. It would be much better for the University if President Wilson was a leader who welcomed criticism and was not resistant to the kind of vigorous debate that would be involved in a strong system of shared governance that is envisioned in the Annotated Code of the Board of Governors that states: “… [the] Senate has authority and responsibility for the formulation and review of educational policy affecting the University as a whole.” (2.26.04) Important questions, such as that of social justice and race, should be topics for robust debate within the Senate and between an independent Senate and President Wilson and his administrators. That would be good for the University.


Charles J. ParrishPresident, AAUP-AFT, Local 6075, WSU ChapterVice President-at-Large, AFT MichiganPresident, AAUP Michigan ConferenceMember-at-Large, National Council, AAUP5057 Woodward Avenue, Suite 3301Detroit, MI 48202313.577.1750