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Proposed bonus for WMU president draws criticism on campus

Montgomery, wearing a suit with red tie stands at a lectern near a teleprompter
Sehvilla Mann

Some instructors, professors and organizers at Western Michigan University are questioning a Board of Trustees proposalto give a $75,000 “merit” bonus to the school’s president. It’s on the agenda for a Board meeting Thursday.

The Trustees have also suggested a 1.5 percent raise for President Edward Montgomery, which would bring his annual salary to $493,290. The proposal comes during a fiscally austere time for many departments at Western, which laid off workers during the pandemic shutdown.

Teaching Assistants Union president Thomas Fisher said Western has cut about eight percent of its teaching assistantships since the spring semester, though he said the university backed away from a 17 percent reduction it proposed for spring 2021.

“That large of a cut thankfully did not come to fruition, however the threat of it for a whole semester is certainly damaging to morale and 8 percent is still a significant loss for the WMU community and future recruitment efforts,” he said in an email.

In an interview, Fisher said it seemed “odd to in one breath say that we don’t have the money for these things, and then in their actions to be looking to give out this large sum of money" to Montgomery "in addition to a raise in salary."

“We know the graduate students are not going to continue to consider coming to this university to continue their academic pursuits” if they can’t get assistantships, he said.

“And we know that that then in turn leads to problems with the finances of the university,” Fisher added.

Jasmine LaBine is president of the Professional Instructors Organization, which represents part-time faculty. She said the Trustees are sending the wrong message investing money in “one person,” instead of “the hundreds of people that have really really worked hard to keep this university going through a really difficult time.”

LaBine said that in its latest contract, the PIO had to fight for $100,000 in bonus money to be shared among four hundred members over four years.

“At the snap of a finger they’re looking at giving three-quarters of that to one person, that by the sound of it a lot of people really don’t believe he has earned it,” she said.

Full-time faculty at Western, represented by the WMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, are voting this week on whether to declare “no confidence” in President Montgomery. A WMU-AAUP document shared with a working group cited concerns about falling enrollment, a controversial rebranding effort, a lack of shared governance and “financial mismanagement.”

The document gives “outright misrepresentation of WMU’s financial situation, especially in Spring 2020 during layoffs and early retirement offers,” as one of the concerns with Montgomery’s leadership.

Working group member Jacinda Swanson told WMUK that an independent audit had found the staff cuts were not necessary to maintain Western’s fiscal health.

The review revealed that Western “had tons of money,” she said. “We were fine. We didn’t have to have all those staff layoffs.”

University spokeswoman Paula Davis declined by email to comment on criticism of the bonus proposal. “This is an action item before the board on Thursday,” she wrote. “It would be premature to comment before trustees take formal action."  

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.
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