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WMU's President Montgomery responds to a no-confidence vote

A group of people stands spread-out along a sidewalk, holding signs and wearing anti-Covid masks. They are dressed in mostly dark heavy winter clothing
Sehvilla Mann
/
WMUK

Western Michigan University’s president on Thursday told the school’s trustees that he’s taking steps to listen more to members of the campus community. But Edward Montgomery defended his leadership of the school in the wake of a faculty no-confidence vote.

Montgomery has gotten deeply mixed reviews lately. Last month Western’s Trustees gave him a raise and a $75,000 bonus, while praising his leadership throughout the pandemic. But one day later, Western’s full-time faculty union, the WMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, declared no-confidence in Montgomery – a position supported by almost 80 percent of members who voted.

WMU-AAUP president Cathryn Bailey told Trustees that falling enrollment, a drop in some national rankings and staff shortages helped lead to the vote, along with a failure of listenership on the part of the school’s top brass.

“When we raise our voices to name real problems that cannot be addressed by more boosterism and cheerleading, we discover once again that we have become invisible to our own leaders,” Bailey said.

WMU Trustees Chair Lynn Chen-Zhang said the Board would respond to the faculty union’s complaints, and Montgomery said he’s started keeping office hours where non-administrators can talk to him.

“I want to spend more time with our community listening and asking questions, understanding how we can make Western even stronger,” he said.

Otherwise Montgomery said he was making tough but necessary decisions in tough times so the school doesn’t “cling to the familiar.”

“Had we as a nation, state, embraced that thinking during the Great Recession, the American auto industry would have collapsed and our state would have been devastated,” Montgomery, who served as auto czar during the Obama administration, said.

“Painful adjustments”

As the “car czar,” Montgomery helped oversee the auto bailout, but Western has not bailed out departments so much as cut them during his tenure. University spokeswoman Paula Davis later clarified that Montgomery meant Western would have to undergo difficult changes to find a sustainable course, like the car industry during the Recession.

“GM and Chrysler originally came to the government seeking a bailout but saw no need to change despite more than a decade of losing market share and experiencing lack of customer confidence,” Davis wrote in an email.

“The company's perspective was: We don't need to change, just provide us the resources to continue as we were; change is not necessary. If they had continued along that path, the Obama administration's contention was that soon there would be no American auto industry.

“By undergoing change and making painful adjustments, the result was a revitalized set of companies, growing or even record sales, and ultimately rising employment and compensation,” David continued. 

“Likewise, change being advanced at WMU is designed to move the institution forward so that it can prosper and continue providing students with the high-quality education they deserve.”

A Zoom screen grab showing four members of the Board listening as Montgomery talks
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK
/
WMUK
WMU President Edward Montgomery, top left, speaks during Thursday's Board of Trustees meeting. Montgomery and some Trustees met in person at the Bernhard Center, while other joined the meeting virtually.

Rally

About 20 students, staff, faculty and supporters demonstrated in front of the Bernhard Center ahead of the Trustees meeting. They called for changes including better communication between university leaders and the campus community and a thorough review of COVID-19 safety protocols.

Irene Kivinen, treasurer of the Part-Time Instructors’ Organization representing adjunct faculty, said given temperatures in the low 20s at most, she was pleased with the turnout.

“It is freezing out here, and we did put this together on kind of short notice,” she said.

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