October 28, 2020
Dear Dedee, Hof and Rogan,
A large group of faculty turned out for Monday´s meeting of the WFU AAUP. Only May’s emergency meeting on COVID-19 drew a bigger crowd. Many were there to express disappointment about the process by which the university offered faculty over age 60 an incentive to retire in 2021. The entire assembled group voted to voice the following concerns.
We understand that the University is suffering in many ways, including financially, as a result of the pandemic. However, we are concerned about a cost-cutting process involving the faculty that should have been done openly and in consultation with faculty and department chairs, and then executed in a professional manner.
The process was not transparent, and reveals a breakdown in communication with the faculty. The administration knows that the productivity and success of a department within the University is likely to be optimized when the department as a whole and particularly the department chair is on top of hiring, firing, and retirements among its members. A retirement schedule for each senior faculty member is a delicate and difficult decision in the best of times. In addition to the senior faculty member him/herself, it affects the student mentoring, course offerings, and scholarly productivity for the whole department. Should it be necessary to make faculty staffing reductions, the decisions should be made equitably on the basis of student needs and department chairs should be involved in the decisions.
The incentive plan was poorly rolled-out and generated bad feelings, ill will and confusion. It contained a gross error that, apparently, both the Legal Department and Human Resources rubber-stamped: tenured and tenureable professors are not “at-will” employees. Had they been consulted, any department chair would have caught this mistake.
Senior faculty are devoted to their profession and the University and in some cases, only secondarily think of themselves as employees. For those, the registered letter encouraging retirement by the end of the year was like a stab in the back. A more productive approach would be to have an open discussion with senior faculty and department chairs on how the university can survive the pandemic and beyond.
In addition, if a senior faculty member were to accept the retirement incentive, the administration must recognize that the options listed in the letter for continuing insurance are quite complicated and require a quick turn-around. The faculty ask for professional guidance and adequate time to make these critical choices.
Furthermore, the WFU AAUP strongly recommends that all faculty be treated equitably, particularly in retirement issues. For example, those faculty who in good faith already agreed to retire in 2021 should be eligible for the same sort of incentive packages offered to their colleagues.
We ask for a campus-wide letter acknowledging these concerns over what happened and the harm that this letter has engendered. We ask for guidance regarding insurance options. We ask for clarification of what the university seeks, and does not seek, in terms of reduction in the number of faculty working on the Reynolda campus. Faculty members, particularly the senior members, are eager to help craft the solution that best serves the students and the University as a whole.
Jane W. Albrecht (in consultation with various faculty members), for the WFU AAUP Executive Committee