Tuesday, September 24, 2019

CMU Faculty Association Celebrates 50th Anniversary

by Bryan Whitledge

Growing Pains When Moving from a College to a University

The 1960s were a decade of extraordinary change at Central – buildings sprouted up south of Preston Street, the number of students enrolled crossed the threshold of 10,000,[1] and the number of faculty nearly doubled, from 270 in 1959, when Central became a university, to 531 in 1969. Some faculty also grew unhappy with existing policies. For instance, the early 1960s were marked by personnel procedures that were not necessarily well defined; one critical example was that a faculty retention or promotion decision could come down to a faculty member's "usefulness to the University" – a term the administration never clarified.[2] Another policy that raised eyebrows was that of removing tenure from women professors who married.[3] While not all faculty were unhappy with the administration in the early 1960s, some faculty members sought an increased role in institutional governance and defining personnel policies.

Concern in this area first emerged in 1956, when faculty at Central organized a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The AAUP was and is active across the country supporting faculty in dealing with issues of tenure and academic freedom. In the beginning, Central’s administration expressed little concern about the AAUP chapter.[4] But within a few years, the AAUP chapter became a vehicle through which dissatisfied faculty criticized the administration. In 1963, the Central Michigan AAUP released a comparison of compensation between faculty at CMU and other institutions. The AAUP assigned CMU a grade of "D" on an A-E scale.[5] By the time this report was released, the campus AAUP chapter was both battling CMU President Judson Foust about a number of issues and bringing their complaints to the AAUP’s national leadership. From 1964 to 1966, the conflict between the faculty and the administration grew and deepened.

In 1966, amid the immediate aftermath of a scathing State Senate investigation into the faculty-administration relationships[6], and in the context of the passage of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) of 1965, some faculty members began to urge the creation of a faculty organization to engage in collective bargaining with the University. A survey of the faculty showed that this goal was not universal and there was no support, at the time, for founding a new organization. A majority of faculty members did not support collective bargaining. Of those faculty who did support collective bargaining, the majority hoped the AAUP chapter would serve as their bargaining agent.[7]

Aerial view, CMU Campus, ca. 1969

Labor Organization on Campus

While some faculty members continued to explore their options, they undoubtedly paid close attention to other unionization efforts on campus. In 1966, CMU kitchen, maintenance, and custodial workers formed AFSCME Local 1568. In October 1966, AFSCME members picketed to demand a contract with the University. Their picketing was informational rather than a work-stoppage. But as negotiations, which were already months behind schedule, continued to drag on, the union threatened a strike. Before a strike occurred, a contract was signed.[8]

Another potential strike was averted in July 1968 when CMU staff represented by AFSCME voted to strike.[9] After last minute negotiations, an agreement was reached. Although, at this time, the faculty were not part of any labor organization, many instructors and professors sympathized with those who were unionized and were watching the outcome with great interest.

Change Comes to the University Administration

President Judson Foust’s retirement was announced in the May 19, 1967 Central Michigan Life. A committee of four faculty, four administrators, and one alum counseled the Board of Trustees, who selected William B. Boyd as CMU’s president in April 1968. Boyd was considered a liberal administrator with experience in the California system as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UC-Berkeley. Many hoped he would be an administrator who could work successfully with the faculty.[10]

Boyd was extremely effective in dealing with student challenges and protests during a particularly tumultuous time in American higher education. Boyd attempted to use these same skills to develop better relationships with the faculty and to convince the faculty that he had their best interests in mind. He appointed faculty who identified themselves as activists to committees and invited them into the administrative apparatus of the University. Within two years of Boyd’s appointment, the University Senate (now Academic Senate) was restructured for the second time in six years to increase faculty participation.[11]

But the animosity that had developed between the administration and some faculty members since the early 1960s could not be healed with dialog and the greater participation President Boyd proposed. Even during President Boyd’s "honeymoon period," some faculty expressed concern over what they perceived as hostile actions by CMU’s administration. During Boyd’s first year in office, the Trustees abandoned the idea of a salary schedule that would have been a move toward a standardized pay and promotion policy.[12] Arbitrary decision-making about pay and promotions was a long-standing complaint among some faculty. They clearly felt that nothing of substance had changed, even if there was a new president. Immediately after the salary schedule was dismissed at the April 1968 Board meeting, an administrative officer reportedly stated to the Board of Trustees, "I believe you have just asked for collective bargaining."[13]

Faculty Concerns Lead to Organization

The faculty did indeed begin organizing and the AAUP was contacted and asked to serve as a bargaining agent. When the AAUP proved unable to serve in this capacity, a group of faculty members contacted the Michigan Education Association (MEA), which since the 1965 PERA legislation had been active in collective bargaining in K-12 education. The MEA agreed to be the affiliated agent of the faculty at CMU and, as outlined by state law, arrangements were made to hold a vote among the entire faculty to decide whether or not to organize as a bargaining unit. The date was set for September 24, 1969.[14]

Prior to the vote, the Board of Trustees and the Boyd Administration attempted to head off unionization. In the summer of 1969, the Board of Trustees requested a meeting with faculty members "to have a conversation on personnel matters of mutual interest."[15] President Boyd, during his faculty address on September 8, made direct comments about the vote later that month. He stated that he understood where the desire to organize came from, noting both past difficulties with the administration and the Trustees actions that did not allow for adequate faculty consultation. Despite this history, President Boyd could not have been clearer in sharing what he believed would be in the faculty’s best interest:
"Personally, I hope that this faculty will reject the proposed approach of collective bargaining and rely instead on the continued development of internal governing procedures which will give the faculty a collective and powerful voice in the establishment of budget priorities and in the determination of salaries."[16]

In justifying his hopes, President Boyd stated that collective bargaining would pit administration against faculty in an adversarial relationship defined in the traditional context of management and labor. In his view, an academic institution should be governed by reasoned deliberation among colleagues, rather than an industrial-relations model of two negotiating enemies. Despite his clearly stated preference, Boyd assured the faculty that there would be no professional or personal rancor on his part regardless of the vote’s outcome. Boyd assured all that he wanted to "proceed in good faith to work together for the continued improvement of the University."[17]

The election took place on September 24, 1969. Professor Sherman Ricards described the vote in his memoir:
"I remember the election took place in the Library and some of us were there when the voting finished to await the counting of the ballots. We were all as nervous as we could be but we were trying not to show it. As the man from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission opened the box the tension became almost unbearable. After dumping all of the ballots on the table, he began by sorting the ballots into two groups, though we didn’t know which was the ‘yes’ pile and which was the ‘no’ pile. When he finished sorting he began to count each pile, and I seem to recall he put them in stacks of ten or twenty. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time he announced that there were 231 yes votes and 221 no votes – the union had won!"[18]

CM Life photo, Sept. 26, 1969
The results reported by CM Life showed that 239 faculty supported the measure, while 221 said no.[19] Whether one takes Ricards’ tally or the CM Life tally to be accurate, the Michigan Association of Higher Education at Central Michigan University[20] was formed by a slim margin. For some, the narrow majority favoring unionization raised questions. Did the voice of a narrow majority carry enough weight with the Administration or within the faculty itself?

No matter the questions, the faculty at CMU were now a collective bargaining unit - the first such group of faculty at any four-year college or university in Michigan and the second collective bargaining agent representing faculty at four-year institutions in the US, after the City College of New York.[21]


1. Central Michigan University Bulletin, 1959; Central Michigan University Bulletin, 1969.

2. Cumming, John, The First Hundred Years: A Portrait of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Mich.: Central Michigan University, 1993, pp. 160-67.

3. Foust, Judson, "Correspondence – American Association of University Professors, 1961-63," found in Box 1, President Judson W. Foust Papers, 1923-2002, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

4. Cumming, p. 160.

5. Westie, Charles, "Committee Z Reports," found in Box 3, Ardith Westie Family Papers, 1931-2018, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

6. Central Michigan Life, June 3, 1966, pp. 1-4.

7. Faculty Association, "Faculty Association Brochure, 1978," found in Box 1, Central Michigan University Faculty Association Organizational Records, 1944-2003, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

8. Cumming, p. 170.

9. "Staff Strike Threatened," Central Michigan Life, July 18, 1968, p. 1.

10. Cumming, p. 176.

11. Cumming, pp. 181-82.

12. Faculty Association, "Faculty Association Brochure, 1978."

13. Faculty Association, "Faculty Association Brochure, 1978."

14. Cumming, p. 182; Faculty Association, "Faculty Association Brochure, 1978."

15. Board of Trustees, Central Michigan University, Meeting, July 16, 1969, pp. 57-58.

16. Boyd, William, "Faculty Address, 1968," found in Central Michigan University, Office of the President, William B. Boyd Papers, 1968-78, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

17. Boyd, William, "Faculty Address, 1968."

18. Ricards, Sherman, For Myself Alone, 1982, p. 255

19. Hanlon, Jim, "Bargaining agent accepted by faculty for contract negotiations," Central Michigan Life, September 26, 1969, p. 1.

20. The name was soon changed to the CMU Faculty Association.

21. Cumming, p. 182; Faculty Association, "Faculty Association Brochure, 1978."