Union Representation at Medical School Is Bone of Contention at Western Michigan U.

February 14, 2012

Western Michigan University's faculty union is objecting to that institution's plan to preclude it from including employees of a planned medical school being built with private funds.

Following a town-hall meeting on the medical school held Tuesday, the union, an affiliate of the American Association of University Professors, issued a statement saying it intended to represent faculty members at the planned medical school, and ensure they are covered by the collective-bargaining agreement it negotiated last year, because it "has a legal and a moral obligation to ensure that the medical school faculty are not rendered second-class citizens" at the university.

The union's president, Allen Zagarell, who is also a professor of anthropology at the university, vowed in the statement that faculty members at the medical school "will be members of our union, with equal rights to tenure and promotion, academic freedom, and participation in the governance of our university." He argued that the source of funds for a faculty member's salary does not determine his or her status or rights to the benefits and protections of the collective-bargaining agreement.

In a question-and-answer session held during Tuesday's town-hall meeting, Western Michigan's president, John M. Dunn, reiterated his position that he does not oppose the unionization of the planned medical school's faculty members. But, he said, the university's AAUP chapter cannot represent them because the medical school will be a separate nonprofit company with its own governing board when it opens in 2014.

In announcing plans in 2007 to build the medical school, the university pledged that it would be financed with private funds. The university has received $100-million in anonymous donations for the school, which will be housed in Kalamazoo in a seven-story, 3,300-square-foot building given to it by a locally based medical-research company, MPI Research. The university plans to operate the medical school in partnership with Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare, which operate separate hospitals in that city.

In the statement his union issued Tuesday, Mr. Zagarell said, "Frankly, we don't understand why the administration would want to privatize our medical school" because "every dollar of donations diverted from Western Michigan University is a dollar that will have to be made up with increased tuition." University officials have characterized the planned medical school as a boon for the city and its economy.