Wright State faculty union fears WSU is targeting tenured professors

Union leadership representing Wright State University faculty members believe university administrators seek to “fire” senior, tenured faculty — and the president of the union said the university has hired an external labor attorney to assist Wright State in contract talks.

Leaders of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors)-WSU chapter shared their concerns with faculty in a special chapter meeting Tuesday.

“Once they hired this guy, I can tell you I got super nervous,” said Noeleen McIlvenna, president of the union representing nearly 500 Wright State faculty members. “That’s in fact why I called the meeting and didn’t just write it all out to the faculty.”

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“We consult an attorney, but we don’t have a regular attorney on our team,” she added. “Our negotiator is a music professor. They (the university) already have two or three attorneys on their team — and they are calling in another.”

A message seeking a response was sent to a university spokesman Thursday. If the university responds, this story will be updated.

Sue Edwards, president of the university, has called for renewed contract talks with Wright State’s three employee unions to respond to new state budget cuts and an economy severely damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Wright State announced it was dropping its softball and men's and women's tennis teams in a cost-cutting move.

University leaders across the nation are preparing for the possibility of smaller enrollment numbers. The University of Dayton has furloughed about 450 employees and laid off an additional 60 employees.

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McIlvenna said the faculty’s current contract holds that, if university finances require it, Wright State may cut or lay off younger faculty members.

“But they don’t want to use that process,” she said in an interview. “Because as the provost as pointed out to us, that process means you have to let go the most junior people first, like most businesses. But they really want to get rid of the senior, most experienced teachers.”

McIlvenna maintains that WSU “secretly” hired an external labor law attorney to advise university leaders on negotiating with the faculty and other unions.

She said union representatives have seen email correspondence that confirms the university’s hiring of an outside attorney consultant.

“They had done this now, sometime in May,” McIlvenna said. “They did this telling us they were on a life support budget.”

“She’s willing to spend a great deal of student-tuition dollars on this external person,” McIlvenna added, referring to Edwards.

The union chapter fears what they perceive as an attack on tenure and the existing contract, with an effort to terminate faculty regardless of rank or seniority.

“I think they are right to worry about that,” McIlvenna said. “I think the university does want to do that.”

Feeling that senior, tenured faculty members are at risk, AAUP-WSU leadership have declined contract talks for the moment. On Thursday, the union president said talks likely will not happen this summer on a contract due to expire in 2023.

“We just said, we can’t talk to you under those circumstances,” McIlvenna said.

In August, there will be about 500 people in the AAUP-WSU bargaining unit, down from 650 about four years ago.

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