Our lawsuit and fight for shared governance at wheeling jesuit university academe blog american college madurai

Wheeling jesuit university is a small, mission-driven university that, due to years of administrative turnover, has consistently been faced with financial challenges. In early 2017, our board of trustees hired dr. Debra townsley to engineer a “turnaround” at WJU to alleviate our serious long-term debt. From the start, dr. Top 50 universities in the world townsley upheld that the board desired a more “ flexible” workforce and, over the course of her leadership (which ended in july, six months earlier than expected), she prioritized changing the faculty handbook. To those ends, she undertook actions which, by her own admission, did not follow the existing handbook’s terms. Among these were unilaterally changing the university’s CUPA designation and implementing a new faculty salary plan, immediately altering the salaries of about two dozen faculty (cutting some and raising others) but without producing any net savings.

Throughout these events and during larger handbook-revision discussions that followed, the faculty held that there was (and is) no evidence that shared governance contributed to the university’s financial difficulties. Indeed, during the years in which the prior handbook was in effect (and despite chronically low faculty salaries) WJU’s national rankings remained commendable.

Our lawsuit against wheeling jesuit university ( mcginnis, et al v. Wheeling jesuit university) alleges a breach of contract and is a struggle for maintaining shared governance. In late february of this year, after six months of contentious discussions between the faculty and then-president townsley, the faculty voted down her proposed revisions to the handbook. Despite the faculty vote, the board of trustees implemented this revised handbook with additional changes that had not been part of the handbook the faculty voted down, which further nullified faculty governance over curriculum and faculty salary plan. University rankings times moreover, the administration immediately issued new contracts under the revised handbook and required faculty acceptance within ten days or else “the position will be considered vacant.” what was most alarming is that the ten-day timeframe and threat of job loss was different than the language in the proposed handbook that the faculty voted down; the voted-down version contained no language about non-continuance of employment and allowed a month for employees to sign. The message was clear: accept this new handbook or look for a new job. Subsequently, a group of faculty (currently eight) filed for a declaratory judgement in the ohio county circuit court (WV). Pat cassidy, an employment lawyer and WJU alum, is representing the plaintiffs.

Our complaint alleges that by implementing the revised handbook the board violated the contractual terms of the “old” faculty handbook. Specifically, the prior handbook declares the handbook as “contractual” and stipulates that the sections dealing with curricular and salary matters can only be changed by faculty concurrence. The manner in which the handbook was changed was not only a contract violation, but the terms of the revised handbook spelled the end of shared governance at WJU. Washington university school of law A few examples illustrate the issues. The prior handbook determined that only certain faculty bodies could introduce resolutions to amend the portions of the handbook concerning curriculum or faculty welfare, whereas the revised version allows the CAO or president to introduce resolutions and then to approve them. The prior handbook specified that the faculty “has primary responsibility over the curriculum,” while the revised handbook reduces faculty responsibility to a purely advisory role. Equally as concerning, the prior handbook referenced in full AAUP standards on academic freedom, tenure, and dismissal; but the revised handbook contains no reference to AAUP standards of tenure and includes only abbreviated statements regarding academic freedom and dismissal.

In response to our lawsuit, the university filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the board held “ultimate authority” and reserved the right to unilaterally change the handbook. Our response stressed that the handbook is a contract and that the board, whether holding ultimate authority or not, did not have the power to unilaterally change an existing contract. In early september, the circuit court judge denied the university’s motion to dismiss, and our case waits for an evidentiary hearing.

We share our story because it mirrors the AAUP’s mission that faculty governance is a positive force which serves the wider interests of higher education. Washington university university college concurrently, many of us participating in the lawsuit are beneficiaries of jesuit education, and all of us are devoted to the jesuit-education ideal of promoting human dignity and justice. In the end, we asked ourselves: how can we stress to our students the importance of standing up for justice without doing the same?