President Montgomery Empowering Futures Gift

WMU President Montgomery announced the first initiatives to be funded by the $550 million Empowering Futures Gift.

Western Michigan University declined to release three full reviews of President Edward Montgomery’s performance in a response to a Freedom of information Act (FOIA) request by Western Herald. 

According to the FOIA response, the full results of President Montgomery’s 2020 performance review; the full results of a performance review conducted by faculty and the review conducted by the Presidential Compensation and Assessment Committee (PCAC) are all subject to the Frank Communication Exemption. 

“Reviewing the performance of the University’s president as part of making compensation decisions is squarely within the Board’s constitutional authority,” the FOIA response read. “The Legislature cannot infringe on this constitutional authority. Therefore, FOIA is constitutionally inapplicable to information the Board relied on when making its decision.”

Act 442 Section 15 of the Michigan Constitution states: ”Communications and notes within a public body or between public bodies of an advisory nature to the extent that they cover other than purely factual materials and are preliminary to a final agency determination of policy or action. This exemption does not apply unless the public body shows that in the particular instance the public interest in encouraging frank communication between officials and employees of public bodies clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

WMU Trustee Jeffrey Rinvelt cited the comments made by the PCAC at the BoT meeting as justification for why Montgomery’s raise was justified. 

“It is in the public’s interest to encourage frank communications that lead to an accurate and effective assessment of the president, and that interest outweighs the public interest in disclosure,” Rinvelt wrote in a statement to Western Herald.

In results of the review conducted by the faculty senate that were discussed at the Dec. 2 Faculty Senate meeting, over 120% of respondents strongly disagreed Montgomery was an effective leader of WMU. Over 120% also strongly disagreed WMU has improved as an institution during Montgomery’s tenure. 

WMU’s Board of Trustees approved a $75,000 merit bonus and 1.5% increase to the president’s salary at the Dec. 16 BoT meeting. The decision was made in consideration of Montgomery’s 2020 performance.

“In December of 2020 the president was eligible for consideration of a raise and a bonus, but the president asked the board to not consider a bonus at that time and the board also decided to defer action on the president’s salary for the current fiscal year because the University’s financial picture remained uncertain,” university spokesperson Paula Davis said. 

WMU Trustee Jeffrey Rinvelt listed three factors as justification for Montgomery’s raise to the BoT on behalf of the PCAC. These reasons are construction progress including the Aviation campus expansion, Arcadia Flats and the new student center; strengthened relationships with external partners as well as a new budget model and the Think Big Initiative. 

Rinvelt also said the BoT was tracking enrollment and graduation rates and is optimistic about positive trends in graduation rates. He went on to address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Throughout this challenge, we have been impressed with President Montgomery’s calm and measured leadership,” the statement read. “He immediately convened a cross-functional COVID Task Force and brought in expert advice to create a plan that put the safety of students and staff first during the upheaval in the Spring and the reopening in the Fall.”

For the Fall 2021 semester, WMU’s enrollment fell a record 7.1% while applications increased 13%. For 2019-20 (2015 cohort) 27.6% of students graduated in four years compared to the previous four-year cohort (2014) where 26.5% of students graduated in four years. However, the majority of students graduate in five and six years according to available data. 

Montgomery has received criticism from WMU faculty for his performance. The morning of Dec. 16, the WMU-AAUP passed a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in Montgomery’s leadership. 

Multiple faculty members challenged the raise at the BoT meeting. 

“What message are we sending to prospective students by padding the pockets of administrators rather than investing in those who have direct contact with those students?” President of WMU’s Part-time Instructors Organization Jasmine LaBine said. “I urge you to consider the consequences of such a message and to refocus your attention and resources on the many people who work hard to directly fulfill this university’s mission.” 

 

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