Perspective: Retrenchment has been suffocating my voice, but I won’t let it

Gretchen McNamara, a senior lecturer of music Wright State University and union executive committee member for AAUP-WSU
Gretchen McNamara, a senior lecturer of music Wright State University and union executive committee member for AAUP-WSU

Wright State University plans to begin the retrenchment process that will result in workforce reductions. Elevate Dayton is publishing the perspectives of students, faculty, alumni and other Wright State community members that could be affected by the changes. Gretchen McNamara, a senior lecturer of music and union executive committee member, explores her torn feelings about simultaneously advocating for the university and calling out its leadership.

By Gretchen McNamara

Last week the administration at Wright State University triggered their contractual right to retrench faculty. What does that mean? They want to reduce the number of faculty on campus to save money. It feels like a direct contradiction to say, “Choose me, choose the School of Music, choose Wright State,” while simultaneously calling out management and the Board for their negligence and continued disservice to the university.

But you know what? I can. And I will. It’s BOTH, AND. Are there hard times ahead for Wright State with potential retrenchment? Yes. Is the trombone studio at Wright State a good place to land if you are a high school student wanting to pursue music in college? Yes. It’s BOTH, AND.

Management and the Board doesn’t define the quality of our programs, faculty does. We have a fierce passion for our discipline, our pedagogy and our students. I’m shouting loudly that it’s OK to choose Wright State even when it seems like things aren’t going well here. You know why? Because there are people, myself and countless others, fighting to make Wright State a viable place to study and a thriving institution for the foreseeable future. We fight because it’s the right thing to do. We fight at the program and departmental level, and we also fight as a faculty unit. We will fight by all means necessary. It’s BOTH, AND.

As a School of Music faculty member, I have a role and responsibility to recruit directly into our program and my trombone studio. I’m a good teacher and a strong pedagog in both trombone and music education. I care deeply for my students, their successes and their struggles. I want high school students to choose to study with me at Wright State at a time when it’s hard to find something positive to say about the institution’s leadership and management. At a time when I’m also responsible for fighting publicly against the actions of our upper administration and Board of Trustees. You see, I’m also an appointed officer in our local union chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). I’ve been active in our union since 2012 when efforts began to unionize non-tenure eligible (NTE) faculty on campus.

I came to my position at Wright State in 2007 with a terminal degree in music, 17 years of teaching experience in applied trombone, professional performance experience and five years of public school teaching experience as a high school band director. I was paid $10,000 less than the public school teaching position I left six years earlier, several thousand dollars less than my male colleagues both in and outside of the School of Music who were at the same instructor rank (only one of which had a doctorate) and I had no job security. Our first contract not only gave me job security, it also gave me a pay increase to a new contractual minimum salary for my rank. I could finally breathe. I knew where I would be the next year.

I have found union work to be equally rewarding to the work I do in the music department. It is why I joined the executive committee first as an NTE member-at-large as a new union sister. I then served two terms as secretary and digital communications officer. When we went on strike in 2019, I was a member of the negotiating team. I am now AAUP-WSU’s chief negotiator. I was appointed by Wright State’s AAUP chapter leadership, who value my voice and perspective and who trust me to communicate and advocate for the whole body of bargaining unit faculty. I don’t take this role lightly or do it alone. I do it with the support of my husband, my music colleagues, union brothers and sisters on and off-campus and the AAUP-WSU leadership team who has become a second family to me over the last several years.

Retrenchment may or may not get to me. Either way, I will fight AND I will continue to be who my students need me to be in the trombone studio, in our music education program, as a program advisor and as an artist educator. It’s BOTH, AND.

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