80 CAH staff and faculty sign a petition objecting to an ‘arguably unethical’ fundraiser

Mitchell Roland, Editor-in-Chief

Some staff and faculty members in the College of Arts and Humanities (CAH) say they have felt pressured to donate to a fundraising campaign that will award funding towards department projects based on the department that donates the most.

The campaign, Choose Where Change Happens, is a two-week effort that started on Feb. 15 and will run through Feb. 28. It encourages faculty and staff to give to any university unit, student organization or scholarship program. This can be done either through money being taken out of their paychecks or by clicking on “give” buttons located on many unit homepages.

Both The Observer and the communications department operate under CAH. Rebekah Blum, the lead graphic designer at The Observer, appears in a video for the fundraiser talking about the impact a scholarship made for her. Blum was not involved in the reporting of this article.

According to the ground rules distributed by the college, Choose Where Change Happens has two prizes. A $5,000 prize will go towards “the department with the highest participation by February 28th” and a $2,500 prize will go to the department “with the largest combined total given by February 28th.” Both sets of prize money will be used towards a “high priority department need.”

Eighty CAH staff and faculty members, 47 with names attached and 33 anonymously, signed a petition which was sent to CAH Dean Dr. Jill Hernandez on Feb. 11 objecting to the fundraiser. In the petition, they said they believed the $5,000 prize and the incentive structure “is inappropriate, and arguably unethical” and could contribute to a “subtly-coercive workplace where money is a signal of loyalty.”

“By making the funding of departments partly dependent on monetary contributions from faculty and staff in those departments, the incentive structure creates a corrosive competition between departments to generate such contributions,” the petition reads.

In the petition, the staff and faculty wrote that “incentive structure fails to respect the differing financial situations of different faculty and staff, and therefore of different departments” and staff and faculty may want to contribute donations elsewhere.

“The incentive structure involves soliciting money from the salaries of employees in order to create the very funding that allows the employees to do their job, which seems both illogical and inefficient,” according to the petition.

The petition pledges the authors and signers will either donate anonymously or not donate at all “until the $5,000 incentive prize is withdrawn.”

Dr. Gary Bartlett, a philosophy and religious studies professor who organized the petition, said he was informed of the incentive through an email from Hernandez on Feb. 1, and started discussing the “troubling” incentive with his colleagues in the philosophy and religious studies department.

“I expanded my discussion to some colleagues outside of my department, but still in the college, and everyone I talked to thought it was, to some degree, concerning,” Bartlett said. “I didn’t find anybody who thought it was a good idea.”

Prior to writing the petition, Bartlett said both he and other groups of staff and faculty had made “attempts” to talk to Hernandez about Choose Where Change Happens. According to Bartlett, while Hernandez acknowledged the disagreement, she told staff and faculty members the fundraiser was okay.

“She appreciated our point of view, but was not going to change the plan,” Bartlett said.

While Bartlett said some faculty have indicated to him privately that they feel pressured to donate to the campaign, he does not feel pressured himself.

“I don’t feel that I am in any danger of, you know, any sort of repercussions if I personally do not donate,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he sent the petition to Interim Vice President of University Advancement Rick Paradis and Interim Associate Vice President of Development Shawn Lowney on the morning of Feb. 25.

In response to an email from The Observer requesting an interview, Paradis wrote in a Feb. 26 email that over the years CWU has “strategically implemented plans that promote a culture of philanthropy.”

According to Paradis’ email, the university has begun “developing a new comprehensive, university-wide plan to guide Central’s strategic decisions while remaining true to our core values.”

Paradis wrote in his email that the four pillars of the plan are “access, opportunity and engagement,” “transformational teaching and learning,” “sustainable support and growth” and “inclusiveness and diversity.”

“I welcome the opportunity to continue a dialogue focused on a major comprehensive capital campaign and the culture of philanthropy at CWU,” Paradis wrote in the email. “These efforts will be critical to Central Washington University’s ability to continue to provide exceptional student experiences and be a destination institution for students, faculty and staff.”

Several emails and documents provided to The Observer by an anonymous source partially show the planning and implementation of Choose Where Change Happens.

On Jan. 28, Hernandez instructed each department in CAH to tell Katharine Reed, the senior director of development, what the funds would be used for by Jan. 29. A department is eligible to win both prizes, which means one department could win a total of $7,500 through the fundraiser.

According to a Feb. 8 email, among items the prize could go towards are:

  • A 3D printer and a computer for the Art and Design department.
  • A scholarship to study abroad in the history department.
  • The purchase and installation of a flat-screen TV in the middle of Lind Hall and modular furniture for the TV studio “that can double as a training set for the center of excellence in public speaking we would like to set up” for the communication department.
  • Video, recording and streaming equipment for the concert and recital hall in the music department.

Hernandez wrote in the Jan. 28 email the funding for the prizes will come from the dean’s unrestricted funds, and that they would begin “ramping up messaging” on Feb. 1. The Dean’s office is not eligible to receive the prize money, according to the Jan. 28 email.

“I’ll be excited to see what your fundraising dollars will support!” Hernandez wrote in the email.

In an email to staff and faculty announcing the rollout on Feb. 16, Hernandez attached documents that laid out the “ground rules” for the campaign, the goals for each department and a step-by-step guide to making deductions from their paychecks on MyCWU for donations.

“The Campaign is just one of the myriad ways we can positively impact our students and the community,” Hernandez wrote in the email. “As always, thank you for all that you do to meet the diverse needs of our College’s students!”

On Feb. 24, Katharine Reed sent an email to the CAH department chairs that read that they are “in the home stretch” and thanked them “for all of the encouragement you have given your faculty and staff to participate in this campaign.” Reed wrote that she added a column to a campaign stats Excel spreadsheet with how many staff and faculty members have yet to donate.

The column is titled “lapsed donors” which are defined in the spreadsheet as “faculty and staff who have given before but not in FY21.” According to the spreadsheet, as of Feb. 22, there are 43 lapsed donors in CAH.

“I wanted to let you know how many donors you have in your department who have given in the past but are not yet giving this year,” Reed wrote in the email. “Please encourage them to renew their support and Choose Where Change Happens! Wishing you success, Katharine.”

In the spreadsheet, donors are not personally identified.

Reed did not respond to a request from The Observer for an interview.

On Feb. 25, Hernandez sent The Observer an email in response to a request for an interview in which she wrote that the campaign has “tripled participation in faculty and staff giving, and our goal was to double it,” while declining further comment for this story.

On Feb. 26, Hernandez declined an additional request from The Observer for an interview.