Fairfield University AAUP Chapter

In 1990, after a tumultuous year in which they organized around issues of governance, compensation, and the faculty’s appropriate role in salary negotiations, faculty members at Fairfield University in Connecticut voted to form a Faculty Welfare Committee that would affiliate with the AAUP and serve as an ad hoc committee of the general faculty. In the two decades since, the chapter has remained strong, active, and unified. Of 231 eligible faculty members at the small Jesuit institution, 70 percent are members of the Association.

Here, chapter leaders answer a few questions about their chapter’s strategies, successes, and challenges.

 

How would you describe your chapter?

We are a strong and active advocacy chapter and one of the few nonunionized chapters that, due to our strength and interest in the workplace issues that are often negotiated through unions, has chosen to become a member of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress. As an advocacy chapter at a private  institution, we do not engage in collective bargaining and we do not enjoy the protections and powers that come with being a union. But we are living proof that a group of faculty can organize as professionals around the issues that concern them, backed up by the standards of the profession articulated by the AAUP, even without the ability to unionize. We continually stress our chapter’s goal “to promote faculty welfare, broadly defined,” and faculty look to the chapter to provide information, education, and resources to help them understand the issues and make intelligent decisions.

How do you recruit new chapter members and leaders?

We begin by making a presentation at the new faculty orientation and providing each new faculty member with a personalized folder that contains a mini-Redbook; other AAUP materials; and a payroll deduction form for chapter dues, with a preaddressed envelope. Afterward, the chapter sponsors a family picnic and softball game; it is the only event on our campus open to all faculty and their spouses, partners, friends, and kids of all ages. We are convinced that this chapter event marks the beginning of careerlong faculty connections.

After that introduction, we continue all year long to provide information about the issues we face and facilitate faculty conversations across schools and disciplines. The chapter sponsors a wine-and-cheese reception after each faculty meeting, and people stay and chat for hours. We put out three or four newsletters each semester, and organize brown-bag lunch discussions on a wide variety of topics. At all of our events, we display our chapter banner and, of course, have membership sign-up sheets.

As far as recruiting new leaders, our strategy is to get a mixed group of faculty to attend the AAUP Summer Institute—some seasoned faculty activists and some up-and-coming faculty leaders. The workshops are great and the time together allows us to plan the year ahead and get the newer leaders involved.

What most concerns faculty at your institution right now?

About two years ago, the administration began an attempt to push through major changes to our faculty handbook and to our governance structure, even though that structure models almost exactly the recommendations outlined in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities. The president appointed a commission on governance (headed by two outsiders and also including faculty and administrators) and then a faculty handbook working group (all outsiders) to advise him. These reductions in the role of faculty in determining academic and faculty handbook policies and compensation and benefits.

This somewhat uncollaborative process led the faculty to elect a faculty committee to address the same issues. That committee tried to work out agreements that would be acceptable to both the faculty and the administration; this work came to the faculty in the form of a “package proposal” in May.

The administration initially asserted that if the faculty did not accept the entire package of proposals, then the trustees would unilaterally amend our handbook. This is not allowed by the provisions of the handbook. Negotiations continue, but as of press time, it appears that the faculty have prevailed with regard to the major governance items.

What is the most divisive issue within the chapter?

Merit pay.

What was the best event the chapter ever hosted?

Last fall, we hosted a presentation featuring faculty who were the prime movers when the chapter was first organized nineteen years ago. It was an inspiring session for all involved—for the founders to realize that their hard work nearly two decades ago resulted in a chapter that has become an important and valuable campus institution as well as a strong chapter nationally, for current faculty leaders to express our appreciation to those founders, and for young faculty members in the audience to see two generations of leaders and hear the history of the AAUP and our particular chapter. It was one of the most enjoyable moments of our chapter’s history.

What was the worst idea proposed by the administration or trustees in recent years?

In recent years, we have had to deal with our board of trustees becoming increasingly involved in matters that do not have any fiduciary implications. On occasion, the board has rejected proposals that have no direct impact on the overall budget and on which the faculty and administration are in apparent agreement.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known two years ago?

On a sad note, two years ago George Lang, one of our most valued leaders and friends, passed away after a brief illness. George’s extensive knowledge of AAUP policies, and his clear thinking, allowed many of us to be lax in educating ourselves about AAUP positions on difficult issues (after all, we could always just ask George). George’s death forced us to take a crash course and begin thinking through difficult issues for ourselves. We know now that we really should have been doing this all along.

What projects would you like to undertake if you had more funds?

We’d like to fund more trips for our faculty, especially younger faculty, to attend AAUP meetings, including the annual meeting and especially the Summer Institute.

Information provided by Rick DeWitt, chapter treasurer; Irene Mulvey, secretary of the general faculty; Kathy Nantz, chapter president; and Susan Rakowitz, steering committee member. Would your chapter’s story make a good profile in Academe? Send an e-mail to Gwendolyn Bradley.

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