From The General Secretary: Getting (It) Together

By Gary Rhoades

We have made a good deal of progress. We still have a good ways to go. But we are headed in the right direction. During the past several months, I have traveled around the country to meet with AAUP chapters and conferences. Three themes have emerged from our discussions: (1) is the AAUP’s national office getting its act together? (2) the national office and chapters and conferences need to work together more effectively, and (3) faculty need to get together in addressing the academy’s financial condition and direction.

“National” is not a large, monolithic bureaucracy. The staff includes thirty-five individuals who are deeply committed to the AAUP’s work and who serve the Association’s more than 47,000 members and hundreds of thousands of other professionals in the larger academic workforce. We have made several changes in key areas of the office and have appointed new people to the staff (including yours truly) who are helping us to get it together.

In October, we appointed a new chief financial officer, Tess Esposito, who brings decades of experience in nonprofits and likes, in her words, to “clean up financial messes.” Perfect fit. We are monitoring our progress against a projected balanced budget: we are on track.

Early last fall, a reorganized membership department was established under the leadership of Katherine Isaac, whose good work has enabled us to develop a database of member e-mail addresses that made possible an online election this year. We can now track and better collect accounts receivable. We are making progress.

In September, a new head of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, Greg Scholtz, joined the staff, bringing extensive advocacy chapter and state conference experience as well as experience with Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. We also appointed a new senior staff member in the Department of Organizing and Services, Jenn Nichols, who comes to us with valuable experience and connections from her work as a member of the Michigan State University graduate student employee bargaining team. And in March, we appointed a new associate counsel, Kathi Westcott, whose experience with nonprofit activist and union groups such as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Change to Win is serving us well. Building on the foundation of our very able current and past staff, we are getting better.

The main reason I am traveling around the country is to establish relations with you, to listen and learn. You are the AAUP’s strength. We must better serve your needs, particularly as faculty and other academic professionals are “speeded up” and as administrations undermine professionals’ conditions and terms of work and move to reduce their role in governance.

We must also better tap into your strength by coordinating our work with yours. We have already worked effectively with colleagues at the College of DuPage to fight an outgoing board’s attempt to implement policies inspired by David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights”; with the Indiana state conference in drafting statements on external speakers; with the Louisiana State University chapter to feature its work on furloughs; and with the California Faculty Association to feature and further its campaign for reinvestment in public higher education. We are making progress in better working for and with you.

On the third theme, getting more organized, we are also moving ahead. We are organizing in Ohio. We are working with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Oregon, and we may soon be working with the AFT in another state as well. We are continuing to organize new advocacy chapters (nine this past spring). We are collaborating with the AFT and the National Education Association on key policy statements. We are working with institutional associations and the media to highlight the importance of renewing our country’s intellectual capital. We are focusing more attention on graduate student employees, and we continue to speak to the significance and against the exploitation of contingent colleagues, including postdoctoral fellows, through Committee A work, in newsletters, and at our Summer Institute. We are expanding our outreach to include more colleagues in community colleges.

Clearly, there is much work ahead. But just as clearly, we are getting it together as we work to defend and extend the academic freedom, governance role, and working conditions of academic professionals in the service of high-quality education and of society.

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