The San Diego Faculty Association (SDFA-AAUP) is the AAUP chapter at the University of California, San Diego. Founded in 1968, the chapter became a joint endeavor with the faculty association in the late 1990s and has recently begun to take an active role in campus policy issues. SDFA-AAUP has about 120 members, out of approximately two thousand faculty members at the university.
Here, chapter vice president Luis Martín-Cabrera and chapter president Ivan Evans respond to questions about the growth of SDFA-AAUP and the issues the chapter is addressing.
What is your chapter’s proudest accomplishment?
Since the current chapter leaders took office, officially in October, we have tripled the membership. We’re the fastest-growing AAUP chapter in the University of California system, and we hope to continue to grow. We are asking our colleagues to join us so we can be empowered together.
In our short history we have gained a lot of visibility by doing things like being present at almost every rally for higher education and opposing policies that harm the faculty.
What has been the best strategy for recruiting new chapter members and leaders?
We have a few strategies. One is based on the connections that members of the board already have with other faculty, from committees and generally within the university. The other thing we’ve done has been office visits. We go out and knock on doors, talk to people, introduce ourselves, and try to help people understand what the AAUP does. We also put together a survey to find out what faculty are worried about. Are they happy with the direction the university has taken? Do they have complaints or critiques or other worries about where the university is going?
What is the biggest concern of faculty at your institution right now?
I can’t speak for the faculty as a whole, but I think the umbrella issue is that people want to stop the full privatization of UCSD and the UC system. If the administration brings in only the students who can pay full tuition price, those students will displace students of color and poorer students in California.
Administrative positions are growing, but we have fewer and fewer new tenure lines. Graduate students are being asked to work more for less pay. There is worry about tuition increases and student debt. Some people are concerned about the state of retirement and other benefits. Some people are concerned about wages.
The bottom line is that UCSD and the UC system are moving away from their public mission, which is to serve the people of California.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing higher education now?
It’s the same as what we face on our own campus: the fact that the universities across the country, particularly the public universities, are moving away from their mission to benefit the public, educate students, and promote the common good of the community. And now the new idea is, it’s only worth doing something if it benefits corporations or leads to profit. If you don’t do one of these things—if, like me, you work on oral histories, for example—you get defunded.
Getting an education is a right. But now more people feel like education is a commodity, and you should buy it like soup. They act like the UC system is a commodity whose price has been kept lower than its real value. It’s absurd.
What is the best event your chapter has hosted?
On March 1, we participated in the nationwide Occupy Education day of action. We had a coalition of faculty, students, and workers. In our case we had some UCSD-level demands, some UC demands, and some national demands.
In the case of UCSD, the demands have to do with reopening a library that was shut down because of budget cuts and restoring funding for two programs that help support students who were not privileged enough to go a wealthy high school. We were asking for more funding for programs like ethnic studies, literature, visual arts, and history, which had been defunded, and an end to tuition increases. We want fair treatment for workers on campus, who are being asked to work more hours for the same amount of money or less. The crisis is not an economic crisis; it is a crisis of priorities.
What is the worst idea the administration or trustees had in recent years?
There are two. I think the worst one was changing the admissions policy to break the transfer agreement, according to which a number of students in San Diego County could transfer to UCSD. Most of these students come from community colleges, which have a large number of students of color, particularly Latinos. The school got out of this agreement because administrators would rather replace those students with out-of-state or international students who generate more revenue. This campus is already quite homogeneous, and the new policy will make it only more so.
The next worst decision is trying to create a Division I sports program, which puts pressure on students to go into more debt in order to cover the $1 million fee to apply to the NCAA. Just to apply! There’s no guarantee that we will even be accepted. And that’s money that will come out of education or student funding. So the university is shutting down libraries while trying to create a Division I sports team.
What is the best thing done by the administration or trustees in recent years?
I need to think hard about this one. But here’s one incident from a few years ago.
A group of mostly white frat boys decided to throw an “ethnic-themed” party called the “Compton Cookout,” and it was very racist and misogynistic. It created a big uproar among students of color and their allies, and then three days later, a noose was found in the library. Students and a group called the Anti-Racist Coalition asked the administration to make certain changes after this, and they did make a few, though not enough to address the lack of diversity on campus. The core group of coalition members then went on to affiliate with the AAUP.
What one thought or piece of advice would you pass on to other chapters?
I think the chapter was acting always in crisis mode—something would happen and we’d try to respond to it, and then we’d go our way, and then something else would happen and we’d come together again.
But what we’ve come to understand is that the problems are structural, and we need a permanent group of faculty to address these issues on a regular basis. The only way we’ve seen that we can really reform and change is by acting together and adopting a grassroots model, and by engaging other faculty not only to join us in the chapter but also to be active in the chapter.
What other elected faculty bodies exist on campus—for example, a faculty senate or faculty council—and how does the chapter work with them or how does the chapter’s work differ?
We do have a faculty senate. But it cannot, under California law, address issues of compensation. Senators can’t lobby or comment on issues of wages and benefits. The senate tends to be dominated by science faculty, and our chapter doesn’t have too many people from the sciences. We haven’t yet made a full effort to work with the senate, though we are planning to do so.
Some of our members belong to senate committees. The general feeling is that this is why we need the AAUP chapter—those committees and discussions don’t tend to be useful unless we organize colleagues together through the AAUP and put pressure on the senate. We have done that in the past, but we want to do it more systematically.
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