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Dartmouth College AAUP Chapter

By Kelly Hand

The Dartmouth College faculty formed an AAUP chapter in 1916, a year after the AAUP’s founding, and helped establish detailed rules regarding tenure and guidelines for protecting academic freedom on campus. After several decades of inactivity, a revived chapter is again taking a leading role in shaping policies and improving the climate for faculty at Dartmouth.

The chapter was revived partly in response to discontent among faculty in 2017 over a variety of issues, including a poor record on promotion and retention of faculty of color; the high proportion of courses taught by non-tenure-track faculty who had no consistency in contracts, wages, or titles; and the inadequate and slow institutional responses to numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior in one department. The Dartmouth administration’s failure to articulate its support for academic freedom during the process of appointing its first Native American dean of faculty added to the discontent. (This professor, who was on the board of the Native American Studies Association at a time when that organization supported a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, ultimately withdrew his candidacy in the face of donor pressure and targeted harassment from “alt-right” organizations.)

A major factor in the chapter’s formation was the administration’s decision in August 2017 to censure history lecturer Mark Bray for his research on and media commentary about the history of antifascist organizing generally and the so-called Antifa movement in particular. Bray and his wife became targets of hate mail, death threats, and social-media harassment.

The chapter now includes more than fifty members and exerts broad influence through working groups and constructive dialogue with the administration. We learned more from Dartmouth AAUP executive committee members Erzo Luttmer, Giavanna Munafo, Annelise Orleck, Jeffrey Ruoff, Melissa Zeiger, and Jonathan Zinman.

Why did reviving the Dartmouth AAUP chapter seem like a good way to address faculty concerns and how did you get the process started?

We felt that faculty needed sustained organization and a way to bring in a broader set of perspectives, skills, and faces. Given the issues that had moved us to organize, it made sense to draw on the AAUP’s expertise in matters of academic freedom and faculty governance as well as its research on faculty salaries, demographics, and working conditions— and on the rising numbers, declining pay, and deteriorating status of adjuncts in the profession.

Your working groups on key issues of concern are currently a significant focus of the chapter’s efforts. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that approach?

Working groups enable us to develop carefully considered proposals for best practices around a range of issues that concern our members: making the tenure process fairer and more transparent; beefing up protections for academic freedom; ensuring consistency and basic rights for adjunct faculty and postdocs; and laying out clear, consistent policies around faculty sexual misconduct. The working groups bring together members who have a special interest in or expertise on a particular topic, and meetings are easier to coordinate and more productive if they are not too large. Our members’ time is scarce; choosing one subgroup allows them to contribute in depth on that topic while keeping the time they devote to the chapter reasonable. A minor drawback is that we need to run proposals by members who are not part of that subgroup, but this is what our general membership meetings are for. We are pleased with how collaborative these groups have been and how willing members have been to devote time and energy to these issues.

Prior to the chapter’s revival, many members were active in the campus’s Coalition for Academic Freedom, which mobilized to support Mark Bray. How does the chapter draw strength from and build upon the coalition’s work through its working group on academic freedom and other initiatives?

Issue-specific campaigns are a way to increase turnout when we need it (for votes at faculty meetings, for example) and to draw people into the chapter. While Dartmouth faculty supporting the Coalition for Academic Freedom were in a protest mode, our working group on academic freedom involved people in articulating best practices for the protection of faculty academic freedom. Participation in the chapter’s work around a range of issues is important because it takes sustained effort to strengthen faculty governance and change institutional policies and practices.

The chapter’s working group on tenure has developed recommendations aimed at making the tenure process more equitable and transparent. If implemented, how will these recommendations improve retention of faculty of color?

Retention of faculty of color is an important impetus for the working group on tenure. More equitable and transparent tenure decisions would benefit all faculty but especially faculty of color. The policy document developed by the working group lays out best practices for tenure candidates, for departments, and for the deans and the committee that make tenure recommendations to the college president. Drafting this document, which is now being considered by the deans, clarified for us the complexities of the tenure process, and we hope it will do so for our colleagues as well.

How can the recommendations of the chapter’s working group on sexual misconduct help Dartmouth?

We hope our recommendations contribute to the college’s ongoing efforts to strengthen mechanisms for responding to and adjudicating sexual misconduct. We’re working with the Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct and in partnership with institutional leaders who are responsible for improving our policies and practices in this area. We see our role here as advocating for fair and timely responses to complaints and compassionate communication and interactions with those harmed by unethical or criminal misconduct. We’ll be learning more about best practices and continuing to seek insight from colleagues, claimants, and other experts. Doing this work with care is crucial, since we have the potential to reach a national audience and inspire other AAUP chapters to take on this issue at their institutions.

Dartmouth’s increasing reliance on faculty on contingent appointments is an example of how pervasive the use of such appointments has become, even at elite institutions. How is your working group on contingent labor grappling with this complex problem?

Our contingent labor working group advocates on behalf of contingent faculty in relation to the Dartmouth administration with several goals in mind. We seek long-term (three-year) renewable contracts, extended at least one year in advance, for contingent faculty who have taught successfully at Dartmouth; prorated benefits for contingent faculty teaching 0.5 FTE or more in a calendar year, regardless of terms taught; pay for all work (including independent studies, advising, service, and writing letters of recommendation); annual funds for research, scholarship or creative work, and professional development; consistent criteria for titles for contingent faculty, such as lecturer, senior lecturer, postdoc, adjunct associate professor, research assistant, and research associate; compensation for varying workloads of postdoctoral appointments in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences; and a formal role in governance at the program, department, and school levels.

Your chapter is in constructive dialogue with key individuals in the administration. How did you establish those lines of communication and how might they have a longer-term impact? From the beginning we were pleased with the openness and respect demonstrated by some of the senior leadership at Dartmouth toward the AAUP nationally and toward our chapter. Chapter copresidents Jon Zinman and Annelise Orleck were granted meetings with various senior administrators. We also met with chairs of standing faculty committees, which are ostensibly empowered to make some of the policy changes we are asking for. We hope that this spirit of collegiality will enable our chapter to effect change at Dartmouth more quickly and smoothly than if we had begun with an adversarial approach. We have already broken down silos and begun to improve communication among faculty and between faculty and administrators. In the long term, those relationships will further our efforts to strengthen faculty governance and academic freedom; develop clearer policies to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual harassment; improve wages, job security, and working conditions for contingent faculty; and recruit and retain greater numbers of faculty of color.

Does your chapter have a story to share? Write to [email protected] to be considered for a chapter profile in Academe.

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