From the Editor: Reconsidering the AAUP’s History

By Michael Ferguson

This issue of Academe takes an overdue step toward reconsidering the role of race in the AAUP’s history. In a time of backlash against racial reckoning, when the AAUP has become a vocal defender of scholarship and teaching that engage with the history of racism in the United States, the fact remains that the AAUP has not yet fully reckoned with racism in its own past. The Association’s historical contributions to the struggle for racial equity, too, deserve reevaluation, both for the lessons they yield for the AAUP’s ongoing racial equity initiative and for what they reveal about earlier battles over political interference in higher education.

Planning this issue presented challenges. For much of the AAUP’s history, discussion of race was notably absent from the Association’s public work; later, when racial concerns were openly discussed, they still tended to be overshadowed by work in areas that received more resources and attention. This issue thus provides not a comprehensive history but discrete accounts of periods or episodes in which racial issues surfaced. Most of the articles are longer than usual, and all include endnotes—departures from Academe’s usual style that seemed necessary to make the issue as useful as possible.

The issue opens with a pair of articles that discuss W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1945 resignation from the AAUP in protest over a meeting held at a segregated venue. Andrew J. Douglas situates this incident in the context of Du Bois’s “increasingly radical vision” for higher education, suggesting that his conception of a coopera­tive university might point toward an agenda for today’s academic labor movement. Hans-Joerg Tiede fills in additional details about the discriminatory structures that the AAUP’s early membership practices reproduced, including accreditation policies that excluded Black institutions, a system of nomination that created barriers to membership for Black professors, and the practice of sometimes holding meetings in the Jim Crow South.

Moving into the second half of the twentieth cen­tury, Joy Ann Williamson-Lott considers how academic freedom investigations during the Black freedom struggle involved the AAUP in the fight over the role of col­leges and universities in challenging white supremacy. Brian M. McGowan and Edward L. Holt examine the Grambling College investigation, which they connect to the AAUP’s work at other historically Black colleges and universities. This work led to the establishment in 1973 of what is now the AAUP’s Committee on Historically Black Institutions and Scholars of Color, a topic dis­cussed by Marcus Alfred and Kelly Hand. Emily Houh, in the article that follows, revisits the AAUP’s inves­tigation in the Angela Davis case, asking whether the weaponization of academic freedom employed by Davis’s critics “has played a role in creating the existential crises we now face in the academy.” Finally, Risa L. Lieberwitz considers the AAUP’s long-standing support for affirma­tive action and speculates about the future of efforts to achieve a diverse faculty and student body.

We hope that this issue of Academe will open new avenues of inquiry into underexplored areas of the AAUP’s history. Ideas for future articles on race and the AAUP can be sent to [email protected].