From the General Secretary: Academia Without the AAUP

By Gary Rhoades

From leaders around the country I hear that many faculty members, particularly newcomers, do not understand the AAUP’s value. “What do we get for our dues?” they sometimes ask. I’d like to consider a related question: What would academe be like without the American Association of University Professors? I title my column with a bow to the 2004 mockumentary A Day Without a Mexican, which highlights how our society could not function without the contributions made by Mexican immigrants.

Academia as we know it would come to a halt without the AAUP, because the concepts we have established and fight to defend are at the core of professorial rights and of the academy’s vitality. If you believe in academic freedom, in an independent faculty voice in shared governance, in academic due process and peer review for all academics, and in the security afforded by tenure, then you have the AAUP to thank. For more than ninety-five years we have defined, advanced, and defended these concepts, and the struggle continues. If they are in your handbook or collective bargaining agreement, as they are at colleges and universities across the country, the AAUP helped put and keep them there, embedding them in the consciousness of academic administrators and boards.

The statements, policies, and recommended institutional regulations that we promulgate—on furloughs, free speech, shared governance, outside speakers, freedom in the classroom, academic freedom on overseas campuses, graduate student employees, and other issues— provide chapters, bargaining units, and state conferences with nationally articulated standards to enforce locally.

Our amicus briefs and other legal work establish in individual cases the collective rights of faculty members nationally. Our investigations into and case work on academic freedom, tenure, and governance, the product of the hundreds of inquiries our staff fields each year, forge national standards that help change faulty policies.

In our daily, individual struggles, we faculty members take too much for granted and too little responsibility for the future of our profession. In collective bargaining settings, the AAUP is more than your local or national office providing direct services, more than a union or professional association; it is a national force that defends the profession as a whole, expanding your ability to define the terms and conditions of academic employment. The same is true in nonunion, “advocacy” settings. The terms under which you work are shaped not only by your immediate setting and grievances but also by what happens at colleges and universities nationally. You benefit from the AAUP’s defense of your colleagues elsewhere.

In the midst of increasing demands for more service and our inevitably limited capacity to meet all that demand, can the AAUP find new ways to support members and the profession?

We can. We must. And we are, with more training, in new leaders workshops (to build on our excellent Summer Institute); with a conference during the annual meeting; with more online resources and templates that local chapters can draw on; and with systematic campaigns, such as “Speak Up, Speak Out,” on the freedom of academics to have a voice in institutional decisions.

Moreover, we are working to expand our membership and capacity with initiatives in key advocacy settings (such as the University of California), in twenty-two new chapters, and in five union campaigns across the country. We are also proposing a new dues structure to make it easier for lower-paid faculty to join the AAUP.

If we don’t work together, academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance will disappear. If you think academe should be about shutting up, laying low, and being subject to the arbitrary whims of managers, then you may decide a world without the AAUP sounds fine. If you think otherwise, support us, with your time and money, so that we can become an even stronger force.

The academy is a uniquely vibrant public space. We in the AAUP are fighting to maintain, redefine, and expand that space, defending it against corporatization that compromises the quality of education and the public good. It is that fight you are paying for with your dues to the AAUP. It is a price worth paying.