From the General Secretary: Changing Our Future

By Gary Rhoades

We are at a transition point, as an association, that is not unlike that of the academy. Our ability to change and secure our collective future will depend on our ability to look beyond ourselves. As an association, our challenge is to attract new members and leaders who will change us for the better, even as they enrich, adapt, and extend the core values of the AAUP and the core functions of the academy. Making that transition successfully requires passing the proverbial torch and exploring new possibilities for our work. It will require expanding our sense of who we are and what we do and grounding that, as did the founders of the AAUP, in service to society.

The future of the AAUP lies in building a membership that is more diverse demographically and in job status, field, and institutional type. It lies in cultivating from those ranks new, more diverse leaders at local, state, and national levels. Having adopted a dues structure with progressive salary bands for members not in collective bargaining chapters, and with the impending implementation of a new software system, we are poised to undertake aggressive, targeted membership drives and to recruit new members in a wider range of settings. We are also better situated to support the efforts of AAUP state conference and campus leaders to build local chapters. In collective bargaining, we have six ongoingother campaigns in the works, one would involve graduate student employees—in sites ranging from a community college to research universities. We are on the move, working to expand our membership in new ways, for to ensure our work’s continued relevance, we must expand in more than numbers.

In cultivating new leaders we are also moving aggressively. For years our Summer Institute has been a valuable experience for local leaders. As we focus on the future, we have encouraged new members and nonmembers to attend; in the process, we have broken attendance records for the last two years, both overall and in first-time attendees. Looking to strengthen our state conferences, we have renewed workshops for new leaders in the Assembly of State Conferences. And the regional meetings of the Collective Bargaining Congress are involving large numbers of new leaders in discussions of current issues and strategies.

We are educating our future leaders with an eye toward recurrent as well as new challenges. Participants at this year’s Summer Institute attended sessions on topics such as analyzing an institution’s financial health and resource allocation; the California Master Plan; academic freedom in speech about institutional matters; medical schools and corporatization; privatization; bridging the gap between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty; faculty diversity; and building faculty and student unity for change. These sessions aimed to strengthen our association’s leadership and also to change higher education for the broader public good.

At the national level, we are discussing changes to nomination and election processes for AAUP officers and governing Council members. These discussions involve consideration of and debate about preferred qualifications. And they involve anxiety about the unknown.

Here, too, I think the future of our association lies in expanding our sense of who we are. The AAUP will benefit from mechanisms that widen participation (of candidates and voters) and diversify our national leadership. I say this not because extensive experience is not valuable but because we are the AAUP, not the AARP, and will benefit from broadening our demographic mix. The AAUP will also benefit from conversations and national leadership that are not captured by the past and by micropolitics but that imagine new possibilities amid current macropolitics, carrying forward the best of what we represent yet also looking to address creatively the pressing issues that confront higher education and society.

Our collective future rests in our willingness to change who we are. In a fundamentally restructured academy, can we adapt to emerging challenges even as we continue to address enduring ones? In a society skeptical of our professional perks, can we convincingly ground our claims in the society’s future, not just in our own past and benefits? I believe that we can, and must.

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