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From The General Secretary: Labor and Capital, Working for You

By Gary Rhoades

In the eyes of budget balancers with blinders, professors are labor costs, to be capped, furloughed, and riffed. To those with more vision, however, we are the nation’s key intellectual capital, the wellspring of future knowledge workers, and drivers of our country’s cultural, political, and economic revitalization.

The AAUP is here, working for you, to ensure that public policy and administrative practice recognize the value of the academic profession and provide the conditions that unleash the full potential of that intellectual capital.

The AAUP participated in discussions with colleagues at the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and at the institutional associations of the Higher Education Secretariat (led by the American Council on Education), that contributed to a national economic stimulus package that prominently features higher education and includes federal money for state governments to mitigate public-sector cutbacks. Such stimulus is an important step. But it is far from enough. Our next steps will involve working with higher education groups for a more direct investment in faculty in subsequent legislation. The academic profession can help drive the recovery. We educate and expand the nation’s human capital. We create new ideas and technologies. And, for lower-income students, we provide routes to the middle class.

The AAUP is also working to focus public policy on a crucial demographic challenge facing the profession that requires a major investment in new full-time tenure-track positions. Much attention has been directed to the increased proportion of faculty members who are in contingent positions. Equally important, the faculty is aging. Currently, more than half of full-time faculty members are over fifty, a proportion that has more than doubled since 1969. The academy must revitalize the academic labor force, not only in terms of age but also in terms of ethnic and gender diversity.

In addition to highlighting this national challenge, the AAUP is developing mechanisms for serving and tapping into new pools of prospective and probationary faculty. We are expanding our mass e-mail campaign to include student newspapers and graduate student employees. We are seeking to collaborate with organizations and programs focused on attracting graduate students of color into the academic profession. We are planning to add to our series of practical guidebooks on topics such as family-friendly workplace policies and navigating a faculty career. And we are expanding our Summer Institute, looking to engage graduate students and more diverse groups of faculty.

For more than two decades, our higher education system has followed a path of commercialization, higher tuition, less investment in faculty, and what Sheila Slaughter and I have termed “academic capitalism” amid new economic and organizational regimes. The current economic collapse presents us with an opportunity to recapture the initiative in shaping a public compact between academe and the greater society. And in remaking that compact, we must remake ourselves. In the midst of the most dramatic economic decline since the Great Depression, it is time to set aside the status and revenue seeking that have led colleges and universities down a path of imprudent commercial ventures, disinvestment in educational expenditures, and pursuit of fewer and wealthier students. The narrowly self-interested goals of moving up the institutional ladder by becoming more exclusive, more expensive, and more restricted in focus need to be abandoned. Such priorities serve neither most of our students nor most of our institutions  well. Nor do they serve society as a whole, which needs us to extend and apply the benefits of higher education to a broader range of students and social purposes.

Real transformation would involve changing the demographics (and color) of our faculty workforce to fit our student profile. It would mean expanding our full-time tenure-track intellectual capital. It would mean getting off the rankings treadmill, which many of us decry yet most of us employ, and instead focusing on what colleges and universities can do to contribute to the reinvigoration of society, not only in terms of economic recovery, but also socially, culturally, and in terms of civic and political engagement.

The AAUP is working for you, for academic labor, and for society’s intellectual capital in all of these ways. We invite you to join and support that work.


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