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Indiana State Conference

By Kelly Hand

AAUP state conferences empower members and their local chapters to work together to advance AAUP policies and goals. By collaborating with colleagues at other colleges and universities, conference members are able to provide mutual support and address concerns about issues of broad interest to faculty across the state—and, sometimes, across the country.  

While Academe typically profiles AAUP chapters, we decided to profile the Indiana conference in this issue because of the conference’s extraordinary work to hold Purdue University accountable as it develops new online programs following its acquisition of for-profit Kaplan University. The Indiana conference challenged the accreditation of a new entity that will be called Purdue University Global, a “public-benefit corporation” that will have the advantages of affiliation with Purdue University, a well-regarded state university with several branch campuses, while bypassing shared governance structures and state laws that apply to public institutions. Purdue University Global’s at-will employment of adjunct faculty, including those from outside the state, will have a negative impact on the status of tenure and on the state economy. Its approval for accreditation in March by the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accreditor for Indiana and eighteen other states, sets a dangerous precedent for privatization.

We asked Indiana state conference leaders about their recent advocacy work and about the potential for conferences to serve as effective vehicles for organizing faculty.

How does the Indiana AAUP conference’s work support chapters and individual members within the state?

The Indiana conference of the AAUP works with local chapters throughout the state to uphold AAUP principles of shared governance and academic freedom. We bring together colleagues from both public and private institutions.

We like to keep a watchful eye on higher education policy coming out of the state legislature and on the activities of the governor-appointed State Commission for Higher Education, where many new rules and regulations have been formulated, including the Common Core and transfer-credit standards. Our state Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure has advised many faculty members faced with challenges in the realm of promotion and tenure, and we have written quite a few letters in the course of grievance proceedings.

How did the conference decide to voice collective opposition to the Purdue-Kaplan deal? What were some of the immediate concerns that Indiana AAUP members and chapters expressed?

The Purdue-Kaplan deal was made public during Purdue’s last week of classes in the 2016–17 academic year. The state conference meets twice a year, once in the fall and again in the spring. The spring meeting took place not long after the announcement, and we devoted an hour or so to vigorous discussion of what was happening and what we should do about it.

Our opposition to the whole plan coalesced almost immediately. The gravest concerns right from the beginning were Kaplan’s lessthan- stellar track record in serving the needs of students; the dire lack of transparency about the terms of the agreement; the failure of Purdue University president Mitch Daniels’s administration to give the faculty any meaningful governance input over either the deal itself or its implementation; the potential impact on the curriculum of online offerings being wrested from Purdue faculty control; the deal’s reliance on the labor of more than three thousand adjuncts scattered all over the country, perhaps even around the world; and the longterm damage to the Purdue brand that seemed likely to come from this effort to merge a land-grant public university with a for-profit corporate enterprise.

As in most states, your conference brings together faculty members from various types of institutions. How did you mobilize faculty around the issues at stake in the Purdue-Kaplan deal and what were some of the obstacles you encountered?

Purdue is a flagship public university in the state, so an attack on Purdue is an attack on Indiana higher education in general. Faculty at private institutions had no trouble understanding the broader issues at stake in this merger, because the core AAUP principles of shared governance and faculty control of the curriculum are obviously under attack. We could not stand by and let this happen on our watch without staging a broad-based protest. We created a petition that galvanized the faculty and became a focus for communication and solidarity. Our current state conference leaders are drawn mainly from private institutions, Indiana University, and the Purdue regional campuses. Several long-standing, active AAUP members from the chapter at Purdue West Lafayette (the main campus) were unable to join in the organizing efforts for a variety of reasons, so we struggled to gain a foothold there until we made meaningful contact with leaders from the university senate.

In your campaign to persuade your regional accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, to deny accreditation to this new educational venture, you secured support from students, other state conferences, and the national AAUP. What were the challenges and benefits of building such a broad coalition?

It was extremely heartening to find so many ready allies outside our own ranks, among students, local elected officials, and state and national advocacy groups. Reaching out to them was not easy, largely because we had to find out who and where they were, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

How do you envision the role of the Indiana state conference as implementation of plans for Purdue University Global moves forward?

Our main goal now is to push for maximum transparency in the implementation process and to ensure that there is time and opportunity for the Purdue faculty to be deliberate, purposeful, and principled in working through the impact of Purdue Global on their curriculum and for Indiana students and their families to find out more about what this new entity is, what kinds of instruction it will offer, and the impact it will have—positive and negative—on the quality and accessibility of higher education in the state.

Are there lessons you have learned from this experience that may be useful in future statewide organizing efforts?

Monica Owens, the political organizer from the AAUP’s national office, did a wonderful job helping us focus our campaign, articulate our arguments, identify targets, set goals and benchmarks at various stages along the way, and reach out to all the right allies. We made productive use of the internet and social media, and we held regular teleconferences every one to two weeks throughout the campaign, keeping in close touch by email in between. Constant, open communication was crucial. So was delegating tasks and recruiting help in drafting, editing, and distributing various materials such as the petition, op-ed pieces, and letters to members of the Higher Learning Commission.

Do you have advice for other state conferences for advocacy on privatization and other issues in their states?

Work with your colleagues and find allies wherever you can. Never lose sight of AAUP principles and all the ways they can be used to appeal to various constituencies, including faculty, students, parents, and alumni. These issues affect everyone who cares about higher education, which makes it possible to build broad solidarity. Identify key journalists in your state who write about higher ed issues and enlist their help to get the word out.

What can the national AAUP and the Assembly of State Conferences do to encourage and support other state conferences that wish to take on issues of statewide and national significance?

Provide examples and templates for advocacy materials such as posters, social-media content, petitions, pamphlets, and op-eds. Provide money to help colleagues from across the state travel to summit meetings and rallies or protests. Help state conferences identify the issues that matter most to their local chapters, and teach them how to use those issues to boost membership, raise awareness, build coalitions, and organize programs that will draw attention to matters of import.

Photo: Indiana state conference members after a strategic organizing workshop at their April meeting; by Monica Owens/AAUP

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