From the President: Proposed Structural Changes to the AAUP

By Rudy H. Fichtenbaum with Paul Davis

Elections have consequences. When Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, it was widely expected that he would appoint a conservative justice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that had been left unfilled following the death of Antonin Scalia. It was likewise expected that the court would deal a blow to organized labor by overturning the longstanding precedent upholding the constitutionality of agency fees, which ensure that bargaining unit members who benefit from collective bargaining but are not union members pay their fair share of the costs of negotiating a collectively bargained contract. The court did so in its June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME. This has resulted in a revenue loss for the AAUP.

Three basic concepts are guiding the AAUP’s response to this new fiscal reality: (1) our priorities should be protecting the AAUP’s ability to provide programs and services that support our chapters and the profession and advancing academic freedom and shared governance; (2) recruiting and retaining AAUP members is more important than ever; and (3) in order to ensure that we can continue to achieve these goals, we should cut expenses that are not essential for providing programs and services.

The AAUP enterprise currently consists of three legal entities: the AAUP, a professional association; the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, a labor union; and the AAUP Foundation. Combined, these three entities have governing boards consisting of more than fifty elected leaders. AAUP elections take place every other year, although relatively few members participate, and the AAUP annual meeting votes on censure and sanction but typically does not act on other substantive items.

Against this backdrop, the AAUP Council and the AAUP-CBC Executive Committee approved the formation of a Contingency Planning Working Group to make recommendations that would streamline our governance and organizational structures. The working group proposed several major changes:

Fold the AAUP-CBC into the AAUP. Duplicative internal processes would thus be eliminated, allowing us to focus on serving our chapters and the profession. The AAUP Foundation would remain separate, as is required by tax law.

Provide a streamlined governance structure for the new combined body. The new AAUP Council would consist of three officers (president, vice president, and secretary-treasurer), plus one member from each of five geographical regions and three at-large members. The past president would serve as a nonvoting member of the Council.

Replace the AAUP’s annual meeting with a biennial meeting whose voting participants would be delegates from the various chapters. Delegates would elect AAUP officers and other Council members, with voting strength proportional to the membership levels of delegates’ chapters. This less expensive election process and governance structure would follow the model of many similar organizations.

The AAUP Council and the AAUP-CBC Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly last fall to move forward with these proposed changes, and the June 2019 annual meeting will vote on constitutional amendments needed to implement them. The amendments are being developed, and all AAUP members will receive notification of the final proposals well ahead of the annual meeting. In the coming months, we will provide more specifics—on the AAUP’s website and in Academe— about the restructuring and how it will affect members and chapters.

As leaders of the AAUP and AAUP-CBC, we believe that the proposed organizational changes will both enhance our ability to provide needed services and support to our chapters and yield significant savings. Although these savings will not on their own be large enough to offset the revenue losses that resulted from the loss of agency fees, they should foster a stronger organization that is able to come to decisions more effectively.

Finally, these proposed changes reflect the shared vision of the AAUP and AAUP-CBC leadership that we are one organization representing one profession, united in our century-long defense of academic freedom, economic security, and shared governance for all those who teach and research in higher education and in our commitment to higher education as a common good. This common good is under attack as never before in our lifetimes. We are strongest when we stand together, regardless of institution type, tenure status, rank, job title, or collective bargaining status. We believe that restructuring will result in a stronger AAUP—one that is positioned to thrive for another hundred years.

Rudy H. Fichtenbaum is president of the AAUP. Paul Davis is chair of the AAUP-CBC.