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From the President: A Time of Reckoning

By Irene Mulvey

I just ripped up the column I had been working on for this issue and started again. Another Black man shot by the police. Multiple times in the back. As I write, this latest victim of police brutality, Jacob Blake, is fighting for his life; he may be paralyzed from the waist down. What does this have to do with higher education? It has to do with everything.

I had planned to use my first president’s column to introduce myself to members who may not know me. I had planned to talk about the slate I ran on and our platform. I had planned to talk about the small steps we have taken since the leadership transition in late July to begin to implement our platform. But now is not the time for an ordinary, informative column. It’s time for something different. It’s time for action.

Like many people, I am sickened and exhausted. I can’t even begin to imagine how impossibly difficult it is for a person of color to process yet another shooting of a Black person at the hands of police officers sworn to protect and serve the community. I know we’re outraged, and it’s hard not to feel hopeless and helpless, but I categorically refuse to be hopeless and helpless. Our society and our profession must reckon with systemic and institutional racism. It is time for meaningful change. What should we do? What can be done? What can we do, as the AAUP, to form a more racially just and equitable society?

As the voice of the academic profession, we must be at the forefront of the struggle for racial justice in the professoriate and in higher education more generally. To begin to do this with any legitimacy, we need first to take a long, hard look in the mirror. We need to acknowledge, in a deep and genuine way, the systemic and institutional racism in our own Association, and then figure out how to take steps to address it with meaningful action. We must examine our past and our present through a racial justice lens. We need to reflect on how we do our work and understand how our work looks when viewed through that lens of racial justice. We must put in place policies, practices, and systems that will commit us to meaningful organizational change. I am grateful that in August our governing Council earmarked resources—time and money—that will allow us to take on a project of this scope. I look forward to working with chapters and conferences on racial justice programs. Some of our chapters are far ahead of the national organization in this hard work, and we have much to learn from them. Let’s all commit to being in this together.

I ran for president as a member of the One Faculty Slate. I threw my hat into the ring long before the pandemic upended our lives. After working hard as a member of a working group that my predecessor, Rudy Fichtenbaum, formed to guide the Association’s recent restructuring, I thought that I would be a good person to lead the AAUP through its current transitional period. Our platform also promised to diversify the leadership and to create a leadership pipeline that would enable us to mentor the faculty activists who will become our future leaders. Well, between the time I announced my candidacy and the first meeting over which I presided as president, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it grew rapidly worse as a result of our nation’s disastrous response to it, and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were murdered. Now Jacob Blake has been shot. And these are only the stories of police brutality against Black lives that have made the national news. I may not have signed up to be president during these crises, but these are the crises our Association must now face.

I pledge to all our members and to faculty members throughout the country that I will lead this organization to the best of my ability, while acknowledging both my limitations and my privilege, in order to leave it as an Association that actively promotes racial justice, is genuinely inclusive, and promises real engagement to anyone teaching or researching in higher education.


Of course we must address both the pandemic and the issues surrounding diversity and hiring, but everything else is secondary to the political crisis we are facing. For "the voice of the academic profession," as you put it, to be silent with elections only weeks away is to turn our backs on institutions everywhere. Why we would gag ourselves at a time of crisis? There is not a single word in the President's remarks about the elections. But if Trump and DeVos are given another four years the consequences will be devastating. We must engage! At the very least all AAUP members should be urged to participate in political education at the campus level and to support voter registration drives. If there are legal restrictions or if the leadership is too cowardly to make specific candidate endorsements, then at the very least there should be detailed reviews of the candidates' positions and past behavior regarding higher education. Wringing our hands is not enough. Action is called for.

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