From the President: Times That Try Souls

By Rudy Fichtenbaum

In the last thirty years, many college and university administrations have embraced the corporate model, which is fundamentally transforming higher education and changing the way decisions are made. Administrators are now making decisions unilaterally and in response to external market forces. We need not look far to see the effects: the corporate model is driving decisions about program development or discontinuance, the use of paid consultants for searches, curricular changes to facilitate transfers and shorten the time to obtain a degree, changes in admission standards and increases in tuition as institutions compete for rankings, and changes in standards for tenure. With the corporate model’s encroachment, we have also witnessed dramatically higher salaries for presidents and others near the top as well as a proliferation of administrators— associate provosts, assistant vice presidents, deputy deans, and so on, ad infinitum.

Beyond the erosion of faculty governance in academic matters, we see growing inequality both within and between institutions as market forces intrude. Vast salary differences now exist among tenured and tenure-track faculty and between disciplines. There is also a growing gulf between faculty salaries at private institutions and those at public ones, a consequence in part of diminished state funding. However, the greatest increase in inequality among faculty has followed from the explosive growth in the use and abuse of non-tenure-track faculty, especially part-time faculty working for abysmally low pay with neither benefits nor job security.

The picture painted thus far is bleak, but there is cause for hope. Faculty can fight back. The way to fight back is to organize. The AAUP helped lead the fight to defeat Ohio’s infamous Senate Bill 5, which was intended to strip public employees— notably university faculty—of collective bargaining rights. In doing so, we built lasting alliances with various labor and community organizations. The Michigan AAUP conference just hosted the third national meeting of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. And the AAUP is supporting the New Faculty Majority in its fight to win unemployment insurance and related rights for non-tenure-track faculty members.

Last year we organized the faculty at Bowling Green State University, our first major solo organizing success in years. We also organized the physicians at the University of Connecticut Medical Center. Together with the American Federation of Teachers, we organized faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Oregon.

The AAUP just filed an amicus brief with the National Labor Relations Board in the Point Park University case, which may create an opening to organize faculty at private institutions for the first time since the Yeshiva decision in 1980.

We led the fight at the University of Northern Iowa to save the jobs of a substantial number of tenured faculty members who were threatened with dismissal because of program discontinuance. Committee A on Aca demic Freedom and Tenure launched an investigation, which brought prompt results, while the Department of Organizing and Services staff and the Collective Bargaining Congress leadership joined in working with our local chapter to save the faculty members’ jobs.

Finally, we helped faculty members at the University of Virginia as they protested the dismissal (subsequently reversed) of the university’s president without faculty input. We initiated a governance investigation while the outcome was very much in doubt, and our Virginia state conference is helping reactivate the UVA chapter.

The best way to resist and reverse the corporatization of our colleges and universities and the privatization of public institutions is through collective action. In states with enabling legislation, we can organize for collective bargaining in public institutions. In states without enabling legislation and at private institutions, we can organize faculty to act collectively. Power to resist destructive changes and to effect constructive ones comes from collective action. Movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights came about not because some legislative body enabled citizens to act but because citizens decided to stand together for what was right. The AAUP can organize faculty to stand together, whether in unions or advocacy chapters, and build alliances with students, other unions, and community organizations to ensure that higher education serves the common good.


It is interesting that the AAUP President bemoans the increasing use of the "corporate model" (whatever that is), while through out the magazine there is support for unionization of this not a central aspect of the "corporate model"?   

E. Gerald. Meyer

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