From the President: Why We Need Dues Reform

By Cary Nelson

In fall 2007, the AAUP began sending out twice-monthly emails to nearly 400,000 faculty members nationwide. About 350,000 of those were nonmembers. We called attention to our key policy statements and reports, alerted people to emerging higher education issues, and publicized AAUP initiatives. As a result, many faculty members are better informed about what the AAUP is and what it does. Tens of thousands now have an intellectual, philosophical, political, and professional relationship with the AAUP that they did not have before.

Several thousand faculty members who are not represented through AAUP collective bargaining chapters have joined the organization as “advocacy members” as a result of the e-mail campaign, and the image of the AAUP has been enhanced among both current and potential collective bargaining members.

The best way to sign up members is still to visit colleagues in their offices and encourage them to join. The e-mail campaign has made that easier, but one major hurdle remains.

In my travels around the country, I regularly ask two questions: “How many faculty members on your campus earn less than $60,000?” and “What do you pay new assistant professors?” All too often, the answer to the first question is “everyone” or “everyone in my department” and the answer to the second question is “$45,000.” Convincing these individuals to pay almost two hundred dollars in annual AAUP dues— substantially more than they would pay for membership in a disciplinary organization with a progressive dues schedule—can be very difficult. As our members eager to sign up their colleagues tell us repeatedly, we need dues reform.

The AAUP once had progressive dues based on income. We still offer reduced dues to graduate students and part-time faculty members, whose earnings are usually substantially lower than those of their fulltime counterparts. AAUP leaders are convinced that we need to restore a system of progressive dues for all members. The disciplinary organizations that set dues by income find that faculty members are reasonably honest in reporting their salaries. Progressive dues work. They help attract younger members and ensure that those whose salaries remain low are never penalized by a sudden large dues increase, as currently happens when AAUP members lose their eligibility for the entrant dues rate that applies to new members and new full-time faculty members without tenure.

AAUP staff and leadership together explored more than a dozen sets of dues structures based on annual income. Our goal was to keep dues as low as possible for all members, keep overall AAUP revenue the same, and give us a means to recruit more young members. A system with nine dues levels proved the best way to do this. Schedules with fewer salary “bands” resulted in significantly higher dues at lower salary levels. We also did not demand that the dues increases be the same as you move up the salary levels. Again, the aim was not a lock-step dues schedule, but rather a system that would enhance our ability to increase membership.

Dues simplification is another major benefit. When you combine our several membership categories with variations in mandatory and voluntary dues charged by the AAUP’s state conferences, you end up with our current nightmare: more than six hundred AAUP dues categories. The proposed new dues structure would have but nine! Membership categories would no longer be necessary. State conferences that collect extra dues from their members directly could still do so, but the national office would be able to pay state conferences the money collected on their behalf with less time spent on burdensome mutual calculations. Our dues would still be indexed for inflation, but that would not have a major impact in the near term. The Collective Bargaining Congress is working on simplifying dues collection for our unionized members as well, but for now we are addressing dues only for advocacy members.

The initial dues rates, subject to your approval at the June 2010 annual meeting, are as follows, with salary ranges followed by the proposed dues rate: salary under $30,000, $45 annual dues; $30,001–$40,000, $60; $40,001–$50,000, $80; $50,001– $60,000, $100; $60,001–$70,000, $140; $70,001–$80,000, $165; $80,001–$100,000, $185; $100,001– $120,000, $205; above $120,000, $225. Some AAUP members would see a major dues reduction under this plan, while the dues increases at the top would remain modest. We believe this is the next necessary step in building a stronger and more influential organization.



Cary Nelson says "we need dues reform." His reasoning is that it is harder for people who make less to pay a flat dues rate, and so he'd like to use his power to enforce differential dues for a little exercise in income redistribution.

I take that amiss.

Here in the Northeast, where I am a professor at a woefully underfunded public university, my nominally high income over $60,000/year has purchased me a virtual shoebox for living quarters, and not a single vacation since ... hmm, when was my last vacation? With the same nominal income in New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Montana, or Maine, I could live in a castle.

I was once told by the search committee of a San Francisco university that the way for a professor to afford housing in their region was by marrying money. Ha ha ha.

Now, the fact of my lavish nominal salary makes me a target for Cary Nelson. He would like to set a progressive scale, applicable to Alabamians as well as Bay Staters, to Texans as well as Yorkers, to San Franciscans as well as residents of Alaska. He'd like to take more of my salary so that the dues of professors in Mississippi can be reduced.

What a concept.


Cary Nelson responds:

Perhaps the member writing above did not study the proposed dues schedule carefully. Depending on what state full-time, non-entrant members live in, they now pay from $172 to $205 in annual dues. Members earning up to $80,000—and some earning $100,000—would pay less under the dues bands. As to my “power,” the purpose of my column was to inform people about the proposal and urge its adoption. It has already been approved by National Council and the ASC and CBC executive committees. Now it has to be voted on at the annual meeting. I have no power to compel the change.