Remembering John McNay

By Irene Mulvey

The AAUP has lost a champion with the passing of John McNay on October 27, 2023. John was a historian, focusing on the Cold War era, with additional interest and expertise in labor history. He was a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati in Blue Ash, Ohio, where he had taught since September 2000. In addition, John was a vital force within the AAUP at the national, state, and campus level. He was a regular presenter at the AAUP’s Summer Institute and, at the 2023 Summer Institute in Vermont, was part of a panel presentation on legislative interference in higher education. He wrote regularly for Academe. He served on multiple national AAUP committees, including the Committee on Government Relations, of which he had been a member since 2015 and which he chaired at the time of his death. He was also serving as an elected member of the Council at the time.

John was elected president of the Ohio AAUP conference four times. In that role, he led the conference in supporting chapters, building the membership, and building the movement. For more than a decade, he had been meeting with legislators and testifying before Ohio senate and house committees. His testi­mony before these congressional committees was legendary for its clarity and impact. In 2015, John received the AAUP’s Al Sumberg Award, which was presented from 1995 to 2016 to “a person who has been particularly effective in lobbying on issues furthering the interests of higher education.” In his collective bargaining chapter, he served on the executive council and on the negotiating team. John was elected president of the union in 2010, when the Ohio legislature introduced Senate Bill 5, the radi­cal union-busting bill. Ohio voters defeated the bill after concerted efforts by faculty and other union members working through the state­wide coalition We Are Ohio. John was especially proud of his book Collective Bargaining and the Battle of Ohio: The Defeat of Senate Bill 5 and the Struggle to Defend the Middle Class, which tells the story of the campaign to repeal SB 5 and the role of the AAUP.

John was from a small town in Montana, and he was extremely proud of his family’s deep union background—which included an uncle who was president of the Montana AFL-CIO and a great aunt who was a founding mem­ber of the Montana Federation of Teachers. Throughout his life, he lived the principles of labor rights and unionism. In other words, John and the AAUP were made for each other, and his loss will be deeply felt on his campus, in Ohio, and throughout our Association. Those of us who were lucky enough to have known John and to have had the privilege of working with him know we’ve lost a passionate, creative, and pragmatic fighter who was also really fun to be with.

Let’s let the final sentence of John’s candidate statement for elec­tion to the Council in 2022 be the final word: “I believe it is vitally important that the AAUP maintain its distinctive identity as the single most important voice for higher education and an advocate for the values we have supported for more than a century.”