The University of Cincinnati chapter of the AAUP was founded in November 1933 and became a collective bargaining unit in 1974. Approximately 1,700 people are represented by the bargaining unit. The chapter has four full-time staff members: Deborah Herman, the executive director; Anne Feldman, the business administrator; and Stephanie Spanja and Eric Palmer, who handle grievances and casework.
Here, Greg Loving, chapter president and professor of philosophy in the social sciences department at the university’s Clermont College, discusses the recent fight over Ohio Senate Bill 5 and other challenges faced by his chapter.
What is your chapter’s proudest accomplishment?
The no-brainer answer is helping to fight SB 5 last year. SB 5 was, of course, the state legislation that would have stripped most public unions of their bargaining rights and taken away the right to bargain collectively. We are proud that we were able to cooperate at a very high level with other constituencies and defeat it at the polls. In the last several years, much of the chapter’s energy was dedicated to that fight.
In recent years, our membership has increased significantly. Over the past eight years we’ve had a net 22 percent increase in chapter membership, despite retirements among many of the baby boomer faculty who helped lead the shift to collective bargaining. We’re now at 45 percent, a result we’ve achieved largely by getting feet on the ground and talking to people.
We’re in a very conservative area, but we focus on giving a voice to all faculty at the table.
What has been the best strategy for recruiting new chapter members and leaders?
This sounds so simple: asking them to join. Just ask them. Some people are going to join the minute they get on the faculty because they are prounion. But most new faculty members get inundated, and joining the AAUP slips through the cracks. The forms can be there, but until someone asks them, they’re not going to join. It takes three minutes. You don’t get into many arguments.
For new leadership, it’s the same. Some professors are reticent or busy. But you just say, “I think you’d be good on this committee— do you think you could help out as your time allows?” If they can’t, they can’t, but more often than not they can and are willing to help.
What is the biggest concern of faculty at your institution right now?
I think it would be the public conversation about what education means in America. It’s preoccupying a lot of us: the importance of finding a way to talk to the public about how critical education is to the future of the country. I realize that the term investment has overly political connotations now, but investing public money in public education has more of an impact than people realize. Unemployment is much lower among college graduates. Education is central to the new economy. We need to convince the public to invest more money in public education.
Rising costs are translated into tuition increases, which will end up harming us all in the long run. Some of that harm stems from the increasing debt that students have. Some of those burdened by debt will never catch up, never contribute to their full potential. Amid the political rhetoric of elections, don’t people realize how important education is? Everyone will get a return—not just the people who are being educated, but everyone.
What is the most contentious issue within the chapter?
We now have to decide how politically active we can be in the wake of SB 5. Some members are advocating more political activism over a range of issues. Some are looking for issues with broad faculty support and trying to work on faculty-specific issues rather than broader social issues. Every organization has to focus its energy to be successful. We know that we represent all the faculty, not just those on one side of any issue.
The pro–SB 5 forces were highly partisan, but the people who fought it were very nonpartisan. We lost a few members because of our actions on SB 5, but we had a net gain because of it. But we are still discussing how much political work we should do and how much we should be focusing on purely faculty issues.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing higher education now?
Making the case that higher education is necessary for a robust democracy, and also for a robust economy. You have to make the case that it’s worth investing in education, for the quality of human life, the quality of the economy, and the quality of democracy.
What is the best event your chapter has hosted?
In May 2011, we had former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades on campus, and he did a number of things that dovetailed nicely with wider public issues. He gave a well-attended presentation about public versus charter versus private education, about for-profit versus nonprofit education, about the changing trends in education. He was interviewed for a local news show and for a very good Cincinnati Enquirer article. So he was advocating on a number of public fronts. It was a very successful event that tied together the desire to speak with the public and academia itself.
What one thought or piece of advice would you pass on to other chapters?
Probably to provide, structurally, more opportunities for leadership and participation in the union. A few years ago we restructured the union so that we had more committees and more positions for leadership. The executive council opened up a bit, and we tried to get more young faculty members into council positions. I’m a product of that shift—I came in just after they restructured.
In our chapter—and many other chapters are similar—the first wave of enthusiastic folks from the 1970s and 1980s are retiring now, but they have held onto their leadership positions, which causes some younger members to think, “Oh, well, all this union work is being done for me, I can just sit back.” People sometimes stay in office because they think other people won’t take over. But if you step back, other people will come in and fill the gaps. We’ve been able to train more young leaders as the older generation allowed new people to step in and take over. A lot of other chapters are dealing with these shifts, and if they haven’t gone out of their way to foster new leadership, they often find themselves in the lurch.
What projects would you like to undertake if you had more funds?
One idea that would help us educate the public about the function of unions and education would be to get our chapter to endow a professorship at the university to conduct research and teach about the history of labor or labor law. An endowed professorship would make teaching about labor issues part of the structure of the university.
What other elected faculty bodies exist on campus—for example, a faculty senate or faculty council—and how does the chapter work with them or how does the chapter’s work differ?
We have a very active faculty senate, but the difference between it and the chapter is that the AAUP tries to guarantee the structures of governance and the senate focuses on the decisions within that structure. The union doesn’t have an opinion on switching from quarters to semesters, for example. All we do is make sure that the structure is there so that the faculty can have substantive input, and now that the decision is made, we make sure the details work out in terms of pay, schedules, and so on. We make sure that the faculty decisions can be made.
The AAUP chapter has worked well with the faculty senate. It’s more important than ever to stand together.