Organizing the Faculty Response

The Role of the AAUP Chapter

1. What can the faculty do to support proposals that have less severe consequences for our faculty, students, and academic programs than those being aired by the administration? Since we already have a faculty senate, what is the benefit of also having an AAUP chapter?

A primary objective of the AAUP chapter is to promote good governance. There are two dimensions to this. First, the chapter is the institutional manifestation of the AAUP and its policies and principles; as the direct link to the AAUP, the chapter can facilitate guidance for the senate on academic policy matters. Second, unlike the senate, which is organic to the institution, the AAUP chapter is an independent organization and can advocate for the positions and recommendations of the senate in ways the senate cannot.

For example, some administrations evade senate procedures and protocols, especially when the stakes are highest, in order to get desired results and get them quickly. Thus, we have seen an increase in the numbers of special and ad hoc committees and task forces whose charges involve matters that are properly within the purview of the senate. Frequently, the administration lards these committees with hand-picked faculty members and administrators.

Of course, senates can object to being displaced by administratively-created bodies, but they rarely do so and are not constituted to do much more than object. As an independent organization, the AAUP chapter can apply pressure on the administration in a variety of ways: by writing a letter to each member of the board, by placing a quarter-page advertisement in the student newspaper (civil and high-minded of course, but critical), and, depending on the issue, by enlisting support from other constituencies that might be directly affected.

In short, the senate is a deliberative and legislative body; the AAUP chapter is the advocate which can serve to fortify the senate and address faculty professional concerns beyond the senate’s jurisdiction, especially when the administration chooses not to heed the senate.

2. The information and advice provided on the AAUP website are extensive and, in part, technically complex. How best can I make use of this information?

It is usually the case that for the faculty to influence an administration or board on matters pertaining to the faculty’s professional interests and the students’ academic interests, information must be used systematically and tactically as part of a deliberate, purposeful campaign. Many faculty members sincerely believe that if the administration and the board have all the facts, free of distortion, gaps, and shadings, the right kinds of decisions will be made. But during hard times or on those occasions when the faculty is excluded from the table where the real decisions are made, the facts are simply not enough. Information must be managed and marshalled in a deliberate and purposeful way if it is to be a means of gaining and exerting power. Faculty members acting individually, independently, and in sporadic forums and modes—and with truth on their side—often have little influence on outcomes. However, when these same faculty members speak and act in a collective, coordinated, and organized way, they can achieve real influence. 

The AAUP chapter, if it is well supported by engaged faculty members, will have within its membership a great deal of faculty expertise that can be brought to bear on technical complexities. Such a chapter will also include faculty members who have experience in public campaigns of many sorts and the organizational knowledge and skills that come with that experience. Moreover, there is a network of AAUP leaders and volunteers, as well as AAUP staff with wide and relevant experience, who can be called upon for advice and guidance.

3. What is the process for establishing an AAUP chapter? 

The requirements for establishing an AAUP chapter are few and simple: a minimum of seven active members of the AAUP, a constitution/bylaws, and a minimum of three officers.

4. How can a new or existing chapter become an effective advocate for the faculty and for the academic health of the institution? Can the national AAUP help?

There is no template for success, but a few ingredients are essential. First, and bluntly, it takes time to establish and build an organization. At many institutions, too few faculty members are willing to take time away from their classrooms, their research, and the array of other responsibilities to do the work of organizing, planning, and implementing strategies by which the faculty, as a collective, can increase its influence. 

Second, and no less bluntly, too few faculty members are willing to pay national AAUP membership dues, much less chapter dues, in order to provide the resources necessary to do what successful organizations must have the capacity to do: publish a newsletter and otherwise effectively communicate principled positions to their own colleagues, students, administrators, alumni, and others; foot the expense for forums on topics of pressing interest; and hire a financial analyst to provide an independent assessment of institutional finances, to cite a few examples. 

Third, and this often goes a good distance in trumping one and two, the fulcrum for establishing or reviving an AAUP chapter is the faculty’s coming to the conclusion that a collective response is the only sensible approach to resisting the worst and advocating the best.

The national AAUP can help. The “national AAUP” is in fact the large number of AAUP members, leaders, activists, and volunteers who do the work of the Association and have done it for over one hundred years. Staff provide assistance and guidance, but the AAUP is a membership and member-driven organization. A relatively small group of determined faculty, in tandem with AAUP members and staff, can accomplish a great deal.

5. What can a chapter do to engage with other campus constituencies on issues relating to cutbacks and financial problems?

Where possible, find common ground with administrations (for example, on the need for adequate state appropriations), other academic workers (for example, on how decisions about layoffs or cutbacks are made), and students (for example, on how tuition revenue is raised and spent or on lack of capacity resulting from faculty cuts). See an example: a letter to students from the Council of University of California Faculty Associations on factors driving tuition rises and how tuition money is being spent.

Engaging the Faculty

1. Our faculty are pretty apathetic, although they are concerned about the financial problems. How can we get them more engaged?

Faculty apathy is often a consequence of a belief that nothing can be done or that the administration and board of governors are doing all they can. However, there is always more the faculty, administration, and board can do, not necessarily to eliminate or reverse financial problems, but at least to minimize their short- and long-term consequences. A first step is to communicate to the faculty—through broadcast e-mails, newsletters, weekly updates, and town hall forums—what the real facts are, especially since the faculty may not be getting these from administration or media accounts. 

It is essential, if your chapter has the capacity, to convene public events at which faculty members can observe the upset that their colleagues feel (often, faculty apathy is a consequence of individuals thinking their colleagues do not share their own high level of concern). Do whatever you can to host and co-sponsor events--with your academic senate, administration, and other campus organizations--at which there will be sharing of accurate information, anecdotes, and data about reductions in faculty (especially terminations and non-retentions that may violate due process and collective bargaining articles), course cancellations, increased workload, and increased class sizes. The more the chapter communicates with faculty, the more the chapter will hear about inappropriate administrative practices, which can then become grievances and opportunities for publicizing and organizing faculty.

Many faculty members wish to do something but don’t know what will be most effective. A key to engaging them is to give them tasks that will involve limited and known time commitments. This can mean asking them to spend fifteen minutes encouraging department colleagues to attend a meeting about the financial crisis, or to spend five minutes forwarding the chapter newsletter to colleagues, or to spend ten minutes placing flyers in department mail boxes, or to spend an hour gathering department information about the effects of budget cuts and forwarding it to union or senate leaders. 

It is also a good idea to ask faculty to engage in efforts that tap into their own interests and abilities—e.g., accounting, math, statistics, and business professors analyzing data; arts faculty creating visuals for flyers and posters; communications professors devising plans for contacting and speaking with the media; and political science professors contacting legislators and advising the chapter on political/legislative tactics. For faculty who lack job security, identify low-visibility activities they can do without risk, such as honing the chapter message, making safe phone calls, photocopying materials, and discretely providing information to chapter leaders.

The key point is to give everyone activities that are time-specific, that are not too time-consuming, that correspond to their particular interests and abilities, that they are likely to do, and for which they can be held accountable. Their own small involvement makes greater involvement more likely later on.

2. Most of our faculty members believe the administration’s unsupported claims that the general economic crisis has created a crisis at our institution. How can we better educate our colleagues on this issue

Accomplishing this task is a matter of providing them with the facts clearly, simply, and repeatedly. We are finding that many administrators make unsupported claims that can be fairly easily challenged by asking for supporting documentation. Constantly remind your colleagues that the burden is on the administration to demonstrate that financial problems are as dire as administrative officers claim. The entire faculty is more likely to be well informed if the chapter delivers the information in different forms: through broadcast e-mails, newsletters, department representatives, and in public forums. All colleges, departments, and governance bodies will be dealing with budget cutbacks, so try to get on the agendas for their meetings. 

Be prepared to respond as quickly as possible to questionable or inaccurate claims. Accounting, math, statistics, and business professors have particularly high credibility on financial issues; therefore, it is beneficial to identify and prepare individuals from these departments to be spokespersons in challenging the claims of the administration.

Government Relations and Lobbying

1. What should I say to legislators about the financial crisis?

Because the focus is on getting and keeping people working right now, emphasize both the short- and long-term economic impact of colleges and universities. In the short term, numerous colleges and universities are huge employers, and the multiplier effect in cities with institutions is large. In the long term, a more educated citizenry makes less use of entitlements while adding significantly to tax revenues.

2. How do I find out which legislators are most relevant for this issue?

All elected officials should hear from their constituents, but the policymakers on relevant committees (like appropriations and education) wield the most power in determining what bills make it to the floor for a vote, and they determine the form in which such bills arrive. See links to all state legislatures, as well as some advocacy pointers in the AAUP's Government Relations Toolkit.

3. What tips does the AAUP have for writing letters to elected officials?

First and foremost, keep it short and to the point. Academic writing is very different in style than the kind of writing used in state capitols, and AAUP members need to remember to think in terms of bullet points when communicating with elected officials. 

Additionally, don’t try to sell a position solely on principle (i.e., in terms of “right” or "wrong”). Sell your position by making it clear why your proposal is best for the district/state/country and how it benefits constituents. Use numbers, statistics, and facts instead of simply appealing to the idea of the public good. Your representatives have to make some very tough choices from among a number of worthy projects. Using good data, tell them exactly how to sell your proposal to the voters and their peers. Anything you can share about local employment numbers—if local unemployment rates are lower than the overall state level—or average local income—if it’s higher than the state average (i.e., a higher tax base)—is persuasive. Even data that show lower local incarceration rates or lower-than-average use of public assistance demonstrates how beneficial our institutions are to the economy. 

4. I am at a private university. Would it be useful for me to inform elected officials about the financial crisis on my campus?

Your situation is trickier, because legislators cannot do as much directly to support private institutions. However, many private institutions do receive some funding from public agencies, and this relationship might give those agencies and related elected officials reason to pay attention to the financial crisis affecting an entity they are funding. Municipal governments often provide some funding to local institutions, and government agencies that provide financial aid take an interest in the quality of education for which that aid is paying. Legislators are likely to be interested, for example, in faculty reductions that increase the student-faculty ratio, cause course cancellations, or delay graduation dates. 

Additionally, private colleges and universities can be large employers and often make significant contributions to local and state economies, as well as to the revenues of local and state governments (partly through the income tax on their employees). These factors give local and state legislators reason to be concerned about the financial health, budget cuts, and workforce reductions of institutions in their district or regional purview. 

5. When I do lobby visits, should I bring students? And what should they say to legislators?

You certainly could, especially if they are well-spoken, high-achieving individuals. It all depends on your main message. Just be careful that you are not doing combined visits if there is direct competition for funding between employee needs and student financial aid or tuition. Stick to topics on which the faculty, the student body, and, ideally, the administration are on the same side. And in fact, faculty reductions would be detrimental to teaching quality: larger classes and fewer teachers mean less face time with students, fewer mentoring capabilities outside of the classroom or lecture hall, and less individual attention. Consider coordinating with your campus administrators on this topic as well. Many of them employ lobbyists who already have contacts with policymakers, and they can give you valuable insights.

6. Are there restrictions on public employees lobbying the government on budget issues?

As a private citizen, you are entitled to speak to your elected officials about any topic you wish. Be careful not to claim that you are representing your institution in an official capacity, because the rules governing that kind of lobbying are different and may require lobbying-disclosure paperwork, as well as permission from the institution. 

Make the distinction between representing the AAUP and being affiliated with it. If you simply identify yourself as an AAUP member, you have the same right to express yourself as any private citizen.

Both for the sake of being clear to policymakers about what we do and as a courtesy to fellow members who may hold different opinions, avoid expressing opinions unrelated to the AAUP’s work and purpose (for example, on Afghanistan or immigration reform) in the context of your affiliation with the AAUP.

Communicating Through your Chapter and with the Media

How can I let people know what is happening on my campus and communicate the faculty’s or my AAUP chapter’s views?

Depending on your circumstances and your goals, you may want to inform people about your chapter’s situation through social media, student or local media, or a simple website.

It is highly recommended that each chapter maintain some form of social media account on at least one platform to keep members, the campus community, and the larger public community informed on current events impacting your campus.

While crisis communications don’t allow time for leisurely planning, taking some time to talk through your strategy will make your communications more effective. Some questions to consider:

  • What are your chapter’s goals for public communication? Every message your chapter issues, whether to your members, a reporter, or a wider audience, should serve to advance the chapter’s short and longer-term goals. Deciding what you want to achieve should be the first decision when planning any communication. For example, is your goal to make sure that faculty are included in decision-making, to ensure that any pay cuts or freezes are spread equally among administration and faculty, or to reach out to a wider audience to create public pressure for state funding? 
  • Who can help you achieve your goal and how? Each communication method a chapter employs can speak to different audiences. Are you trying to involve students in order to pressure the administration on a particular point? Think about what communication tactics are most likely to reach students. Do you want to launch a social media campaign using memes and compelling images that communicate the issues? If you are sending press releases, which reporters speak to the audiences you are trying to reach? A newspaper in the state’s capital, a local radio or TV station, and a national higher education reporter each speak to different readers and viewers. Make sure you have identified key allies to enlist in your campaign and always anticipate your opponent’s arguments so you can be prepared to counter.
  • Whom do you speak for? You will have more strength and credibility with an organization behind you—an AAUP chapter or conference, the faculty senate, or an ad hoc coalition or committee devoted to one issue. 
  • Do you need national or local media attention? Often, you will get better results by concentrating on your campus, town, or state. No one cares more about faculty cuts or the conditions of online learning than the students who will be affected, their parents, and others in the community who have ties to your institution. Residents of your state will be more interested in the distribution of taxpayer funds than non-residents. This is especially true in today’s economic climate where most institutions and states have financial concerns of their own. If your situation is in some way remarkable—affecting a large number of employees or students, for example, or involving violations of academic practice—you may wish to contact national media. Two main outlets for higher education news are the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. Additional higher education news outlets that are worth considering include Open CampusDiverse: Issues in Higher Education, Higher Ed Dive, and the Hechinger Report. The AAUP can also offer advice to chapters about selecting media outlets or posting chapter stories on the Academe Blog and the AAUP’s social media accounts.
  • Designate a person to manage your chapter’s social media accounts. Not everyone feels comfortable using Twitter or Facebook for professional communications, but it's important that a chapter designates one or two people to manage its social media accounts. This is a great opportunity to tap the strengths of your chapter membership and locate someone who is already proficient in using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or other social media platforms. Planning social media to complement your work and engaging colleagues, students, and the public online can help spread your message more widely. While audiences and tastes shift, the conventional wisdom suggests that chapters use Facebook to reach supporters and members, Twitter to reach media and the wider community, and Instagram for students.

Here are some additional resources to aid your crisis communications.

Our Guide to Communicating through the Media includes resources on writing press releases, talking to reporters, and writing op-eds and letters to the editor. 

We also have a collection of AAUP logos, photos, and other useful assets. That’s here.

We’ve held two previous webinars on digital organizing. Here’s one that is an introduction to social media. And here’s another on elevating your message online. We will update this section with more webinars as they are held. 

Using Collective Bargaining

1. We have been convinced the budget deficit does require cuts somewhere, but what are some alternatives to eliminating faculty lines?

The single most important point is not to agree to givebacks without offsetting gains. If the administration claims cuts are required, none should be granted without comparable gains in long-term and non-compensatory clauses. Due to the importance of job security for a stable faculty and for academic freedom, preserving tenured positions and positions with long term security should be a first priority. Even in times of bad budgets and compromises regarding instructional budgets, the long-term effects can be minimized, and there are gains that can be made. Any hiring freezes, layoffs, and furloughs should be temporary and as short as can be negotiated, and they should include ending dates for the period of cuts and starting dates for restoration requirements.

If you are agreeing to compensation cuts and reductions in the instructional budget, demand no-cost/low-cost gains. These may include adding or strengthening the following:

  1. academic freedom language in the bargaining agreement; 
  2. due-process protections for all faculty;
  3. job security for incumbent contingent faculty; 
  4. grievance and arbitration processes; 
  5. AAUP inclusion in orientations for new faculty and contingent faculty;
  6. payroll deduction for union dues and fair share fees;
  7. eligibility for union buyout of reassigned time;
  8. chapter office space on campus;
  9. access for the union and the senate to timely institutional information presently denied (e.g., budget information, administrative salary data, foundation and auxiliary services budgets, data on unemployment costs for terminated or non-rehired faculty, and contact information for faculty);
  10. guaranteed speaking time for union and senate leaders at governing board meetings;
  11. release time for all employees to attend union and senate meetings;
  12. extending the duration of the collective-bargaining agreement, and/or negotiating a better bargaining cycle; 
  13. regularized schedules for meetings between campus unions and administration/human relations; and 
  14. commitments for management to work cooperatively with unions in campaigns to improve institutional budgets.

2. What steps should a collective bargaining chapter take to prepare for anticipated or proposed reductions of faculty and other academic professionals in the bargaining unit?

First, if your contract presently is being renegotiated or will soon be, scrutinize the existing retrenchment article with great care. Much of what is most desirable for a sound retrenchment policy and procedure is found in regulation 4c of the AAUP's Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Obviously, especially in hard times, the administration will resist language that is strong from the union perspective. In constructing a contract campaign, this issue, so timely and so dramatic, can be the pivotal issue by which to galvanize and energize the faculty.

Second, if you are not now or soon to be in negotiations, the union should form a working group to review and analyze the existing language and prepare a report identifying ways the union leadership can ready itself to deal with and respond to the administration and its proposals. Frequently, the retrenchment article in a given contract has remained untouched and unnoticed for years because, happily, its application has never been an issue. To the extent that any bargaining history of the retrenchment article can be found—old negotiations files or “old” negotiators—it should be surveyed for possible relevance to prepare for potential disputes about ambiguous or unclear language in the article.

3. Where can I find examples of contract language that address financial crises and financial exigency?

The AAUP maintains a password-protected contract database of AAUP CB chapters’ collective bargaining agreements and AAUP policy statements. The database is a good resource for learning more about how faculty at other institutions have negotiated a variety of issues in their own collective bargaining agreements. For more information or to request access to the database, please e-mail [email protected].