Nine Ideas for Improving the AAUP

Here’s a list of ideas I have for improving the AAUP that don’t require radical changes in the organization or massive amounts of funding. I think they’re feasible (albeit not always easy) ideas for a more active and effective AAUP.

9. Defend Student Rights

The AAUP should recognize a fundamental principle: we must defend everyone’s academic freedom. The AAUP already does this by defending all faculty who have their rights violated, even if they are not AAUP members. But the AAUP has been reluctant to speak out in defense of student rights. Back in the 1960s, the AAUP joined other groups in an excellent statement on student rights. But the AAUP has rarely gone beyond this, to provide models for protecting the rights of students or to defend students who have their rights violated. If the AAUP defends the rights of everyone, then it will be perceived as what it is, an organization that defends principles rather than one that protects the self-interest of faculty.


8. Utilize AAUP Members as Volunteers

The AAUP’s biggest resource (one that virtually all other higher education organizations lack) is its 40,000 members. But the AAUP doesn’t ask those members to do much of anything except write a check every year. Create a database of AAUP members with their skills (web design, writing, editing, graphic design, photography, organizing, networking, research, legal advice) that they are willing to offer to the AAUP. Invite AAUP members who lose elections to participate in the AAUP, and seek out more active committee members from the ranks of state AAUP activists. If the AAUP’s committee structure is too slow to act, start creating task forces of a few volunteers to complete a specific task.


7. Create a State AAUP Conference in Every State

Every state should have an AAUP presence. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, in part because of some rule that a state must have three active campus chapters before it’s allowed to have a state conference. As a result, there are no state conferences for the AAUP in many states, including places such as Wisconsin where they could be an important voice for academic freedom. Why should Idaho have the same requirements as California? Why have any requirements at all? The AAUP should list state conferences for every state on their website, and ask a member in the state to serve as a contact if there is not an active base of chapters yet. This emptiness on the AAUP website gives people the impression that the AAUP is doing nothing in a state if it’s not listed. Having an AAUP conference in every state will increase the ability to get more people involved in the AAUP.


6. Create a Website for Every AAUP State Conference and Every Chapter

Every AAUP state conference and chapter should have a website. But it’s much easier for the national AAUP to assist the states and chapters by creating an easy system for a website which can host individual state and chapter websites if they choose not to create their own site. Allowing for a permanent web address on the AAUP site would help make it easier for chapters and states to update their sites, and allow for the national AAUP to update these sites when necessary. Each site could have standardized information about the AAUP and its policies, contact information via a submission form, and other data about local and state activities.


5. Start an AAUP Speaker’s Bureau

Although many AAUP leaders and members speak on higher education, you wouldn’t know it by reading the AAUP’s literature or looking at the website. The AAUP should have a list of experts who can speak in various areas of the country, both for AAUP chapters and conferences to recruit speakers, and to provide anyone interested in higher education issues with potential speakers. Because the Speaker’s Bureau would be simply a list of speakers and their locations, contact info, and expertise, it would require very little work to create and maintain.


4. Coordinate with Academic Conferences to Hold AAUP Sessions

Now that the AAUP has an annual conference on higher education, it’s important to start spreading the work of the AAUP directly to the academic disciplines. The AAUP should ask AAUP members to propose sessions at the academic conferences they attend to deal with academic freedom issues in that discipline, and pass out AAUP literature at the conference. A committee devoted to helping to promote the AAUP should contact all academic disciplines, encouraging them to help set up such sessions.


3. Evaluate and Grade Colleges for Their Intellectual Liberty and Shared Governance

The AAUP’s Censure List is the only existing system within the AAUP for evaluating colleges. But it does nothing to reward colleges with excellent policies and procedures, and it often fails to target some of the worst offenders. Grading colleges based on systematic criteria would help inform and pressure them about specific ways to improve their policies. Although it would take an enormous amount of work to evaluate every college, it would be easy to grade most of the leading colleges, and then expand the system every year. US News and World Report has been deeply influential despite a badly flawed system of ranking colleges for “quality.” FIRE has been highly effective in grading colleges based on student free speech with its green/yellow/red light system. The AAUP can do it better, and increase its influence in higher education.


2. Publicize the AAUP’s Work on Academic Freedom

Post letters to universities (and replies from them) about academic freedom cases on the AAUP website and publicize them to the press (except when the victim of a violation demands otherwise). In most cases, people who have had their academic freedom violated want to have this information publicized, but they lack the time and skill to do it. In virtually every case, negative publicity helps force an administration to change its position far more than behind-the-scenes negotiating ever will. And publicity about the AAUP’s work will do more to encourage new members to join than almost anything else the AAUP can do.


1. Create a Rapid-Response System for Violations of Academic Freedom

The biggest problem with the AAUP’s current approach to attacks on academic freedom is that the organization never publicly criticizes the overwhelming majority of these violations. By waiting for an investigation that usually never happens, the AAUP is losing an opportunity to be a forceful advocate. If the national staff and Committee A are too busy with investigations and policies, then create a new committee with the state conferences to seek out information and respond publicly to every violation of academic freedom in America. The AAUP’s recent responses to the University of Virginia and Texas A & M University-San Antonio are a model for what the AAUP must do: speak the values of academic freedom and shared governance loudly and openly, unafraid that someone might think the AAUP is biased in one direction, because we will always be proudly biased toward freedom.

4 thoughts on “Nine Ideas for Improving the AAUP

  1. Terrific suggestions top to bottom! In particular, the support for student rights, through linkages with progressive student organizations, is essential, I think, to sustaining AAUP. I agree wholeheartedly with the benefits in calling on more involvement from our members, in creating a speakers’ bureau, and in initiating AAUP-related panels–in creating an AAUP presence–at academic conferences. The Ohio Conference is presently considering how best to accomplish these goals.

    Marty Kich
    President, AAU-Wright State
    OCAAUP Board Member

  2. These are all self-evident reminders of the role of AAUP, especially 1-8. I think the inclusion of number 9 is problematic: it assumes that faculty do not defend student rights as part of their role in the governance structure of colleges and universities; it indirectly gives credence to irrational generalizations that oppose or equate faculty rights with student rights; and it finally acknowledges one of the ideological tenets currently undermining faculty’s role and place in the educational system, the rhetorical and politically driven mythology accentuating a so-called “student-centered” apporach to education (e.g., student learning outcomes, etc.).

    AAUP also needs to oppose and not accept or adapt to the ideological trojan-horses that are transforming the face of education (e.g., “assessment”, etc.)

    • Of course faculty (including AAUP members and chapters) already defend student rights, and we need to publicize more of the cases where this occurs. But no one would ever say that the national AAUP doesn’t need to defend faculty rights because faculty on campuses already do it. Why should we accept the same argument with regard to student rights?

      Nor can I accept the notion that we must fear defending students rights because we will be buying into the corporate model of “student-centered” higher education or the conservative model that cynically invokes a nonexistent “student right” to silence faculty speech about politics.

      Not only can we distinguish student rights from faculty rights, but we must talk about student rights in order to help people understand what these different rights mean. When the AAUP neglects student rights due to lack of resources and priorities, it ultimately harms faculty rights. The administrators who succeed in censoring students will eventually try to do the same to faculty; the students who would stand for faculty academic freedom might be reluctant to do so on behalf of faculty who won’t defend student rights. And the public loses confidence in universities and the AAUP when they hear stories about censorship of students but nothing opposing it from the leading defender of freedom on campus.

      If the AAUP doesn’t help defend and define student rights, someone else will, often in ways that are destructive to academic freedom.

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