As AAUP Prepares to Celebrate Its Centennial, Is It Time for It to Develop Some International Reach?

In a recent op-ed piece on the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Worldwide blog, Dzulkifli Abdul Razak responded to an article written by Nigel Thrift, vice chancellor of the University of Warwick. Thrift had argued for the creation of an international association of colleges and universities, suggesting that it would not only facilitate efforts to meet the common  challenges confronting institutions, but it would also promote higher education as a global resource in meeting broader socio-economic challenges.

Razak, the president of the International Association of Universities, pointed out that his organization already exists and is committed to the core aims delineated by Thrift. I am not sure whether Thrift’s apparent lack of awareness of Razak’s organization demonstrates his own limited perspective or the limited reach of the organization, or both. But, since I was also completely unaware of the International Association of Universities, I sense that the that organization either has considerably more work to do in becoming more truly representative and effective, or that it somehow is not meeting the need that both Thrift and Razak articulate very convincingly.

Coincidentally, as I have been collecting materials for this blog, I have become much more acutely aware that the challenges that we are facing as faculty at American institutions are not unique to our country—that those challenges are not only being confronted by faculty in nations around the globe but they are often complicated by socio-economic, political, and cultural factors that make them much more difficult and even hazardous to confront.

In just the last two decades, digital communications have truly transformed almost every human endeavor, including higher education. Digital communications have enabled me to develop close professional relationships with faculty on several other continents, to collaborate fairly effortlessly with those faculty on scholarly projects, and to begin to develop a sense of the potential in a truly global community of scholars.

Since AAUP is the oldest faculty association in the United States and about to commemorate its 100th anniversary, I wonder if it is not time for the organization to establish some sort of distinct membership category for international members. I suspect that we already have some members from institutions in other nations, especially neighboring countries such as Canada and Mexico; it would seem unlikely that we wouldn’t. But the creation of a distinct membership category for international members and some specific focusing on the challenges that they are facing would be of great value, I think, not only for them but for us.

In terms of the practical aspects of how well integrated into the association those new members might become, I would point out that even international air travel has become much cheaper. (This summer, a friend of mine is flying from Chicago to Moscow to Athens for less than I spent flying to last year’s Summer Institute in Seattle, and because of the circuitous routing on many domestic flights, his flight is not as many hours longer than mine was as I would have expected.) But, more than that, the advancements in digital communications now make it possible for faculty to meet “face to face” over Skype or a myriad of other services that provide both video and audio connections.

I anticipate that one of the first objections that I will hear is that AAUP needs to concentrate on increasing its membership here in the United States—that there are many collective bargaining units that might be organized, even more advocacy chapters that might be developed, and whole categories of potential members—adjunct faculty, graduate students, academic professionals, and retirees—whom we might represent more fully and meaningfully.

I would counter that each new chapter and even each new member increases the resources, the reach, and the potential of our association. Because of the new bargaining unit for our NTE faculty, our Wright State chapter has significantly more resources and more people to draw upon. The creation of that bargaining unit and, much more significantly, of the bargaining unit at Bowling Green State University, have had a similar impact on the resources that the Ohio Conference has available. And those bargaining units, along with the creation of the still larger bargaining units at the University of Oregon and at the University of Illinois at Chicago, have had a comparable impact on the national organization.

Growth has its own hazards, but if it is managed thoughtfully, it can have a galvanizing effect. It can become an almost self-propagating phenomenon and have a truly transformative impact.

Academics have led the chorus of complaints about the McDonaldization and WalMartization of higher education and, more broadly, of American society and culture. But we don’t necessarily have to embrace those kinds of corporate values in order to take a few, however cautious, lessons from their growth.

There is a need for what we have to offer faculty, but the need is becoming so acute that if we don’t take every opportunity to reach potential members, some other organization almost certainly will.

5 thoughts on “As AAUP Prepares to Celebrate Its Centennial, Is It Time for It to Develop Some International Reach?

  1. Many argue for “American exceptionalism” in the matter of our national constitution, etc. and in a sense this is what is being argued for above in the matter of the AAUP Constitution and its founding and operational principles. However, it is nonetheless wise to school ourselves in the legal history of the American version of academic freedom and governance and to compare it to such histories around the globe.

    We know, for example, that the American versions of academic freedom and governance were greatly influenced by the German Lehrfreiheit, etc. Without the governmental and higher education institutions, laws, and structures which historically gave rise to and support these specific principles it is difficult to conceptualize how they will be concretely applied across the globe. Indeed, is it not these frictions which rose to the fore in the Yale-National University of Singapore collaboration? With institutions of less prestige and power than Yale, would Singapore have made even the few concessions for liberty which Yale has touted to quell the opposition of the homefront faculty in New Haven?

    If memory serves correctly, AAUP already has some sort of formal agreement with its Canadian counterpart, and so it might be best to envisage these international partnerships in the context of alliances with organizations in other countries which appear to share the goals, values and principles of the AAUP and to encourage through AAUP associate membership for individuals (which already exists as a category), the progressive development in other nations of like-minded associations. Otherwise, granting full individual memberships to faculty outside the boundaries of this country would create the expectation and the right for those faculty of full rights of membership, including but not limited to voting rights and the rights to formal investigations,etc. which AAUP is ill-equipped to provide beyond the United States.

    Indeed, critics of the AAUP can and do point to major internal governance weaknesses and failures which already exist in AAUP, so it is always appropriate to perfect the organization’s own adherence to its founding principles before attempting to expand its membership in what might appear to be a simple ploy to swell the coffers of the treasury. In short, “look homeward, AAUP” is most likely still the best advice for the leadership at this time. The approaching centennial celebration should be nothing if not the occasion for high-level introspection and review of AAUP’s history and performance for the past near-century.

    • Thank you for the very thoughtful follow up.

      I agree that it might appear that this might “appear to be a simple ploy to swell the coffers of the treasury,” but that is not the primary impetus for my suggestion. Rather, I think that the less easily quantifiable benefits would very quickly outweigh the financial ones.

      I also agree that the principles that underlie American higher education are distinct from what currently exists in many other countries, particularly outside of Western Europe and North America. But I think that two realities are mitigating those distinctions: first, American higher education has become the primary international model, and second, even as we have become that model, we are seeing the core principles on which our institutions have been developed undermined in a myriad of ways–from the exploitation of adjunct faculty and the increasing shift to contingent appointments even among full-time faculty to administrative and legislative attacks on academic freedom. So, at the risk of a certain glibness, institutions in other nations are moving towards what we were, even as we are moving toward what they currently are.

      • Clarification: I did not mean to imply that you were suggesting an international membership category for pecuniary reasons but that it might appear that way if the AAUP adopted that suggestion given how little return on investment of member dollars the AAUP could provide. Even now, it is rare for members of the AAUP to be able to avail themselves of AAUP assistance in academic freedom cases, especially when they are in affiliated unions — preciselfy because, for thirty pieces of silver from a union, AAUP exercises a “noli me tangere” policy and defers to the affiliated union, regardless of that union’s faulty judgement or corruption. In short, so much for principles of academic freedom in AAUP when union subventions are at stake — or so it woud appear. (Again, that word “appear”….)

        As for the American model being the model for the rest of the world, it would appear that the desired model is one of the structure of higher education degrees and, at times classroom practice, and not necessarily one involving the structure of the faculty, their liberty, governance and appointment, etc. Indeed, higher education in so many countries is predominantly public without the large private non-profit sector we have in the United States, and as civil servants often have tenure rights that are far more protected than here in the United States. However, there being no “First Amendment” in other countries, it is not clear how each country’s constitution and government deal with controversial speech by civil servants..

        So, in theory, we agree that the principles of academic freedom and governance appear to be a sort of universal declaration of the rights of faculty in our American context. However, those principles are not being adopted in other parts of the world at the same time as the structure of a BA or a PhD which is being adopted more for marketing purposes to vast numbers of American students — and easier educational exchanges between nations — than out of any inherent superiorty in the structures. The model of the largest market rules. Further, the principles of academic freedom and goverance are bound to traditions and legal rights that are features of American and often “Western” democracies which more autocratic regimes have no intention of adopting.

        Therefore, what appears to be an international movement in universities is actually an international movement towards the commercialization of higher education — and not towards a renewed or even historic “idea of the university” grounded in principles of freedom of inquiry and search for the truth. Alas.

  2. Pingback: 2014 Through the Academe Blog: February | The Academe Blog

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