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.