AAUP Response to "Open Letter to Barbara Bowen"

Yesterday a guest blogger posted to this site an “Open Letter to Professional Staff Congress (CUNY) President Barbara Bowen.”  The leadership of the AAUP has authorized the posting of the following response to that posting:

On behalf of the AAUP, we want to stress, as prominently noted on the masthead above, that opinions published on the Academe blog “do not necessarily represent policies of the AAUP.”  The Professional Staff Congress is an affiliate of the AAUP and a member in good standing of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress.  We enjoy excellent relations with the elected leaders of the PSC, several of whom serve simultaneously in important leadership capacities within the AAUP.  The AAUP has no interest in becoming involved in internal disputes involving its affiliates or chapters.  In particular, we are loath to become involved in public critiques of any affiliate’s approach to contract negotiations, which we know from long experience may be complicated and difficult.  While we respect the editorial independence of Academe magazine and of the Academe blog, we do not believe either to be appropriate venues for the publication of documents such as this “open letter.”

Rudy Fichtenbaum, President, AAUP
Howard Bunsis, Chair, AAUP-CBC
Julie Schmid, Executive Director, AAUP/AAUP-CBC

18 thoughts on “AAUP Response to "Open Letter to Barbara Bowen"

  1. While I do not agree with all, or perhaps even most, of the “open letter” I must ask where is the proper place for such discussion if not in the pages of the official magazine and the magazine’s blog? This is real democratic discussion, and it is messy, complete with disagreement, hurt feelings and perhaps some overstatements and even un truths, purposeful or accidental. This is all part of what we sign up for when we koi a democratic organization in which we can take part.

    Joe Berry, Member AAUP committee on contingency and the profession

  2. The periods of greatest growth and success of the labor movement have been characterized by broad and democratic discussion among the members. From the Knights of Labor, to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), to the Congress of Industrial Organizations – our greatest advances came through the genuine decision-making of the rank-and-file.

    In genuinely democratic union struggles, negotiations take place with full transparency so that it is the members that are determining policy and instructing negotiators. That is the opposite of the business-union model of union officials making agreements with management and then selling the deals to the members.

    In my opinion, the genuine concerns of any member is appropriate for this venue. The problem on the Academe Blog is not that we have inappropriate or distracting discussions – it is that we have too little participation from the members. There should be more people contributing to the dialogue, raising the issues that they are concerned about whether it be on the local regional or national level; whether it is on economic or social justice issues; etc. And being critical of your union leadership is not only a right it is a responsibility.

    This note is not meant to imply that you have to agree with brother Kennedys’ contribution, only that we should be encouraging membership participation and creating an atmosphere that encourages discussion.

  3. We must thank AAUP VP Reichman for his honesty in revealing that the AAUP leadership is devoted first and foremost to a practice of subservience to the affiliate unions which pay subventions to the AAUP coffers and enable the leadership to effectuate its will. “Noli me tangere” is how this policy was described to me by a member of the National AAUP staff years ago — but those of us in the trenches refer to it as the “thirty pieces of silver” principle.

    Indeed, for any and all members of the AAUP who may have wanted to believe that there was somehow a difference between the “new” AAUP leadership and the earlier vanguard, this blog contribution by the current AAUP VP dispels any such notion. His exhortation to suppressing open dialogue on the challenges of adjunct academic freedom and working conditions is directly reminiscent of the letter of then General Secretary Gary Rhoades to Prof. Paul Zarembka in the Grabowski Affair at SUNY-Buffalo, cf. http://zarembka.blogspot.com/2010/10/reply-to-response-of-gary-rhoades.html.

    Prof. Zarembka’s analysis of General Secretary Rhoades’ genuflection to union bosses is almost word-for-word applicable to this situation as well. A predecessor General Secretary, Mary Burgan, had written a similar letter defending SUNY’s United University Professions union’s support for contracting out of tenured and nontenured faculty alike in their contract negotiations as well — again, for “thirty pieces of silver” from the union bosses.

    Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves. “The AAUP is dead; long live the AAUP!”

  4. Erratum in the comment above:

    Please refer to “AAUP VP Reichman” in the text of the comment and insert “AAUP President Fichtenbaum, CBC Chair Bunsis, and Executive Director Schmid.” The commenter was influenced by the emailed notice attributing the “open letter” posting to AAUP VP Reichman, and thus failed to clearly indicate that the authors of the “official rebuke” to the Academe staff (and the membership/readership, as well) are those named officers and staff.

  5. Way to go, AAUP — you manage to both open and stifle discussion by allowing open critique to appear on your site while distancing yourself. There’s no need to remind us that the opinions are not your own. We can see that on every page of the blog.

    If you really want to help save American education, why not stifle neoliberal think tank representatives who are spreading common core for higher ed propaganda via your blog? You do realize you are aiding and abetting the takeover of higher ed the same way it happened to our primary and secondary system, don’t you? (For clarification, see Diane Ravitch’s blog: DianeRavitch.net.)

    I’m saddened that we are all complicit in the demise of our once amazing public education system. We should be applauding our young people for speaking up, not remonstrating them.

  6. An excerpt from the Fichtenbaum, Bunsis, and Schmid response (https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/aaup-response-to-open-letter-to-barbara-bowen/) reads:

    The AAUP has no interest in becoming involved in internal disputes involving its affiliates or chapters. In particular, we are loath to become involved in public critiques of any affiliate’s approach to contract negotiations, which we know from long experience may be complicated and difficult. While we respect the editorial independence of Academe magazine and of the Academe blog, we do not believe either to be appropriate venues for the publication of documents such as this “open letter.”

    A few comments:

    1. Well over 100 individuals have provided their names and affiliations in support of Sean Kennedy’s 13 May 2014 “Open Letter to CUNY Union President Barbara Bowen.” Especially as many are not PSC members and not connected to CUNY, Kennedy’s letter cannot be dismissed as a mere “internal dispute.”

    2. Publishing Kennedy’s letter in the AAUP’s Academe blog cannot be seen as a violation of a AAUP policy to respect the dignity of a local affiliate’s decision making, as Fichtenbaum, Bunsis, and Schmid imply.

    3. Certainly the substance of Kennedy’s letter is germane to faculty at large, especially the majority of faculty members. Kennedy contends that “the needs of adjuncts and graduate student workers” are being ignored and he expresses resentment at the claim that “full-time faculty need ‘investments’ more than adjuncts and graduate student workers.” Kennedy’s letter may be well be seen as inappropriate to those who wish to believe that all is well, but it is surely appropriate to include Kennedy’s letter in a blog intended for discussion of faculty issues for AAUP members.

    4. A faculty union is not a social club. In exchange for the right to serve as the exclusive collective bargaining agent of the workers it represents, a union is under the moral and legal obligation to provide fair representation to its members, all of its members, and especially the weakest, most vulnerable members; the leadership can’t capriciously decided to work for those who drive nice cars or who part their hair on the right side.

    5. Fichtenbaum, Bunsis, and Schmid claim that they, as AAUP leaders, don’t want to become involved in internal disputes of locals, yet isn’t this exactly what they have done? The language they use, just in the excerpt cited above, is full of judgmental, loaded language (“we are loath…,” “we know from long experience…” [as if to say, “our long experience trumps yours”], “we do not believe …”) . If there were a survey to probe whether the AAUP has sided with (a) Barbara Bowen or (b) adjunct faculty who are asking fair representation, I’d be willing to put money that most people would select (a).

    6. To offer a cynical, “follow the money” analysis, while the PSC is an AFT union, I believe the PSC is also connected to the AAUP. Could it be that the AAUP’s Academe has gotten in hot water because publishing Kennedy’s letter casts the AFT in bad light?

    Best wishes,

    Jack Longmate
    Adjunct English Instructor
    Bremerton, WA

  7. Indeed, the response of the AAUP leadership is predictable and consistent with the its personal self-interest while directly opposed to a true defense of the AAUP principles. But there’s gold in them thar union affiliate hills — and he who has the gold makes the rules..

    PSC was an AAUP-affiliated union before it became an AFT union and for several decades the AAUP has been receiving a fixed amount of money for CBC membership and a limited number of individual memberships in CUNY which are apparently vetted by the PSC leadership. Indeed, the PSC monies exchanged for influence in AAUP over the years are in the millions of dollars range.

    Remember that anyone can verify all of these financial transactions by consulting the US Department of Labor Website for the AAUP’s annual private union financial reports mandated by the Federal LMRDA legislation (cf. http://kcerds.dol-esa.gov/query/getOrgQry.do). Of course, AAUP leadership had to be called on the carpet by DOL auditors for a lack of probity in the reports which, while corrected in the immediately succeeding filing, has reared its ugly head in successive reports (cf. http://www.dol.gov/olms/regs/compliance/ICAP_Letters_2008/AAUP_ICAP_09-30-08.htm).

    AAUP affiliation should impose upon a union leadership a certain number of obligations of service and adherence to the core AAUP principles in all of their operations. Instead, AAUP affiliation is a way for union bosses to purchase AAUP’s silence as they pursue their own agendas at the bargaining table — agendas which often deviate from the AAUP principles and rarely involve adjunct justice. AFT, PSC, and UUP have all purchased AAUP silence through this mechanism of dollars for influence — and even the use of the AAUP name.

    Interestingly, COCAL finds itself at a crossroads as well. When the Grabowski Affair broke at SUNY-Buffalo the New Faculty Majority was silent because its leader was a member of AAUP National Council — and what’s one adjunct’s rights sacrificed here or there when dollars and influence are at stake, eh? Now COCAL’s meeting is set to be hosted by the PSC in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the world, itself a contradiction of needed accessibility for a premier adjunct conference to exploited, underpaid adjuncts.

    Thus, now COCAL’s leadership should ask itself to what extent they have been co-opted by PSC’s “thirty pieces of silver.” A PSC leader has already metaphorically SLAPPed* Sean Kennedy on the Adj-L list for his earlier daring to post his justified concerns about the financial burden that the NYC conference venue imposes and the means of participation of adjuncts themselves in PSC’s COCAL planning.

    In short, the PSC leadership apparently gives high profile lipservice to adjunct issues at conferences but intentionally neglects them at the bargaining table where it counts. AAUP principles become meaningless in this political mix — the AAUP leadership is now SLAPPing both Academe staff and the CUNY adjunct at once.

    And the AAUP centennial approaches — Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves.

    * SLAPP: strategic lawsuit against public participation

  8. I’m disgusted by the “response” of Rudy Fichtenbaum, Howard Bunsis, and
    Julie Schmid. To completely avoid the subject—adjunct/contingent exploitation—is bad enough, and then, to implicitly dismiss this problem, which many of us believe is the central threat to the Future of Higher Education, is even worse.

  9. In response to the above replies, and writing only on my own behalf, I must ask: what or who has been “stifled?” The “open letter” remains accessible to anyone on this site (as of this morning it has garnered 156 views; the AAUP response has been viewed 145 times). The various comments posted by readers, some anonymous, also remain accessible and new ones may be posted. Indeed, the very chain of replies in which I am now participating suggests that not only has no one been “stifled” but that the discussion continues.

    Apparently, the commenters would have us believe that it is perfectly fine for an anonymous “guest blogger” to post on this AAUP-hosted site an “open letter” that can arguably be seen as a personal attack on an AAUP member and the elected leader of an AAUP affiliate, written by someone who does not appear to be an AAUP member. It is also fine in their view for commenters, some anonymous, to endorse that post and to make other accusations about AAUP and its leadership, as “professor-at-large” does repeatedly. However, when I choose to post a signed statement by AAUP’s officers and executive director that disassociates AAUP as an organization from this open letter, indicates that as an organization AAUP does not take sides in disputes that may arise within its chapters and affiliates, and, while reaffirming the editorial independence of the Academe blog, offers the opinion that such posts are inappropriate for this site we are told that somehow this “stifles” debate. Really?!

    Let me be clear: AAUP’s officers and national staff do not control, monitor, or police this site, nor do any of us have any desire to do so. The site is managed directly by its editors and indirectly by the editorial board of Academe magazine. (Hence, Longmate is absolutely correct that posting this open letter does not violate an AAUP policy; of course, no one ever claimed that it did.) I, for one, think the editors have been doing an excellent job. It may be argued that the site could use clearer guidelines of what is an appropriate posting and who may blog here (the comments have always been open to all, including anonymous participants). But if such guidelines are to be established, that should be the prerogative and task of the editors. However, I would hope that AAUP leaders might also be among those permitted to voice their views on the site. Do only our critics enjoy the right to speak on our own site?

    There seems little point in responding to most of the specific charges made in these comments, but I do want to address Longmate’s claim that “If there were a survey to probe whether the AAUP has sided with (a) Barbara Bowen or (b) adjunct faculty who are asking fair representation, I’d be willing to put money that most people would select (a).” The point, however, is that many people are hardly convinced that Barbara Bowen, the PSC or, for that matter, the AAUP are not providing fair representation for adjunct faculty. Just because the author of this open letter and his supporters believe this to be the case doesn’t make it so. But, really, that’s not for me or AAUP to decide. How PSC bargains for its next contract is PSC’s decision. If PSC members don’t like their contract or their leadership, they can say so and try to change things. But it’s not AAUP’s role to take sides in such a dispute, if indeed one exists.

    I can only agree with Joe Berry and Mike Alewitz that the labor movement in higher education and more broadly benefits from open democratic discussion. But the Academe blog is not the higher education labor movement. It is the blog of AAUP’s Academe magazine. As such, it is one public face of AAUP and also just one participant in a broader set of discussions and debates that involve literally hundreds of blogs, websites, and more traditional print publications. Indeed, every page of this blog includes on the right-hand side of the page a list of many such blogs representing a broad variety of opinions. No one site, this blog included, can represent all views and all opinions.

    Finally, for the record let me state that to my knowledge no one from the PSC, AFT or any other organization has communicated any objection to the AAUP about the posting of this open letter on this site. The suggestions by “professor-at-large” and Jack Longmate that somehow the statement that I posted was motivated by organizational or personal pecuniary interest is not only totally unfounded it is, frankly, a variant but still despicable example of the kind of anti-labor propaganda about “fat-cat union bosses” that I would hope this blog’s readers will reject.

  10. A good part of the academic workforce endures slave-labor conditions as contingent labor. Public higher education is being dismantled. Standardized testing is replacing learning. Democratic rights and tenure are being undermined on the campus. A generation of students has been turned into debt slaves.

    We have some major issues to deal with.

    A colleague writes in with an issue of concern to all of us. The national officers call it inappropriate. Brother Reichman suggests that he scroll down the list of Academic Blogs on this page, until he finds somewhere else that seems appropriate, and then goes there.

    I don’t care for that approach. We don’t need to “manage” unruly members – we need to build a movement. That is a long and difficult process that begins with listening to the ranks, including those you disagree with.

    If the AAUP is to have a future, discussion of such issues, including leadership critiques, belongs right here.

    • If you think that discussion of such issues has not been continuing on this blog ever since its inception, you are not paying attention. You might start by going here to see all the posts that have been classified as dealing with contingent faculty appointments: https://academeblog.org/category/contingent-faculty-appointments/. I would assume that my willingness to respond these comments at least might suggest that I am open to “listening to the ranks.” That doesn’t mean, however, any of us are obliged to agree with all that we hear. And absolutely no one on this blog has called for “managing unruly members.” It’s one thing to disagree with people, quite another to put words in their mouths.

  11. Response to the AAUP VP’s comment above:

    Paragraph 1: For the AAUP leadership to speak from their own version of papal “ex cathedra” as “on behalf of AAUP” without so much as evidence of a consultation of the National Council, is easily understood as an attempt to “chill” the speech on this blog. That the AAUP leadership shut down the only earlier open venue for dialogue, the AAUP-General Listserv, is a fact alive in the memory of recent members (and some of the public, as well) and that shut-down, as well, was preceded by retaliatory “removals” of persons from the list. In one case, a member had to file an internal AAUP grievance to be reinstated to the listserv. So for an AAUP national officer to state or imply that the “official” posting by the AAUP President, the CBC President, and the AAUP Executive Director was not meant to “chill” is simply disingenuous.

    Paragraph 2: If the author of the “open letter” to Barbara Bowen is not an AAUP member (and that is not generally known to be the case), his PSC union dues nonetheless support the formal annual affiliation dues to AAUP for the PSC.

    Further, as the AAUP VP surely knows, these funds for PSC memberships are apparently essentially controlled by the PSC leadership — all persons in CUNY wishing to avail themselves of one of the 1000 annually-purchased memberships in AAUP must file with the PSC leadership to achieve that end. It is not clear how many PSC members even understand the mechanics of the AAUP/PSC affiliation for the PSC Website is rather obscure on that matter — perhaps to ensure that faculty like the author of the “open letter” will not become members and thereby have a more powerful voice to dissent.

    If the AAUP VP believes that the allegations voiced by Professor_at_large are baseless, he need only present evidence on the blog to that effect. Please note that Professor_at_large generally takes great pains to provide links in the comments to external sources where available.

    Paragraph 3: For officers and high-level staff to make an official pronouncement that this Academe Blog is not an “appropriate” venue for discussing whether AAUP unions are faithful to the AAUP principles of academic freedom and governance is surely to be perceived as an attempt to “chill” free speech at the site. Discussion of “inappropriateness” is key here, as a sign of that intended “chilling effect.”

    Paragraph 4: Having denigrated the guest blogger and commenters, the AAUP VP declines to address any specifics. Of course, truth is difficult to refute and is the absolute defense against all libel charges.

    As for the AAUP VP’s assertion of the freedom of PSC leaders to negotiate a contract which might violate AAUP principles of academic freedom and governance, well, quod erat demonstrandum: AAUP leaders sell their silent consent (qui tacet consentire) to the apparent lesser working conditions and freedoms of adjuncts in AAUP unions. There are no requirements made of AAUP-affiliated union leaders to respect AAUP principles in their negotiations and all other operations — the AAUP name is bought and sold so easily. Indeed, union bossism scarcely seems a strong enough term for these activities. Racketeering would appear to describe the purchase of influence in AAUP with dues monies, would it not?

    Paragraph 5: Here again it would appear that the reader is being “chilled” to eschew argumentative topics on the grounds that the AAUP Academe Blog cannot be “all-inclusive.” Representative democracies by definition are not all-inclusive; they are representative by definition. If members of the academic community and members of AAUP raise an issue at this blog and the topic resonates and generates discussion, then it is likely to evince representative issues and arguments. Let the dialogue continue and all further “chill” warnings cease.

    Paragraph 6: No one from the PSC or AFT leadership needs to intervene, so confident are they that the “unholy alliance” of dollars paid for union boss influence in AAUP has been and is well established for decades. Of course, the AAUP VP speaks only for himself; we do not have any statements from the authors of the “official” AAUP response that there have been no demands from PSC or AFT made to them.

    As for pecuniary interests, the monies of the PSC and AFT deposited into the AAUP treasury are not inconsiderable, and AAUP is not very good at fund-raising and membership development because of its track record of late to abandon faculty interests in the pursuit of union alliances for agency fees. Thus the specter of the pull-out of a major affiliate is surely a silent fear, especially given the UUP relationship fiasco which deprived the AAUP leadership of six figures annually.

    Further, the Web is replete with financial analyses conducted by the consultant team of the two Presidents, of the AAUP and of the CBC. I assume that the AAUP VP is hereby telling us that these individuals have never ever accepted any compensation or honoraria whatsoever for those consultancies which have been charged to conference and chapter budgets.

    Lastly, those who fight for democracy in unions are frequently disparaged by problematic union bosses and accusations of right-wing affiliations constantly surface. Indeed, the AAUP VP even voiced that accusation to the DOL against the filers of the election protests as commentary during the pre-election conference phone calls. This is tired old rhetoric and one can only urge fellow blog readers to explore the Website of the Association for Union Democracy (cf. http://aud2.uniondemocracy.org/) to learn how mainstream the preoccupations of the commenters at this blog actually are.

    Let the dialogue continue — and for fun, let’s borrow a phrase from Fox News (just to get a rise, as they say, out of the AAUP VP) — fair, balanced, and unafraid.

  12. I thank everyone for their support of the open letter and the related campaign for the representation of contingent academic laborers in full-timer-dominated unions–a national effort as the comments demonstrate.

    I want to comment on the “slave-labor conditions” comparison in the second comment above. I’ve critiqued such comparisons on Twitter–and many more knowledgeable folks than I have written powerful critiques of it (for one particularly good example, see http://adjunct.chronicle.com/slavery-should-never-be-a-metaphor/)–but because this comparison is now cropping up in relation to the open letter, I need to say that I disagree with any and all comparisons between contingent academic labor and racialized social and economic control of any kind, whether slavery, segregation, apartheid, or any other form. Such comparisons, unfortunately, are a consistent trend in rhetoric on contingent academic labor.

    I disagree with such comparisons both because, to me, they’re inaccurate–contingent academic laborers aren’t chattel, or property, or legally separated or denied civil equality, or racialized in any way qua their contingent labor–*and* because such comparisons are highly offensive to many people who are racialized, especially African-Americans who still deal with the multifarious legacies of slavery and Jim Crow today. Such comparisons are also offensive to many people who aren’t racialized by dint of their white privilege, including me.

    The comparisons are also unnecessary to make the case that contingent academic labor and the two-tier academic labor system are unfair: both are patently unfair on their face. Even with the question of reform vs. “abolition”–and, for what it’s worth, I think we need to reform the unfair academic-labor system at the same time as we work to abolish it–it’s unnecessary to refer to the abolition of slavery (as I’ve seen elsewhere) to make the case for the abolition of the academic-labor system. The present system should be abolished for the very straightforward reasons that it’s deeply unfair and keeps people impoverished. (This is also, by the way, why I support the abolition of capitalism.)

    Furthermore, the abolition of slavery was a highly complicated process that can’t be reduced to a metaphor (much like slavery/apartheid/segregation can’t): it had as much to do with U.S. westward expansion, for instance, and the question of whether new territories should allow slavery, as anything else–which is to say that the abolition of slavery was predicated in part on the further dispossession and genocide of indigenous communities. That dreadful connection comes with any reference to the abolition of slavery, and, again, we deal with the legacies of both slavery and indigenous dispossession and genocide today.

    Finally, these comparisons to racialized social and economic control betray the fact that both the students and faculty of higher education remain largely white, and that higher education actually works as a form of racialized social and economic control, as does public education at all levels given the gross inequities of educational resources, on top of the gross inequities of economic and social resources at large. Indeed, because racial discrimination, in both overt and covert ways, remains a potent force in U.S. society, racialized students and faculty, including contingents, experience greater challenges, inside and outside academia, than their white counterparts. And though higher education staff tend to be appreciably more racially diverse than students or faculty (for a variety of reasons), that doesn’t diminish the challenges racialized staff members face.

    All of these aforementioned issues are apparent to me in my academic research and, especially, in my teaching and organizing at CUNY, a highly stratified public university that not only reflects its highly stratified city but contributes to the city’s stratification, as I note in the open letter.

    Just wanted to make my thoughts known since I’m responsible for the open letter, even as it continues to take on a life of its own.

    Sean M. Kennedy

  13. Pingback: Slavery/Abolition/Apartheid/Segregation Comparisons to Contingent Academic Labor: No | Contingent Representation at CUNY's Union

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