When This Blog Becomes a Point of Contention

Having followed all of the comments on Sean Kennedy’s post and the follow-up post from the AAUP leadership, I’d like to offer several observations:

It is very clear that no one has been prevented from expressing his or her opinions or from doing so without constraint.

The comments do, however, collectively serve to illustrate why the leadership made the statement about what may or may not be appropriate for posting on this blog: this at least initially internal dispute has become an opportunity for venting all sorts of concerns and complaints that, if not well beyond the scope of the original issue, have not really served to clarify very much about the original issue beyond what has been very pointedly stated in the original post by Sean Kennedy.

Moreover, the original issue has to do with the way in which ongoing contract negotiations are being conducted, and what has lost in this very public discussion is that the people seated on the other side of the table are no doubt privy to it–which does violate one of the most basic principles of how to conduct contract negotiations effectively.

Although I very much agree with Mike Alewitz that this blog and our unions in general would benefit greatly from more member participation, I wonder how we make that happen, at least more dramatically. We clearly can provoke people to express themselves very passionately, but we are less effective in channeling that passion into constructive action. Instead, all progress in that direction seems to be very incremental.

The number of contributors to and readers of this blog has certainly increased over the last 18 months. I believe that Aaron, John, and Gwen have been very welcoming of new contributors, and the increasing mix of voices seems to be attracting a broader spectrum of readers. But there is very obviously much more room for growth.

Likewise, I ran for an at-large seat on Council this past spring, and there were twelve candidates for two seats. I thought that the very large number of candidates, at least for that position, was a very positive sign–and by the way, I finished fourth, behind three adjunct faculty, which, if I was going to lose, seemed a nice way to lose. But that is clearly just a start to making AAUP more representative.

I know that I have been working at the local, state, and national levels to try to make that happen. But, in the process, I have come to recognize that it is almost always much easier to see and to say how things ideally ought to be than to make them that way. So some of what has been said in some of the comments on these recent posts bothers me a great deal.

I consider Rudy and Howard to be good friends, but also more than that. I became more active in AAUP because I witnessed firsthand the tremendous commitment that Rudy and Jim Vance, another founding member of our chapter, have had to the AAUP and, more specifically, to serving our chapter members as conscientiously as possible. I thought that such commitment demanded more support from those whom they were working so hard to represent. It may sound hokey, but they genuinely inspired me to become much more involved.

So, although everything that Rudy, Howard, and the others in AAUP leadership do is absolutely open to criticism—I myself have disagreed with both Rudy and Howard on some issues and have been very straightforward in sharing my views with them–the criticism warrants a greater degree of underlying respect than what has been apparent in some of the comments on these recent posts.

Our leaders are not “union bosses,” nor are they Judases selling out themselves or anyone else for “silver.”  Our leaders are all volunteers in the truest and most complete sense of the word: they have not made a cent from their work, and they have been devoting a very large chunk of their professional lives to make AAUP a more effective and representative organization–at the local, state, and national levels, and even now at all of those levels at once.

So, in my view, every member of AAUP absolutely has a right to criticize the statements and actions of anyone and everyone in our leadership. But if you are going to personalize those criticisms, to turn them into personalized attacks–and are not a complete ingrate–you had better have demonstrated something close to the level of commitment to AAUP that they have demonstrated–and not just for a couple of years but over their now lengthy careers.

That said, you should feel very welcome to level more personalized attacks on me for writing this post.

Relatively recently, in a private conversation, I provoked an extremely professional administrator, whom I have known for years and “grudgingly” respect, to call me an “asshole.” A short while later, as we were walking out of the building, he apologized for the remark. I told him to forget about it—that if he was going to try to get under my skin, he’d have to be a lot more creative than that. I added that in the neighborhood in which I grew up, if I was walking along with a group of friends and someone shouted, “Hey, asshole!,” we each would have turned around, thinking that the shout was meant for us.

I am fairly certain that Rudy and Howard will not think that my writing this post was one of my better ideas–that they may even feel somewhat embarrassed by it.

But, very obviously, I still have considerable room for personal growth and enlightenment.


7 thoughts on “When This Blog Becomes a Point of Contention

  1. Apparently while Marty was writing this post I was writing a comment in response to several comments that appeared in response to my posting of the AAUP officers’ response. For convenience, I will repost that comment here:

    “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.”

  2. For the record, professor_at_large has been a member of AAUP since 1988 and has served as a state conference executive committee member as well as a state conference committee chair and member of a state conference Committee A. Professor_at_large has been a member of a graduate student union as well as a member and three times a delegate in a public higher education union in addition to the AAUP membership and activity.

    The implication, however veiled, that commenters at this multivariate blog site are less qualified than the AAUP leadership to survey the higher education scene, describe AAUP history, either/or both/and lived and researched is short-sighted at best and dismissive at worst.

    As another at the “open letter” posting stated, adjunct issues are perhaps the most serious comprehensive and cross-sectional challenges facing higher education today. That the AAUP leadership feels compelled to “chlll” the speech of adjuncts and others at this blog site is more than evident. It must be noted that this is the first time that members have had an opportunity to have any way of dialoguing across chapters and states since the AAUP leadership intentionally shut down the aaup-general listserv. There, too, the “chill” preceded the murder of the venue — so a cat once burned is wary of the fire and the AAUP leadership knows very well what retaliation is implied even if not explicitly stated.

    As the Jesuits say, “What man has done, man can do.” And AAUP does not have a recent history of commitment to academic freedom and democracy within its operations. If it did, then members would not have had to file complaints with the US Department of Labor to reform AAUP election practices when their internal complaints were essentially ignored. The Assembly of State Conferences Chair would not have resigned in protest last year at the undermining of that organization by the AAUP leadership, etc., etc. and so forth.

    Let the dialogue continue. It is long, long, long overdue.

  3. Background information, which I believe is accurate.

    When soliciting adjunct PSC member support for that various May Day activities, the idea that a minimum 5K salary for adjuncts would be supported by the Union was prominently featured in the press releases. Later from the published PSC statement it can be discerned that Barbara Bowen never broached the topic with Bill de Blasio. Furthermore, to my knowledge the current contract agreements have not yet been published. The usual percentage across the board increase does not resolve the equal pay for equal work issue. Nor does the creation of a few new full-time positions for adjuncts (who become lecturers — is this a permanent designation or can the people achieve higher rank?? ) does not address the equal pay for equal work issue.

    The decreasing number of jobs in all sectors is a broad social issue, and the academy often weighs in quite vigorously on immigration, minimum wage, etc. What is odd is the tolerance for a two-tiered system where apparently 50-75% of the education is in fact provided by underpaid and precarious (at will, without long-term contract) “adjunct” labor. This practice speaks neither of solidarity nor collegiality. Frankly, not answering a heart-felt plea (Sean Kennedy’s letter) from people who are suffering psychologically and economically strikes me as both irresponsible and the height of bad manners, esp. as the concerned person are members of the constituency being addressed.)

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

  5. Cross-posted response to the AAUP VP’s cross-posted comment to this blog, likewise for the reader’s convenience:

    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

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