Please Steal This Idea. (I Did.)

Hank Reichman, the First Vice-President of AAUP and a frequent contributor to this blog, is marking his retirement by teaching a seminar on the history of academic freedom in the American university.  Unprompted, his provost handed him a sizable check and invited him to organize a broader symposium, a speakers series, on the history of academic freedom and the current challenges to it.

This struck me as a perfect way to celebrate the centennial of AAUP and to honor the contributions of faculty who have served both their institutions and AAUP over their long and productive careers.

At my own university, the recent retirees have included many who have contributed in significant ways to our AAUP chapter. But, coinciding with the centennial of AAUP, those retirees will include two individuals who have served in leadership positions since the chapter was first being organized and who deserve special recognition.

One of these two individuals will be very familiar to all of you. In addition to serving as the current President of AAUP, Rudy Fichtenbaum has continued to serve as our chapter’s Chief Negotiator. Our recent three-year contracts for our tenured and tenured-eligible unit and for our non-tenure-eligible unit demonstrate that the increased demands on his time have not reduced his effectiveness as a negotiator.

Although he does not have the national profile that Rudy has earned, Jim Vance, our longtime Communication Officer, is as closely associated with our chapter, across our university, as Rudy is. Indeed, in their roles within our chapter, they have become something close to alter-egos. Indeed, both of them have so devoted themselves to the development of the chapter that it is impossible to replace them–impossible to find anyone not completely daunted by the idea of trying to contribute in the many ways that they have contributed beyond the designated duties of their actual positions.

So, to celebrate the AAUP’s centennial and to honor the contributions of our chapter’s past leadership, but especially Rudy’s and Jim’s unequaled contributions to our chapter, I am organizing a series of seven monthly talks on the core principles of AAUP: academic freedom, shared governance, and tenure and economic security.

In my posts to this blog, I have often been critical of administrative attitudes, initiatives, and bloat–and, on occasion, specifically critical of my own university’s administration. But I want to give credit and thanks to my university administration for agreeing, without hesitation, to co-sponsor this speaker series. More specifically, I’d like to thank our president, David R. Hopkins, our provost, Sundaram Narayanan, and our Associate Provost for Faculty and Staff Affairs, Steve Berberich.

This sort of speakers series is something that can be developed in proportion to whatever resources that you have available. I am sure that there are many people in leadership positions with AAUP who would be willing to participate in such series. I am offering speakers a modest honorarium as well as covering their expenses. But, by inviting speakers at institutions within one’s geographic area, one can certainly control those costs.

In a recent post, John Wilson encouraged chapter and conference leaders to arrange talks on their campus about the mistreatment of Steven Salaita and how it illustrates the challenges to academic freedom and shared governance across our institutions. I think that the series such as the one that I have been organizing should certainly include discussions of not only the Salaita case, but of at least some of the similar cases, such as those involving Ward Churchill, Norman Finkelstein, David Guth, and Rachel Slocum.

Lastly, beyond our annual meeting in Columbus, our state conference leadership has been planning to hold more limited regional meetings around our state in order to build awareness of AAUP and the state conference, to build interest in membership both within current chapters and at institutions where we currently do not have chapters, and to build a sense of unified purpose as we face potential political and institutional challenges to our shared-governance and collective-bargaining rights. So, it is possible to use such a series to accomplish goals at multiple levels. By making our speakers series an opportunity for regional gatherings, we can not only make use of the state conference’s communications to promote it but we can also increase the attention to it within our institution.


5 thoughts on “Please Steal This Idea. (I Did.)

  1. Marty, you are more than welcome to steal my idea. But one modest correction: My provost, James Houpis, readily agreed to provide financial support for a day-long symposium on academic freedom, with both prominent local and national faculty leaders and my graduate students presenting papers, and which will culminate in an evening celebration of AAUP’s centennial with (I hope modest) recognition of my own retirement. But he did not do so unprompted. As you did, I went to him with the idea and I am grateful that he responded generously and without hesitation. The date of our event will be March 13, 2015, and I am happy to report that Professor Joan W. Scott, noted historian and member (and former chair) of Committee A, will be our keynote speaker. Let there be many more centennial celebrations in all regions of the country.

    • Hank:

      Sorry for mis-remembering several of the details. As I am getting older (and I am not yet even all that old), my intentions seem to be improving in proportion to the decline of my short-term memory.

      About thirty yeas ago, one of my mentors in graduate school was addressing my cohort of graduate students and noted that we were older and more professionally diverse than most previous cohorts of graduate students in that department had been. I pointed out that I was clearly an exception to that rule, and he smiled and said, “Yes, that’s true, but if you’d were an automobile, you’d be a very high-mileage model.” So the inexact memory is probably attributable to damage due to things other than just ordinary aging.


  2. This is an excellent idea. I have a couple of suggestions. One, include at least one (preferably more) case that was of a contingent, and maybe also one that did not get the publicity it deserved. One I can think of right off is the Douglas Giles cases, in which I was involved (and was won, more or less) at Roosevelt U in Chicago in 2005-7. Also, I think a real history of the AAUP and the fight for academic freedom would attract a lot more attention and have much greater impact if it included some honest self criticism by AAUP of it’s sometime less than stellar or consistent defense of academic freedom.  I think this would be seen as so surprising (that an organization was honestly, self critically and publicly examining its own past) that the public impact (mostly positive, I think) would be magnified many times.

    Thanks for reading this and I hope to get a notice soon of the schedule of events that I can send out on COCAL UPDATES.

    Joe Berry

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