This is the first post in what I hope will be a series, in which conference and chapter leaders comment on the issues that they are trying to address and the initiatives that they are trying to organize and to promote.
I intend to contact conference or chapter leaders directly to invite them to participate, but any leaders who read this post should feel free to send me responses to the questions (substituting “chapter” for “conference” and “institution” for “state” where appropriate). My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following responses are from John McNay and Sara Kilpatrick, the president and the executive director of the Ohio Conference.
1. What do you think is the major strength of your conference?
Ohio has been a strong AAUP state for a long time. We have a strong collective bargaining chapter presence but also have a number of solid active advocacy chapters. Our strength is in our 4,500 members.
2. What are the major needs of your conference?
The Ohio Conference has underwent some substantial changes over the last few years in order to address major needs. We raised our dues to address budget issues, shed our 501(c)(3) tax status and became a 501(c)(6) to be able to be more politically engaged, and we changed the structure of our executive board to be more representative of our chapters/membership.
3. What are the major issues facing higher education in your state?
There is no shortage of problems facing higher education in Ohio. Decline in state subsidies to public institutions has been a problem for nearly 30 years. We have a governor that wants to continue reducing much-needed state revenue through tax cuts, has cut higher ed funding, and is hostile toward faculty and collective bargaining. Administrative bloat is pervasive at Ohio’s institutions of higher ed, and coupled with reductions in state funding, this has driven up tuition costs. Student debt is a huge issue for Ohio’s college graduates.
4. What is your conference doing to address those issues, to engage your membership in addressing those issues?
We communicate with our members about these issues through our e-newsletters and when go to chapter meetings in person. We also regularly communicate with the public through op-ed pieces, as well as social media like Facebook and Twitter. When there is a specific piece of legislation, we often ask our members to contact their legislators about them.
5. Has your conference developed cooperative linkages with (other) labor unions or progressive organizations in your state and region?
Yes. The Ohio Conference is part of numerous coalitions involving other labor unions and progressive organizations: We Are Ohio, One Ohio Now, Healthcare and Pension Advocates, Ohio Higher Education Coalition.
6. What kinds of strategies does your conference employ to maintain or increase membership?
I think most members are members because of the work they see done at the local chapter level. But we try to enhance the value of AAUP by making faculty feel like they have an advocate at the state level, especially when it comes to state government. Additionally, we are usually the main point of contact for faculty who want to form a new union.
7. Does your conference include retirees, adjunct faculty, graduate students, and/or academic professionals as full or associate members? Are you doing anything specifically to address the concerns, needs, and/or interests of any of those groups?
Our Conference has all of those membership categories, but outside of retirees and adjuncts, I’m not sure if we have members in those categories. In terms of adjuncts and graduate students, Ohio has a strange law that prohibits adjuncts and graduate students from collective bargaining. We have worked to get legislation introduced to change that law. I think we’ve also been strong advocates for adjunct issues and supportive of their activities.
8. What do you think is the major strength of the national AAUP?
The AAUP’s major strength is that it is a national voice for faculty in higher education and can speak with authority on these issues. I also think the changes the AAUP has made to more closely align its objectives with its membership – by putting more emphasis and revenue toward unionization – has made the organization stronger. More specifically, I think we have improved the level of national service and response to the conference and chapters although communication is something that still needs work.
9. What improvements would you like to see in the national AAUP?
Because the AAUP is a national voice for higher education, I’d like to see more interaction with the media. More commentary that is not just reactive but that is formative in trying to mold public opinion to recognize, value, and favor higher education. The publications that we produce for ourselves, like Academe, are very good but we need outreach to tell our story to ordinary people and political leaders.
10. Do you have any ideas on how AAUP can broaden its appeal to faculty in your region and/or nationwide?
We routinely have examples where intervention by the AAUP has created positive change, even in little ways. Like the way we have reached out and improved the professional lives of many NTT faculty. Or the way a letter from an AAUP leader causes even the leadership of a non-AAUP institution to change a policy. Or the bigger clashes that come over the bargaining table where the AAUP preserves or enhances some contract element. We don’t talk about these things enough. I think it is also valuable to portray ourselves as the professional organization that we are – by bringing in a respected speaker on an important topic, sponsoring a roundtable on an issue, or creating a mini-conference. Issues can vary – gender or minority issues, the role of sports, use and abuse of online education, changing funding issues, and on and on. It is all part of being a voice for the faculty.