The AAUP's Digital Future

cropped AAUP Facebook pageOver the three years of my involvement with the AAUP, I’ve watched this venerable faculty institution complete a reorganization and begin a process of revitalization that is already placing it at the forefront of faculty advocacy, reaching far beyond what had been envisioned for it less than a generation ago. As a defender of academic freedom, shared governance and, since 1976, a collective-bargaining umbrella organization through the Collective Bargaining Congress, the AAUP has spent a century as a major faculty organization. In recent years, however, it has begun to be something more, an assertive proponent of faculty of all types and in all institutions. Adjuncts and contingent hires are becoming as important to the AAUP as those tenured or on the tenure track. Community colleges are beginning to be as represented within (and by) the AAUP as the venerable institutions whose faculty first founded the organization.

Part of the reason for this, quite frankly, is the internet. Social media now allow the AAUP to reach out in new ways and for those once beyond it to reach in. This blog, to take just one example, has gone from some 56,000 views in 2012 to what will be over 600,000 this year. In total, the blog has hosted over 2700 posts covering everything imaginable that might be of interest to members of the faculty. The national organization and local chapters have all started to use new means of communicating—and of acting.

In my online essay for the current issue of Academe, “The AAUP in the Digital Universe(ity),” I explore some of the implications of a changing media universe for an organization that has also been going through change. I write that “the AAUP, like every other organization, is having to deal with this new reality [of digital tools and media] both in its advocacy and in the way it defines and approaches core principles such as academic freedom.” I conclude:

The organization has been fortunate, so far, to have had the infrastructure in place to respond quickly and effectively to violation of academic freedom principles within the new electronic environment. In the future, the AAUP will have to begin to organize these resources into a considered frame both for action and for advancing understanding of academic freedom in this new universe surrounding our universities.

We—all of us who are involved with the AAUP, who are members or simply support our goals (and who should, of course, become members)—face a real possibility of redirecting higher education through our efforts. The neoliberal and corporatist forces of the past fifty years are beginning to fracture, the weaknesses of their structures finally showing and causing alarm. We have always offered an alternative (though both older and newer) path and are finally in a strong position for promoting it. Digital media have made this possible.

Now, all we need to do is take advantage—and organize. That means making sure we are all members of the AAUP as well as of our local collective-bargaining units (whether they be affiliated with the CBC or not), that we establish chapters on our campuses where there are none, that we share articles from Academe and the blog as widely as possible, that we contribute to this blog (and others), and that we encourage our campus communities, in as many ways as possible, to support the faculty and, through them, the students.

Articles from the current and past issues of Academe are available online. AAUP members receive a subscription to the magazine, available both by mail and as a downloadable PDF, as a benefit of membership.

2 thoughts on “The AAUP's Digital Future

  1. One problematic evolution within the corporatized university is the role of what are called academic professionals.

    While on the one hand, state public employee relations boards have sometimes gone on record that professionals have the same community of interest as the faculty and must be in the same bargaining units (e.g. New York State’s PERB and SUNY), in reality, many professionals work far more closely and ally their interests more directly with the administration of colleges and universities rather than the faculty. For example, the title “director” in SUNY is a UUP bargaining unit title, yet positions such as Director of Public Relations cannot really be seen as having the same relationship to management as faculty members or even academic professionals whose work is tied more closely with instruction and instructional support services.

    Indeed, the sway of professionals in these combined “communities of interest” is considerable as their numbers are growing exponentially as part of the administrative bloat of educational institutions. The discontent of professionals in UUP who perceive their interests as unimportant to AAUP was a key factor in the manipulation of the AAUP and UUP “relationship” by the UUP union bosses, a manipulation which the AAUP union bosses were only too willing to participate in given the lure of the six-figure “relationship” payments which UUP was making annually to AAUP.

    For example, the AAUP leadership created a national Committee on Professionals and appointed UUP officials to its leadership for at least a decade — the purchase of influence within AAUP by UUP was thus palpable at some of the highest levels of the AAUP. And sometimes that influence was the spur to AAUP’s deliberate refusal to address faculty academic freedom case/s which union bosses had mismanaged or ignored (e.g. the SUNY University at Buffalo case of adjunct and Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow Prof. Grabowski).

    Thus, the AAUP’s identity as a faculty organization is actually in full crisis, albeit kept hidden somewhat “behind the scenes.” Hungry for the dollars of any union agency fee relationship, AAUP leaders continue to court other major education unions, including AFT and UUP officials, and have appeared more than willing to concede further ground to union bosses and to professionals rather than faculty interests — in no small part through the enforcement of a “noli me tangere” policy to protect the pecuniary relationships of those fee agreements, past, present, future.

    In short, a faculty member who is not in an AAUP-affiliated union has far more rights and access to AAUP advocacy and services (e.g. National Committee A) than do those who are members of such unions, whose interests are subjugated to the priorities of their union bosses — a little-known fact. The digital age will likely serve to further reveal and highlight this AAUP identity crisis, as disputes and fee arrangements that were once able to be hidden and kept behind closed doors, are able to be sent around the world with just a few keystrokes. The US Department of Labor’s Website, for example, gives instant access to the mandatory financial reporting made by unions including AAUP — and the organization’s members can note where discrepancies in reporting occur, can see the salaries of the staff denied even to the National Council for decades, and note the revenue streams of the entire organization, etc.

    Will the AAUP achieve the role of faculty advocate portrayed in this blog post? The digital age will increase AAUP leaders’ influence but also provide better access to their scrutiny by the rank and file. Only time will tell. The centennial celebrations have not addressed these considerable identity faults which arguably have massive earthquake potential in the future evolution of the AAUP.

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