President Rudy Fichtenbaum’s Remarks at the 2017 Annual Meeting

 

I believe that this is the 5th time that I have had the honor of addressing this body in my capacity as President of the AAUP. Let me start by thanking our wonderful staff. Without their hard work and dedication to our cause, we would cease to exist. While I cannot name and thank each person individually there are a few people that I would like to recognize. First, let’s give a round of applause to Catherine Everitt, Cheryle Adams, and Kathleen Dawson. Without them we would not have this annual meeting. Second, let’s thank our wonderful Executive Director Julie Schmid. It goes without saying that her leadership has been indispensable.

Next, I want to report back to you on the resolution that was passed on climate change last year. In response to that resolution, Council passed a passed the following resolution: “Recognizing that the mission of higher education includes a responsibility to exercise intellectual and moral leadership in service of the public good, the AAUP will create a committee charged to determine how American colleges and universities can best address the grave threat posed by climate change.” The Committee is chaired by David Hughes an Anthropologist from Rutgers and has as members David Karowe, Biological Sciences at Western Michigan, Michael Mann, Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, Sandra O’Neil, Criminal Justice and Sociology, Curry College, Carl Salsedo, Exension, University of Connecticut, Brian Salvatore Chemistry and Physics, Louisiana State University, Sherveport and Glenn Talaska, Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati. It was staffed by Joerg Tiede. The Committee just reported to Council that they have a draft report that is nearly complete and they expect to have a final report to Council sometime this summer.

Now, I want to say a few words to recognize the extraordinary service of Howard Bunsis, the outgoing Chair of the AAUP-CBC. He will be succeeded by Paul Davis from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Paul is a great leader and we can all be assured that the CBC is in good hands.

But I digress.  I first met Howard at a Council Meeting and near as we can both remember it was in 2005. I was looking at the AAUP Audited Financial Statements, and I noticed that while for the previous two years while the AAUP was reporting a positive change in net assets (revenues that were greater than expenses), it was also reporting negative operating cash flows.

For those of you who are not used to reading financial statements, negative operating cash flows mean more cash is flowing out than is coming in during a given year and this is never a good thing. It turned out that what explained this discrepancy was a huge increase in accounts receivable, i.e., many of our chapters owed us money but were not sending us checks.

These accounts receivable, however, show up as revenue, which explains why revenue was greater than expenses but the cupboard was bare. Someone on Council mentioned to me that Howard was an accountant, so I went up to him and said look, I am not an accountant and I may be wrong, but when I look at these financial statements, I think the AAUP is in big trouble. Howard agreed and both of us proceed to sound the alarm and it turned out that we were right. The AAUP was on the verge of insolvency.

But Howard did more than just express his concerns. He ran and was elected to be the treasurer of the CBC and then ran and served as vice chair of the CBC. In 2008, he was elected to be the Secretary-Treasurer and served in that capacity from 2008-2012. It is not an understatement to say that were it not for his service in this capacity, the AAUP might not be here today.  Howard worked with an outside accounting firm to try and sort out the mess and worked with the acting General Secretary to save the AAUP. In those days when we wanted a report on cash flows, we called the bank to see how much or rather how little money was in our checking account.

In 2009, Howard ran and was elected to be the Chair of the CBC; so he was both the Chair of the CBC and the Secretary Treasurer of the AAUP. At that time, I was the Treasurer of the CBC, and this is when Howard and I started working closely together and fast became good friends. There are some names that are always mentioned together, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello; so I guess it is fitting that some in the AAUP talk about Howard and Rudy.

Howard was Chair and I was Treasurer when the CBC EC had a meeting in Portland where the CBC EC decided to spend its emergency fund to start organizing. We had been accumulating this fund over many years. In the past, AAUP’s approach to organizing was to wait until a group of faculty members called the national office and said we want to organize a union. When that call came in, we would send some staff to provide assistance but for all intents and purposes the faculty organized themselves.  Some argued that there was really no one left to organize and the best we could do is try and preserve our membership in collective bargaining and concentrate on recruiting new advocacy members via snail mail solicitations.

But in the aftermath of collapse of the housing market and the ensuing Great Recession, many universities and colleges started claiming that they had no money because the states were cutting funding to higher education. Faculty were being furloughed, programs were being eliminated, benefits were being cut, and there was no money for raises. More importantly, after years of corporatization, the nature of higher education had changed, with most faculty now being hired on a contingent basis. The CBC EC under Howard’s leadership, rightly saw this as an emergency, a chance to organize and build AAUP membership. It was under his leadership that the CBC resolved to spend the emergency fund and hire some organizers. Not all our organizing attempts were successful, but we did begin to make organizing a priority. It was during this time that we organized the faculty at Bowling Green State University, and the AAUP also contributed to “We Are Ohio” and helped save collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio and help put the Ohio Conference of the AAUP on the map.

Howard was the lone dissenting voice on the EC, when Gary Rhodes was forced to step down as General Secretary. In 2011, I was elected to Council again, and we organized a slate to run as at-large members on the EC. If I remember correctly, I was elected along with Hank Reichman and Karen Thompson and along with Howard, we (meaning Hank) at our first EC meeting at Kent Manor Island, drafted a statement on priorities for the AAUP.

A year later, we put together the Organizing for Change slate were elected to lead the AAUP in a new direction. Although Howard was not a member of the slate he was instrumental in getting us elected and has been a key leader helping to transform the AAUP.

When we were first elected, there were no cash flow reports, possibly because we had no cash to report on, since we regularly relied on a line of credit to meet payroll on a regular basis.  The AAUP enterprise, (the AAUP, the AAUP-CBC and the AAUP Foundation) was about a $6 million operation. Today we are at about $8.5 million. And while several people played a role in transforming the AAUP, much of the credit for our success belongs to Howard.

Although Howard is an accountant, I think even he will admit that money is not the real measure of our success. The real measure is the growth in membership because by organizing faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education, whether in a union or an advocacy chapter, we give them a collective voice to stand up for the principles of AAUP, protecting academic freedom, shared governance, and the economic security of our profession.

Under Howard’s leadership, we have seen a significant growth in our collective bargaining chapters. In 2009, we had about 26,000 CB members and represented about 7,000 fee payers. Today we have nearly 39,000 CB members and represent more than 11,000 fee payers. But as many of you know, Howard has not just helped to organize CB chapters. I would venture to say that Howard has visited and spoken at more advocacy chapters than just about any other leader in the AAUP since I have been involved with the AAUP. And this reflects Howard’s commitment to organizing. As he is fond of saying, “Organizing is organizing” and our goal, whether organizing CB chapters or advocacy chapters, is to give faculty and all of those engaged in teaching and research in higher education a voice.

And, finally, let me say that Howard is not disappearing, although to look at him one may question that statement. But I can assure you that Howard will continue to serve on the CBC EC as past chair and as a member of Council, in his capacity as past Chair of the CBC. When I think of Howard, I am reminded of the speech Tom Joad makes in The Grapes of Wrath when he says “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look—wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.” And we know that whenever faculty need a financial analysis or want to organize, Howard will be there.

I am proud to count Howard as a friend, a colleague, and leader of the AAUP. Let’s all give Howard a round of applause to honor his extraordinary service to the AAUP.

 

Now let me turn to other matters.

What a difference a year makes. I doubt that many of us thought that a year ago, when I last addressed this body, that we would be facing the reality of a Trump presidency and all that it entails for higher education and beyond.

What we are facing is nothing less than a catastrophe. It is hard to know exactly where to start when talking about the impact of the Trump presidency. Do we start with the increase in hate crimes directed against African Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, women, and people with disabilities?

Do we start with the Muslim ban, or building a wall along with deportation of undocumented students and workers?

Do we start with Trump’s cabinet appointments, millionaires and billionaires who represent corporate interests determined to destroy public education starting with K-12 and continuing with higher education?

Or do we start with executive orders rolling back regulations or any legislation that offers benefits or protections to working and middle class Americans?

Do we start with Trump budget that calls for massive cuts in programs that serve low-income students and students of color?

Do we start with his proposed cuts to National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Energy; the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Do we start with the attempted repeal of the ACA that will affect not only those who buy insurance on the health exchanges or receive Medicaid, but also potentially roll back many of the protections that the ACA gave people, who have employer-sponsored health insurance?

Do we start with Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court that will almost certainly lead to the end of agency fee in the public sector which is nothing less than an attack aimed at destroying organized labor in the U.S.?

I say all of this recognizing that AAUP has never engaged in partisan politics and has never endorsed a candidate for national office. But in the aftermath of his election, it has become evident that his election poses a grave threat to the principles that lie at the very heart of the AAUP, academic freedom, shared governance, and economic security for those engaged in teaching and research in higher education. We value these things, not in and of themselves but because we recognize that education, as a public good, is the foundation of a democratic society.

Many of the changes we are facing are likely to be generational. There is no way to sugar coat some of the changes we will likely see in the near future. But now is not a time for pessimism or mourning. Like it or not, the professoriate has changed and will continue to change in the face of the corporate onslaught on public goods. If we are to survive, we must also continue to change our strategy and tactics. What we cannot change are our core values and our principles and our belief in the power of collective action.

Fredrick Douglass wrote: ““If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

For us the bottom line must be to figure out the most effective means to carry out our demand that higher education is a fundamental human right; a public good, whose principle purpose is not job training or economic development, but rather the creation of a more democratic and just society.

 

Hank Reichman, Rudy Fichtenbaum, and Howard Bunsis

 

4 thoughts on “President Rudy Fichtenbaum’s Remarks at the 2017 Annual Meeting

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