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Academic Professionals and the AAUP

One of the advantages of belonging to an association is the opportunity to “get away for a moment” and share experiences with colleagues and professional friends. We commiserate and talk about the challenges of our jobs and seek comfort in knowing we are not alone. And we discuss initiatives to improve our conditions of work. Although academic professionals in the academy often feel overwhelmed with the increasing workload and worry about what lies ahead in these tough economic times, it is also welcome news that the AAUP is interested in helping us search for better ways to share our common experiences and to collectively enhance the conditions in which we work.

In the last several months, the AAUP Committee on Academic Professionals has been making plans to involve and speak out for the growing numbers of professionals in the association. The committee is working with general secretary Gary Rhoades (who is staffing the committee), on several initiatives to ensure that academic professionals will become more visible, that our voices will become more central to the concerns of the association, and to undertake actions to address those concerns in the workplace.

The January–February 2011 issue of Academe carried a Nota Bene story on academic professionals, and in the same issue, the general secretary’s column announced a survey of professionals that will provide an opportunity for members to share their workplace experiences and report on the “bullying” and the “fear factor” that is a frequent topic of conversation among colleagues at conferences. We are now developing that survey instrument. Sessions are being planned for the AAUP’s Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education to discuss the survey results and develop strategies for professional to cope with these issues. Planning is also underway to ensure that professionals and their work will be much more visible in association publications and Academe will publish a special theme issue in the summer highlighting the work and role of academic professionals in higher education.

The Committee on Academic Professionals is also soliciting input on updating and further strengthening the policy statement on College and University Academic and Professional Appointments adopted by AAUP in 2002 and published in Policy Documents & Reports, also known as the Redbook. The 2002 document was the first acknowledgement and public statement by AAUP on the role of professionals in the academy. The authors, including me, believed that the statement provided a good explanation of the role of professionals in the academy. We also believed that policy recommendation 9 in that statement gave voice to the professional autonomy of academic professionals and served as the equivalent to the academic freedom statement for teaching faculty.

Recommendation 9 states that: “Professionals should be afforded the necessary sphere of autonomous decision making within which they can exercise their best professional judgment; those with significant academic responsibilities should have academic freedom in the discharge of those responsibilities and in their civic lives. Of course, colleges and universities should recognize the free-expression rights of all of their employees.”

As good as this is, it can be strengthened. So we encourage you to review the existing statement (.pdf) and to send your comments to Gary Rhoades (grhoades@aaup.org). We have some ideas for strengthening the statement, but we are also interested in your views.

Members of the Association who are academic professionals are encouraged to participate in and follow the committee’s work. Sharing your stories in articles in Academe, responding to the workplace survey, offering your suggestions to the general secretary, and helping with an updated version of the statement on College and University Academic and Professional Appointments are just a few of the ways that your voice will be heard when you “get away for a moment” to share your thoughts with other AAUP members. And the committee will continue to translate those thoughts and ideas into initiatives and action in support of improving the quality of academic professionals’ lives.

—Tom Matthews
College at Geneseo, State University of New York/United University Professions
Chair of the AAUP Committeee on Academic Professionals