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A New Era in History — and Higher Education

President’s Column by Walter Kendall

We are about to enter a new era in American history. The election of Barack Obama is one of those events that changes the context and content of much public policy conversation. The horrendous economic situation threatens higher education in a number of ways. Two-year and four-year colleges, and graduate schools, will all be affected, but in different ways. Certainly, the bad economy means many students’ families will no longer be able to afford college, or grad school. Yes, the bad economy means an increase in unemployment and an increase of applicants to graduate schools. On balance it is likely colleges will feel a need to reduce costs, personnel and programmatic. It seems a particularly good time to look at what AAUP is about. To that end I’ve listed the topics on the AAUP website (aaup.org) at which there are links. As you can see AAUP stands ready to help with almost any professional problem that may arise on your campus:

Academic Bill of Rights; Academic Freedom; Academic Research; Accreditation; Appointments, Promotions, & Discipline; Collective Bargaining; Commission on the Future of Higher Education; Contingent Faculty; Copyright, Distance Education, & Intellectual Property; Discrimination; Diversity & Affirmative Action; Ethics; Faculty Compensation; Faculty Work & Workload; Governance of Colleges & Universities; Grading; Graduate Students; International Issues; Legal Issues; Minority Serving Institutions; Post-Tenure Review; Retirement; Sexual Diversity & Gender Identity; Sexual Harassment; Teaching Evaluation; Tenure; Women in Higher Education; Work & Family.

Additionally, threats to academic freedom are likely to increase as the new administration undertakes new policy initiatives. There no doubt will be change in: how the threat of terrorism is approached; thinking about Middle East peace prospects, especially progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinian people; how wealth and economic opportunity is distributed; and in climate and energy policy and all that implies. As the Academy joins in the national debate there will be criticism especially of those whose thinking is particularly challenging to the status quo.

The excesses of the Red Scare after World War I, the ‘McCarthy” period at the beginning of the Cold War, and the Bloom/Horowitz attacks on the effects of anti-colonial and liberation movements here at home, each reflect lashing out by interests who feel threatened by impending change. I personally believe the country and the world is in a similar period when fundamental change is inevitable. Political, economic, and social forces, both positive and negative, are at work; all in a changing ecological context. No matter what policies are chosen, dramatic change is inevitable. The academy will be called on to play a role in dealing with these forces; and that means a robust commitment to academic freedom will be essential if we are to think critically and creatively, both in the class room and in our scholarship.

But, unless our campuses have a strong viable AAUP chapter, outside help will be ineffective. So now is the time to reach out to a colleague and encourage them to join AAUP. If all our members do that we will double our size and enhance our ability to help each other should the need arise.

Our State Council stands ready to help with speakers, and grant money to get Chapters started, among other resources. Please let us know what is happening on your campus and how we can help you build AAUP so it can better serve you and higher education generally, as we all seek to serve our students and society.