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AAUP Annual Meeting Report:

Restructuring Passes, Contingent Faculty Defended

By John K. Wilson

At the AAUP’s Annual Meeting held this past June in Washington, D.C., the membership approved the AAUP restructuring plan by a nearly unanimous vote. With one dissenter (who unsuccessfully tried to amend the resolution to require all of the Council and elected leadership to resign), the AAUP voted to approve the plan to divide the current charity into three parts: a professional association (which would continue the AAUP name and existing structure), a collective bargaining unit, and a charitable foundation. The IRS will have to approve the plan, which may further delay its implementation. But the passage of restructuring makes the future of the AAUP, as did the news that 3,000 members were added, putting total membership at 47,000, the highest it has been in several decades.

The AAUP members also rejected (by voting 94-37 to send back to committee) a resolution criticizing Israel for its policy of banning Palestinian students in Gaza from leaving to pursue higher education. Many speakers objected to singling out Israel, although a similar resolution criticizing Iran for discriminating against Baha’i students passed unanimously.

The AAUP also voted to censure the University of New Haven for arbitrarily firing a long-term adjunct instructor. The AAUP’s unanimous vote for censure was a victory for academic standards as well as contingent faculty. As one AAUP member noted, “it is a very chilling story” about “a lecturer who had a real pattern of excellence” but faced the dilemma of upholding “standards vs. keeping students as customers happy.” There were nine informal complaints over seven years by students who missed classes and committed plagiarism. The worst accusation made against the instructor was that she made a comment in class that a student was going to be dropped for missing five weeks of class.

The job insecurity of adjunct instructors is one of the biggest factors threatening grade inflation and academic freedom. So long as administrators can freely dismiss faculty who cause trouble by enforcing high expectations of their students, the pressure will be on faculty to raise grades, let plagiarism slide, and reduce student workloads. The AAUP has taken one small step in opposing this trend, and it deserves strong support.

The AAUP members also passed resolutions opposing enforcement of loyalty oaths, state-imposed laws promoting creationism, and state laws requiring guns to be allowed on campuses.

Next year’s annual meeting (June 11-14, 2009 in Washington, D.C.) promises to be even more exciting and informative, because the AAUP will be adding a large number of conference sessions with panels and papers focusing on higher education and academic freedom.