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Academic Freedom for a Free Society: The AAUP Summer Institute

By Todd Price

Over the summer, hundreds of AAUP members representing university chapters from around the country gathered at Macalester College to discuss and deliberate over issues critical to their collective profession, namely, how to protect, preserve and advance the aims of academic freedom in an age of not only economic blight but continual encroachment on the university mission by a range of adversarial forces.

The institute included several exceptional workshops addressing a varied number of critical issues, providing the knowledge and skills needed for members to be able to take back to their respective chapters the important message that faculty, even during economically dubious times, maintain the right to participate fully in decisions impacting their university.

I spoke with the organizers and brought back information for my own chapter information concerning academic freedom, promotion and tenure, shared governance, and faculty compensation and welfare. In this essay, we will hear from the president, secretary and one of the conference organizers, what are the most compelling observations of what we are facing, as far as faculty are concerned.

Cary Nelson, the AAUP President from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, mentioned the highlights of the Summer Institute:

Nelson: “I’m here in Minnesota, at our annual Summer Institute which is a wonderful training institute that we do. We teach people how to analyze their university budget, we teach people how to reinforce shared governance on their campuses, we give instructions on collective bargaining, we give instruction, classes, on how to strengthen your local chapter, and we do things like take cruises on the river and have some fun at the same time! It’s really one of the best things we do!”

He was followed by Michael Mauer, AAUP Director of Organizing and Services, speaking about the scope of AAUP across the country:

Mauer: “We’ve got over 400 chapters on campuses where there is no union but we’ve got an AAUP chapter, they really run the gamut, but in very many of those chapters, there are enough members and there are enough committed faculty working in the chapter that decision making doesn’t happen without faculty input and in very practical ways it makes huge differences in the lives of faculty at most campuses. So for example compensation decisions have to happen after appropriate dialogue with the faculty not just by unilateral fiat from the administration.”

Finally, I spoke with Gary Rhoades, the Secretary of the AAUP regarding the manner in which administration keeps faculty acquiescent to receiving just compensation:

Rhoades: “So often in these situations the administration taps into the kind of general feeling the population has, about the faculty has about hard times, they vote what’s going on in the larger economy, they vote what’s going on with state deficits, and by virtue of those largely society hard times, they suggest that the institution itself is experiencing financial exigency at levels of financial crises that call for the faculty to give back in a variety of ways in furloughs, pay freezes even or pay reductions and so what this session was designed to do was take the empirical data and basically to puncture that argument and show that in fact higher education institutions are in much better shape than we’re often led to believe, that administrations when they frame their institutions as being in deep financial crises are not utilizing the financial practices and measures that an accountant would, finance professor would, or someone who understands higher education financing would.”

These interviews continue on a YouTube post called AAUP Interviews, and really serve to provide a concise and effective summary of the most important issues that every faculty should be aware of in 2009 and the years beyond.

For further comments and questions, please feel free to post questions and observations to: Todd Alan Price, National Louis University AAUP Chapter President, tprice@nl.edu or follow my new blog, Technology for Democracy at: http://tprice1963.blogspot.com/