We are often approached and asked about our decisions to become involved in AAUP. This semester, we will be highlighting personal stories focusing on what led some of our members to the national organization and what prompted us to form Stark AAUP as an advocacy chapter. This inaugural entry was written by our Stark AAUP Secretary, Martina Sharp-Grier.
To be honest, I thought academia would be different.
I come from a staunchly blue collar family. My mother, paternal grandfather, and paternal uncle were steelworkers until retirement or death, whichever came first. My exposure to that milieu allowed me to see – firsthand – the power of people coming together in solidarity to advocate for each other, and it left me profoundly touched.
My mom was a shop steward for the United Steelworkers of America chapter that represented the men and women employed at Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation, in Tarentum, PA. She was (I believe) the first woman shop steward to serve at Allegheny Ludlum, and one of only a few African Americans to hold the post – before or after her tenure. She held her position for over 15 years, and negotiated contracts, ensured equal treatment for women in the workplace (got them a safe, clean, and well-stocked locker room with a shower, and rallied against blatant sexism in the workplace, among other things), and had no problem calling (in her words) the “Big Shots” out on their greed and apparent ambivalence toward the safety and well-being of the craftsmen and laborers – skilled and unskilled – from which they made profit. As a little girl, I watched first hand as her co-workers rallied for and with each other in good times and bad, and got things done. I was impressed.
As an adult, for nine years, I was employed as a parole officer, for the State of Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Cleveland Region. I also served as one of five (5) Cleveland Region delegates to SEIU District 1199 (Service Employees International Union). During my tenure as a delegate, I represented co-workers in grievances, negotiated a statewide contract, and worked to ensure that officers were fitted for and received Kevlar vests, were provided updated weapons, and were afforded the use of state vehicles with which to transfer parolees to and from prison and jail (as opposed to them having to use their personal vehicles during the arrest and subsequent transport of offenders). Unfortunately, my statewide colleagues and I had to once negotiate a work stoppage to get management’s attention. It worked. We were on strike for only a day before our terms were reconsidered and eventually negotiated. Again, I was impressed.
To be honest, I thought academia would be different. I thought that because HigherEd isn’t considered “blue collar”, the dynamic would be unlike what I had witnessed in manufacturing and law enforcement/corrections. I was certain that because the collegiate venue is not a corporation, the milieu would be less business like (because we don’t “sell” a product – selling grades and promising outcomes which are predominantly predicated on student persistence to goal would be unethical), mutually respectful, more collegiate, and evocative of mutual goals. I was wrong.
In my 10 years of teaching in HigherEd, I’ve watched as academia has become less about educating students and more about manufacturing employees for businesses. I’ve witnessed the realignment of institutional goals, placing profits before the needs of students, faculty, and staff, and I’ve been a stunned observer to the institutional padding of administrative positions – adding more and more upper management positions, while simultaneously refusing to add to the ranks of the very persons – faculty and staff – that do the work of educating and supporting students. Academia, as it stands today, is no different from industry and as such, we, as faculty and staff, are no different from the steelworkers and law enforcement/corrections personnel that my mother and I advocated for. This is why I chose AAUP.
Ideologically, I chose to become a member of the oldest and longest standing organization representing faculty and staff in higher education because of what I mentioned above – I believe in the power of the collective, and I’ve seen the results – for both employees and management- of collective organization. Specifically, I chose AAUP for multiple reasons, some of which, I believe, are important to note:
I chose AAUP because I believe in the power of the collective – not an adversarial collective; rather, one that knows its worth and advocates for itself.
I chose AAUP because I’ve seen firsthand the benefit of the implementation of an institutional structure framed by a contract, to which BOTH management and workers are beholden.
I chose AAUP because I believe in the goals of our profession – education, citizenship, equality, and equity.
I chose AAUP to be aligned with other persons – institutionally, regionally, and nationally – who place value on the noble profession that each of us voluntarily chose.
I chose AAUP because I value students and their ability to succeed, given the right tools and resources – which includes a professorate and cadre of support staff who are respected, valued, and meaningfully involved in the decision making processes that impact the students themselves.
I chose AAUP because I believe that ultimately, our institution will benefit from a professorate that is more productive – better staffed, better resourced, and better equipped to provide the educational services that our institution is here to promote.
I chose AAUP because I value ALL faculty and staff – part-time, contingent, tenured, and full-time contingent – and their contributions to our students’ lives.
I chose AAUP because I believe that valuing people and improving employee morale are something more than just talking points.
I chose AAUP because I believe that every employee deserves adequate and appropriate compensation for the work that they perform.
Truthfully, these are only a few of the reasons that I chose AAUP. There are many more. What IS NOT one of these reasons, however, is disdain for management. I believe that in any organization, it’s important to have a strong, transparent, and mutually respectful alliance between administration and employees. No goal can be realized without reciprocal cooperation. Such an alliance cannot be achieved in an adversarial milieu, and I neither wish for nor advocate discord within the workplace.
Since becoming a member of Stark AAUP, I have watched as my colleagues have modeled and rallied for transparency and inclusion in our milieu, and have I been party to their standing up for equal rights for LGBTQQIAAP faculty and staff. I have been proud to see management’s tacit acknowledgement of the work that we are doing, as it has openly, albeit, somewhat reluctantly, discussed issues which were raised by concerned Stark AAUP faculty and staff. We have made an impact, and we have shown ourselves to be a mechanism of change. Once again, I am impressed. This is why I chose AAUP.