Why Join an Advocacy Chapter?

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Stark AAUP is an Advocacy Chapter

Before deciding on whether you ought to join an advocacy chapter, you need to understand what it is—and what it isn’t.

An advocacy chapter is not a union or a collective bargaining unit. It has no legal authority to negotiate with the administration of the college or university over salaries, benefits, workload, or working conditions. It cannot legally require the administration to reconsider its treatment of an individual faculty member or to apply the same fair standards to their treatment and evaluations of faculty members. But, frankly, even though a bargaining unit has the legal authority to do all of those things, it will not be effective in doing them if its membership is disengaged.

Since faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, the core mission of a college inherently depends on consistently honoring the principles of academic freedom and shared governance.

Establishing an American Association of University Professors (AAUP) advocacy chapter is really about creating a venue in which faculty can discuss institutional issues and attempt to develop solutions and strategies that truly reflect faculty priorities. Ideally, a Faculty Senate or Faculty Association would provide this function, but in most institutions, the Faculty Senates/Associations work so closely for and with the administration that there is not much diversity of perspective or ideas nor much opportunity for broad faculty participation in governance.

Some advocacy chapters will ultimately work toward unionization and becoming a collective bargaining unit, some will not. Certainly, an advocacy chapter will not provide a magic “cure all” to the issues facing an institution or to its members’ concerns. But an advocacy chapter is an important source of open dialog and carefully considered faculty input.

What an AAUP Chapter Can Do

The AAUP recently celebrated its centennial as the pre-eminent American faculty association advocating for and fighting to protect the core principles of academic freedom and shared governance. Academic freedom is the right to engage in free and open inquiry and discussion of all issues related to one’s discipline and work environment. Shared governance is the right to have meaningful input into the decisions that affect the ways in which the institution operates. Since faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, the core mission of a college or university inherently depends on consistently honoring both of these principles.

The AAUP is a national organization representing more than 50,000 faculty working at colleges and universities in every state, including the “right to work” states and states that limit the union and bargaining rights of public employees. AAUP’s broader policy statements, its statements on specific issues at individual institutions, and its sanctions against institutions that fail to address major violations of academic freedom and shared governance are regularly and widely reported, not just in media sources focused on academia such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education, but also in major newspapers and periodicals including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Atlantic.

By joining the AAUP, you become an important voice in helping shape the future of our college and our profession.

This means that when faculty face major issues at their institutions, they have the support of a national association and can bring that added leverage to bear to be heard on those issues. As a result, faculty at institutions such as Colorado State at Pueblo and Purdue-Calumet have recently been able to forestall major cuts in faculty positions and academic programs that were being justified by “financial exigency” when no actual crisis warranting such drastic actions existed—when the administrations simply wished to accelerate major reallocation of institutional resources to new initiatives. Both of those institutions have advocacy chapters, and the assistance that the AAUP has provided in bringing attention to the issues there has had considerable effect.

When the legislature in Michigan recently proposed penalizing any institution that offered programs or courses or that even sponsored special events related to labor studies, the AAUP was in the forefront in bringing attention to the issue, declaring it a “major attack on academic freedom.” Although there are AAUP bargaining units at a number of Michigan colleges and universities, there is an advocacy chapter at Michigan State, the institution at the center of the controversy. Likewise, when individual faculty members at the University of Kansas, the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, and others have come under intense political attack and have been subjected to institutional discipline simply for making very brief political remarks that were more factual than inflammatory, the AAUP has influenced the institutions to reconsider the broader implications of their reaction to this intense political pressure and to rescind the unwarranted discipline.

So, why join an advocacy chapter?

Joining an AAUP chapter says that you’re concerned about academic freedom, and how that basic freedom protects your teaching, your colleagues, your students, and education at large. It says that participating in faculty governance is important to you, and that you are concerned about institutional issues such as curricular resources, funding priorities, and the overuse of contingent appointments. By joining the AAUP, you become an important voice in helping shape the future of our college and our profession.

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