AAUP Still Steering the Wrong Course

[private]I read the AAUP’s magazine, Academe, faithfully. I had a very cordial relationship with Dr. Mary Burgan, the long-time General Secretary of AAUP. Mary and I had several spirited conversations about the AAUP’s official stance on part-time faculty. At that time, part-timers were not yet the hulking 800 pound gorilla they are now. Part-time faculty were still the minority within higher education, and it was Mary’s opinion that there shouldn’t be so many of them, even while AAUP leaders lauded the work of Rutgers AAUP chapter president Karen Thompson— president of a 900-member part-time faculty unit. AAUP leaders spoke out regularly against the employment of part-time faculty (though not so much against the exploitation of part-time faculty). AAUP organized AAUP’s Committee G on Part-Time and Non-Tenure-Track Appointments and Karen Chaired the Committee for many years.

As much as I like and respect Mary Burgan, in retrospect she steered the AAUP directly into a minefield, then spent much of her time giving speeches against the use of munitions. She didn’t see the writing on the wall; that no matter how many speeches she gave urging against the use of part-time faculty, no matter how many policy statements AAUP released, college and university administrators were surging forward with the use of part-timers come hell or high water. Instead of pushing for tenure for part-timers, Mary Burgan pushed and pushed and pushed to get part-timers pushed out of higher education in order to protect tenure for full-time faculty.

AAUP membership retreated, dues had to be raised, chapters stagnated, and all the while the number of part-time faculty in Academe doubled. 

In the most recent issue of Academe, Dr. Cary Nelson, AAUP’s president, writes that, “If the AAUP wants to organize those college teachers most in need, we must change our national dues for new (not existing) stand-alone graduate student employee and contingent faculty locals in collective bargaining.” In essence, Cary Nelson is suggesting that those in need, those who earn the least, those whose jobs are the most tenuous, should pay double the dues so that AAUP can organize them. This is a patently preposterous suggestion. 

Cary Nelson is suggesting, in essence, for AAUP to organize part-time faculty, part-time faculty need to float a loan to AAUP, perhaps 2 percent of their gross salaries per year. AAUP’s track record with respect to significantly raising salaries for part-time faculty currently represented within AAUP affiliates in absolutely abysmal. Why on earth should part-time faculty affiliate with AAUP and pay a higher percentage in dues than the full-time faculty on campus? This will be a reality because Cary Nelson suggests that dues for current AAUP members remain unchanged. He is obviously frightened of alienating AAUP’s current members, 90 percent of whom are full-time, tenured and tenure-stream faculty. Double their dues, and AAUP would double its current dues revenue by millions every year.

However, contrary to what Nelson writes in his piece, other education unions take between 1-1.5 percent, not 2 percent. At PSC-CUNY, for instance, all members pay dues of 1 percent of gross wages. A quick look at that group’s filing with the federal government shows that its 16,400 members generate $9.7 million in dues. The AAUP’s 2007 filing with the federal government shows that it has 41,000 members and generated a paltry $5 million in dues last year. 

Further, it’s clear that AAUP must begin to charge all current members 1 percent dues, as opposed to the current $155 per year for full-time faculty and $39 per year for part-time faculty, or expect new part-time faculty affiliates to pay double or triple what other members pay. Further, it cost AAUP members $4 million dollars for union administration and overhead last year, while the group spent just $1.1 million on representational activities, $900,000 of which was for staff salaries. Cary Nelson, along with the new General Secretary need first to make AAUP headquarters a lean, mean recruitment machine—maybe skip the $12,000 cruise next year.

The title of Nelson’s piece in the November/December 2008 issue of Academe was “We Must Help Those Most in Need.” 

Sadly, Cary Nelson’s suggested restructuring of dues will do little but pump more cash into AAUP headquarters and into the pockets of more staff (Nelson writes, “Succeeding would bring in enough income to enable us to appoint another staff member in the AAUP’s national Department of Organizing and Services to concentrate on this area.”) The staff AAUP members have employed over the past three years have lost 3000 members, and not replaced them by recruiting and winning over new affiliates. More money for yet another staff member seems less a solution than business as usual.

In reality, AAUP is in desperate need of part-time faculty. Part-time faculty, I would argue, have no great need of the AAUP’s mediocre organizing and bargaining services. I don’t envy Cary Nelson the task before him. Straightening out the finances and challenges at AAUP is a daunting task. However, like the leaders of the Detroit automakers who want billions from taxpayers for a bailout without a concrete plan for how the companies will change their failing business practices, Cary Nelson has taken a similar course.

Nelson’s plan: AAUP needs more money, he writes. AAUP needs more staff. Here’s a counter-suggestion. Instead, let’s see AAUP clean up its house, put together a solid track record of successful bargaining on behalf of its current part-time faculty members, appoint part-time faculty to positions of leadership within AAUP (including the group’s Committee on Part-Time Faculty to which Nelson appointed a tenure-line faculty member as co-Chair) then come to part-timers from a position of strength, instead of a position of debilitating structural weakness.



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