CARY NELSON’S 2006 ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AAUP
1. WHAT DO YOU UNIQUELY OFFER AS A POTENTIAL AAUP PRESIDENT?
One must begin by saying that the job has become genuinely daunting. The threats to the professoriate and those to the AAUP itself are both numerous and serious. The leadership finds itself increasingly--of necessity--on the terrain of national and international politics. Knowing how to handle such challenges first of all means consulting widely with other AAUP leaders and with the national staff. Our highly reliable process of slow consensus building has been put to the test by the need to respond quickly to events. So far we have succeeded, but only because the leadership works well together and respects one another. Implacable hostility toward the staff and elected officers is not a desirable quality in an AAUP president.
So the first thing I offer is a willingness to work closely with other AAUP leaders. My own views are often modified by the conversations we have on phone, in person, and by email. Broad input from members is often critical. I believe in this ongoing dialogue and am committed to sustaining it. This also needs to be said clearly: basic loyalty to the organization is essential in an AAUP president. My history of national service displays that loyalty. It also displays a history of changing and improving the organization from within.
Throughout my career I have combined activism, scholarship, teaching and service. I believe these multiple commitments reinforce one another. I bring to the office a long history of writing and speaking about higher education policy, having been lucky enough to have had institutional support for my work. That includes five books and many articles about higher education. I have been interviewed repeatedly about higher education by most national media. All this does not make me better than other candidates, but it does make me different. The question is whether that difference can be put to the association's advantage. I believe it can.
I would like to enhance perception of the AAUP president as a major spokesperson for the faculty and for higher education as a whole. So I will continue to publish in places like The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and Academe. If I win the election, however, I will do so as AAUP president. My credibility as a scholar will help me rebuild membership at research universities. My long history of support for collective bargaining and speaking at CB rallies makes me eager to continue those activities in this new capacity.
The facts that back up these promises are all available on my campaign web site: www.cary-nelson.org
A complete vita is there, listing all my talks and publications, the courses I've taught, and the offices I've held in other national organizations. Under "The AAUP Presidency" I include my campaign statement and a list of endorsements by other AAUP leaders. My candidacy has been endorsed by a strong majority of eligible national council members. I've also reprinted my published essays on academic freedom and corporatization there, along with a plan for increasing AAUP membership.
2. SHOULD THE AAUP WORK WITH OTHER UNIONS, BOTH WITHIN AND OUTSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION?
Yes, it is essential for all collective bargaining groups to work together closely on our many common interests--guaranteeing pensions and health care, seeking parity for contingent labor, gaining collective bargaining rights in those states that deny them. Solidarity with other unions in job actions is also essential. Finally, alliances with other unions would help all members come to understand and respect each others' work.
3. WHAT ARE YOUR HIGHEST PRIORITIES?
Communicating more effectively with current members and increasing both traditional and CB membership. Making our endowment campaign a success, so we have more resources with which to do our work. Making the AAUP president a more visible national leader, a status I would hope to pass on to my successors.
We also need to make a fundamental change in the organization's profile. The AAUP needs to turn itself into an activist organization. Except for the dedicated people who serve on its excellent committees, the organization's model of membership is largely passive. This produces some frustrating paradoxes. We write first-rate legislative alerts on both state and national issues, but we fail to ask all our members to act on them. It doesn't take all that many letters and phone calls to have an impact on legislation, but we cannot marshall the necessary numbers unless we are equipped to communicate urgency and recommend options for intervention to all our members.
We thus face several interlocking priorities. We cannot do the work we need to do without increasing both CB and non-CB membership. We need a larger budget if we are to increase the services we offer to both advocacy and CB chapters, something I believe we must do. We won't have the budget we require without new members. Nor will we retain new members unless we do a far better job of communicating with all members and involving them in our activities. It is a scandal and an embarrassment that we cannot reach all our members by email.
We must also begin reinforcing the case for the importance of faculty research to the cultural and political health of the nation. Since some national organizations disparage research, the AAUP must be its defender. This is becoming increasingly necessary as corporate pressure to instrumentalize higher education increase. The AAUP can be a voice behind this agenda, one that I have the scholarly credibility to promote.
4. THE REPUTATION OF THE AAUP WAS BUILT ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF STANDARDS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND TENURE. WITH BOTH ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND TENURE BEING ATTACKED AND ERODED WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO ENSURE THE IMPORTANCE OF THESE PILLARS OF ACADEMIA TO THE BROAD CROSS SECTION OF AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION?
Academic freedom is being undermined by multiple developments: 1) by the ongoing shift from full-time tenure track to part-time faculty; 2) by attempts to decouple academic freedom from tenure; 3) by politically-motivated attacks on how faculty members use their academic freedom; 4) by the corporatization of institutions of higher education; 5) by the decay of shared governance at many institutions. The AAUP has long recognized that the guarantee of academic freedom must be backed up with job security. Yet a majority of American teachers are now not eligible for tenure.
Several of these trends require local action. The national AAUP can assist, but only state and local activism can be decisive. I plan to use the AAUP presidency as a platform for reawakening faculty, student, and administrative awareness of the interconnection between the three components of AAUP tradition: academic freedom, job security, and shared governance. Increasingly, problems in one of these areas undermines the other two. By the time cases reach the national, all three components are often in crisis. If the resources can be found, I would like to increase our Committee A staff so more investigations into violations of academic freedom could be pursued. We certainly need to take up academic freedom cases on behalf of our more vulnerable colleagues. We are compelled to practice a painful form of triage on the complaints we now receive. Yet national conditions suggest we should instead increase both the number and variety of cases we investigate.
5. HOW IS AAUP ADDRESSING CURRENT POLITICAL CHALLENGES TO ACADEMIC FREEDOM, AND IS THIS RESPONSE THE BEST WE CAN DO?
A few years ago the AAUP decided it had to rethink its policy of responding to specific violations of academic freedom only after they occurred. Especially in the political realm, action was increasingly necessary before opinions hardened and damage was difficult to reverse. Two recent interventions are notable:
Part of what is notable about these actions is that they amount to principled interventions on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict, something few organizations are prepared to do. I believe all members can be proud of these actions, neither of which was universally popular.
More recently we have organized testimony by both local and national AAUP leaders recommending against legislative efforts to "balance" political views among college faculty. When a UCLA graduate mounted a web site slandering progressive faculty, we organized national protests with 48 hours. Our legislative action warnings are detailed and timely.
That said, we must do better at informing our members of all these efforts. We also need to be better prepared at the local, state, and national level to deal with the very real threat to academic freedom posed by potential further terrorist attacks on American soil.
6. WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CURRENT EFFORTS BY THE AAUP TO INCREASE GRADUATE-STUDENT AND PART-TIME-FACULTY MEMBERSHIP AND SUPPORT THEIR ORGANIZING EFFORTS, AND THE OVERALL MISSION AND PROGRAMS OF AAUP?
Let me begin by making some general comments about collective bargaining. For the last twenty years, the historic postwar shift of power from central administrations to departments has been slowly reversing itself. Power has been flowing back to administrators. Organizing for and strengthening collective bargaining is the best way to correct that trend. There are other ways to protect academic freedom and job security locally, to limit the use of part-time labor, mandate fair wages and benefits for both full-time and contingent teachers, and guarantee intellectual property rights, but it just so happens that a legally enforceable contract remains the most effective way. Now, more than ever.
Although I'm at a non-CB campus, I've supported faculty unionization for 35 years, from the time I organized a card drive in 1971 until the present. I was the first faculty member to testify under oath on behalf of the graduate employee union drive at Illinois. I have spoken at union organizing rallies and celebrations all over the country--from Yale to Washington to Ohio to California--and written several essays and book chapters advocating collective bargaining. The most recent one, "Ten Reasons," was published in 2005 and is reprinted on my campaign web site ( www.cary-nelson.org ). It focuses on graduate employee organizing because the NYU crisis was looming, but most of what it says applies to CB in general. I am eager to intensify all these efforts as AAUP President.
I also stand strongly behind the AAUP's model for CB--in which each individual chapter decides its priorities and needs. Yet only strong chapters can function effectively. We have some chapters that require more help from the national office. We should also have more organizers out on the road. We need more staff working on your behalf. For that we need more money.
Collective bargaining now offers us as well the route to the solidarity that promotes the kinds of faculty and graduate student identities so necessary for the country. After decades of careerism and structurally enforced narrow self-interest, teachers must embrace identities partly based on community responsibility. We must build alliances with other workers on campus and in our communities. Faculty unions can be advocates for workplace justice everywhere; it is at once a way to see ourselves differently and to win back public support for higher education. Only we can reinvigorate higher education's historic commitment to educating students to be critical participants in a democracy. Educational institutions focusing on job training and profit, training their students by example to exploit employees, must be challenged and redirected. These are among the larger challenges for collective bargaining, but they are challenges the AAUP, an organization uniquely devoted to principle, is equipped to undertake. They are challenges of international significance, and they show how collective bargaining can be an idealistic cause. Higher education is well positioned to help restore CB's historic social mission in the context of strikingly contemporary issues and technologies.
Like it or not, finally, the academic workplace has been substantially transformed in recent decades. The AAUP needs to continue empowering the new generation of more vulnerable college and university teachers. The AAUP devotes only a modest portion of its resources to organizing graduate student employees, part-timers, and non-tenure track faculty. I wish we could afford to do more. To do less would be politically disastrous. We have taken on the modest project of helping to organize contingent labor on those campuses where the AAUP already has a full-time faculty bargaining unit, this in the context of a nation-wide movement to organize graduate students and contingent faculty. Far from being a diversion from our mission, it is central to it. Belatedly we have realized it is our moral and professional duty to help obtain decent wages, benefits, and working conditions for all teachers on campus. In the changing academic workplace we must either guarantee academic freedom and fair employment practices for all or no one will have them. If some faculty do not yet accept this wider notion of community and solidarity, we must do our best to educate them.
7. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE MAIN ATTRACTION OF THE AAUP TO THE PROFESSORIATE TODAY, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO MAXIMIZE THAT ATTRACTION TO THE WIDEST AUDIENCE?
Those faculty members who are eligible for collective bargaining and who want their local chapter to shape an independent union that fully meets their own interests and the character of their institution are frequently drawn to the AAUP model. But the beliefs that unify all AAUP members--union and non-union alike--are beliefs in the professoriate's deep commitment to education and research as fundamental social goods. Only the AAUP grounds those values in faculty expertise and articulates them in sound policy recommendations.
Yet the overwhelming majority of American professors today have no real idea what the AAUP does. We have failed to inform them of the full range of our activities. Most have never read a Committee A report or one of our many policy statements. We must educate them. I have written a detailed proposal about how to do so; it is on my campaign web site (www.cary-nelson.org) under the title "Increasing AAUP Membership." Once we do that faculty will understand that academic freedom cannot be sustained by even the strongest local without a national organization rearticulating its principles to changing political, technological, and economic realities. Nor can academic freedom survive without continuing isolation of those institutions that betray it. Every time the AAUP issues a new policy statement--whether on contingent labor, the impact of 9/11 on academic freedom, or intellectual property rights--every faculty member should feel personally served. That commitment to defining and enforcing principle remains our strongest appeal.
If we educate the professoriate as a whole about what the AAUP has done for higher education over our whole history, they will join us. Every faculty member--even the most vulnerable part-time teacher--benefits each day from the work the AAUP has done for decades. Imagine a world without the 1940 statement on academic freedom and tenure, without decades of censuring rogue institutions, without thousands of violations for which the organization has quietly gained reversal or redress. Academic freedom at best would be defined randomly and inconsistently at the whim of sympathetic and unsympathetic administrators alike.
Despite decades of careerism in the academy, there remains a vital core of idealism in the professoriate. It is evident in city-wide living wage campaigns, in renewed and more socially conscious collective bargaining drives among both faculty and graduate students. Such actions demonstrate that new faculty identities can embody both disciplinary loyalty and community responsibility. This idealism can be tapped to make the AAUP stronger, larger, and more influential.
We have to renew belief in the value of principled membership in a national organization. I am absolutely convinced it can be done. I invite you to join with me in the effort to renew our organization and our profession. Without the AAUP--without the standards we promote, without the policy statements we issue, without the threat of censure--higher education will cease to be anything we can recognize, let alone value.
Cary Nelson is Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.* He has served on the AAUP's National Council for ten years, the last six as 2nd Vice President.* Among his books are Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and the Crisis of the Humanities (1994), Will Teach for Food: Academic Labor in Crisis (1997), Manifesto of a Tenured Radical (1997), Academic Keywords: A Devil's Dictionary for Higher Education (1999), and Office Hours: Activism and Change in the Academy (2004). He regularly publishes in Academe, Inside Higher Education, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. His web site, which includes his candidate statement, a vita and biography, and essays on academic freedom and corporatization in the academy is www.cary-nelson.org.
* Titles and affiliations are listed for the sole purpose of identification and do not imply endorsement by the organization.
Most of these questions and answers were first published in VANGUARD, newspaper of the Connecticut state conference of AAUP chapters.