National group goes to bat for faculty

Jim Martyka

Supporting University faculty during the current tenure crisis, whatever course of action they may choose, is the mission of one of the nation’s largest faculty organizations.
The American Association of University Professors has been involved in working with the faculty toward collective bargaining for the past two months. But the organization’s National Field Representative Jack Nightingale said they have not tried to push faculty members into unionization.
“We are here to try to help and support the faculty in whatever action they take,” he said.
The association is a national organization of university professors founded to protect academic freedom and tenure and to help faculty become more involved in university governance.
It was established in 1915 by John Dewey, the organization’s first president. Over its history, the association has been involved in helping faculty nationwide in disputes with university administration. They currently have more than 44,000 members with more than 900 local campus chapters.
V. Rama Murthy, who is the president of the AAUP-Twin Cities Chapter, said its primary goal at the University and everywhere is to preserve academic freedom for faculty members.
Both members emphasized how faculty members came to the professor’s association after the Board of Regents released their tenure proposal in early September. Enraged faculty members called for action and the association stepped in. Most recently, the group merged with the University Faculty Alliance in a show of faculty unity.
Murthy said that the local chapter was inactive for some time before the tenure issue arose.
“All of a sudden, the faculty rejuvenated the organization here,” he said. “As news of the regents’ proposals spread, more people joined.” Murthy said the local chapter, which had about 90 members, now has over 200 members.
The tenure issue has brought national attention to the University and the organization as well. Nightingale agreed that this situation has put the association in the national spotlight.
“We have already received several inquiries from faculty members across the nation who are wondering what will happen at the U,” he said. “These people are concerned that the same thing might happen on their campus.”
At the University the association is currently working with the United Faculty Alliance to inform faculty members of the tenure issue and the process of collective bargaining.
Nightingale also said that members of the national organization have been watching the University since the beginning of the situation. AAUP General Secretary Mary Burgan came to the University in March to talk to faculty members.
This isn’t the first time that the association has been involved in collective bargaining between college faculty and administrators. They recently helped settle academic disputes at the University of Alaska and Kent State University.
They were also involved with the University in its past drives for unionization, in 1978 and 1981. Both drives failed to unionize the faculty.
Murthy said, however, that the current situation with the University is a unique opportunity for the association. “This is the first time the AAUP has worked in a major public institution toward collective bargaining,” he said. “Here there is the opportunity to create an ideal faculty-based collective bargaining agent at a large university.”
Nightingale said that before the University, the largest college they worked with was the University of Cincinnati. The organization helped faculty there secure an increase in salary as well as health benefits. Enrollment at Cincinnati averages 35,000 a year. Last spring, 43,690 students were enrolled at the University of Minnesota.
Though Nightingale and Murthy both said they support the faculty’s drive for unionization, they also both said there are stereotypes of unions to overcome.
“We must avoid the stereotyped image of the union,” said Murthy. “When we talk about collective bargaining at the U, we are not talking of the old labor unions and such.”
Nightingale also said the association will bring in faculty members from unionized colleges to talk to University faculty and answer questions they might have.
But Carolyn Williams, who is vice president of the AAUP-Twin Cities Chapter, said the idea to unionize came entirely from the faculty. “Collective bargaining is one tool the faculty can use to work toward the goal of academic freedom,” she said.