BY LINDA CARROLL
For red state advocacy members, it is heartening that the national leadership and staff of the AAUP are planning a renewed emphasis on organizing in advocacy situations, as announced at this year’s June meeting.
Advocacy organizing in red states has a number of distinctive features, as I learned from decades of work in a state located in a large and contiguous region that itself has become increasingly red (a condition common to many red states).
In red states, institutions are often widely scattered over a large territory, which isolates them from one another. And at red state institutions, the proportion of faculty members willing to publicly identify with the AAUP is often small. While becoming an AAUP activist gains the respect of many colleagues, it often also puts a target on one’s back that will be aimed at not only by the administration but by faculty members who have decided to cooperate with or pacify the administration and/or the state legislature. At large institutions, the AAUP chapter is visible to disapproving members of the legislature—frequently the majority—which can intimidate faculty who have not committed to becoming activists themselves. At smaller institutions, public and especially private, it can be difficult to arrive at the minimum number of seven to form a chapter.
In the spirit of assisting the new national campaign to achieve the highest level of success, I offer a few suggestions for our leaders and staff.
Local Leadership in Decision-Making
Advocacy people want to choose their goals on the basis of their institution’s situation (e.g., revisions to the faculty handbook that improve provisions for faculty governance and professional functioning, tenure, and academic freedom). They also want to choose the best means by which to pursue them because they know the limits of tolerance of their colleagues and their administrations. Once that has been done, support by the national AAUP in the form of advice, research, finances, speakers, and other resources is most helpful.
Because of the extreme hostility to labor unions in many red states, a hostility that legislatures may be more than willing to turn into the withholding of funds or attacks on the faculty, an emphasis on the AAUP as a professional association rather than as a labor union is the more functional approach in attracting members.
Conferences and Regional Groupings
In red states, state conferences are of particular importance. The conference can counteract the isolation otherwise felt by chapters, by providing shared experience, support, and clout. Conferences also provide a home for AAUP members who do not have an institutional chapter or who have chosen to remain anonymous even to their campus AAUP leadership, a common red state situation. Also very helpful are the kind of inter-conference regional groupings that AAUP activists have already been forming and that provide additional opportunities to gather with like-minded colleagues to find solutions to common problems.
Election Methods and Regional Delegates to National Council
The move at the 2019 national meeting to elect national leadership through delegates to the national meeting, as well as the change in voting procedure from nomination and election of regional delegates by regional members to their nomination and election by the entire delegate body, set several obstacles in the path of attracting and retaining advocacy members. The first is that electing by secret ballot and sending a delegate to national meetings will require chapters and “sections” to divert funds from membership-building activities; in many cases the cost involved in conducting an election meeting Department of Labor standards and the air fare, hotel bill, and conference registration for the delegate will be a significant portion of their budget. The second is that red-state advocacy members operate in an environment of self-motivation and self-determination and their regional representative on Council is their only voice at the national level. The third is that legal advice will likely be required for the chapters and sections to determine what procedures are legally available to them to elect their delegate. There are sure to be questions, and the generic answer “it’s complicated” won’t help. How great these obstacles will be is an open question. Many red state leaders hope that the national organization will quickly remove them by restoring individual-member voting and the nomination and election of regional delegates to national Council by regional members.
Pathway to the Future.
Change always brings challenges, many of which only become visible as one walks down that pathway. But there is no reason for pessimism and, ironically, the current hostility to faculty and to substantive education provides many reasons for optimism as it has awakened many faculty colleagues to the imperative to form a united front. Faculty members, particularly AAUP members, are used to analyzing challenges, considering alternatives, and then working together to overcome them. We can, and will, do that again. But the point is that this process does not occur on its own. Like so many other activities, the solution is to organize—at the chapter, conference, regional, and national levels. Benjamin Franklin’s advice about hanging together so as not to hang separately was never more appropriate.
Guest blogger Linda Carroll is an at-large member of the AAUP national Council, a former president of the Tulane University AAUP chapter, and a former secretary of the Louisiana state AAUP conference.