Never before in its 91-year history have the officers of the American Association of University Professors heard the call to be arrested in the line of duty. But there we were -- Cary Nelson and Jane Buck, incoming and outgoing AAUP presidents and close friends -- on a New York street on April 27 waiting to be handcuffed and taken to a police station and booked. The AAUP, adding a professional to a basic human right, long ago joined the United Nations in recognizing that all employee groups have the right to choose for themselves whether to be represented collectively. It is not the responsibility of university administrators to decide what is best for their employees. The employees have the right to decide for themselves. NYU graduate employees have twice voted to affirm their decision to engage in collective bargaining.
The National Labor Relations Board appointed by Bill Clinton confirmed the first vote, and the NYU administration negotiated a contract with the union. Then, in a blatantly political move, George Bush's NLRB reversed itself and gave the university the option of withdrawing recognition of the union. Although nothing compelled NYU to do so, it stopped negotiating with its employees. That much is unambiguous, and that alone would have been enough to put us on a New York street blocking traffic, but the crisis at hand was still broader.
The AAUP is concerned not only with the present but also with the future of higher education. We try to articulate principles and set precedents. And we are very much concerned with the precedent this New York struggle is setting. The NYU administration has recklessly ramped up the intensity of the conflict with its graduate students, most of whom had inadequate salaries and health care when the union drive began. So long as those conditions exist across the country, the movement to organize working graduate students will not disappear. But the expectations of what each side can and will do to win have been dramatically increased by the NYU example.
University administrations resisting collective bargaining will now consider it normal and reasonable to retaliate against employees in ways the NLRB would consider flatly illegal in cases where it accepted jurisdiction. And graduate employees will have to counter with more widespread and comprehensive nonviolent civil disobedience. Graduate employees who want some say in their salaries and working conditions will have to bring operations at institutions like NYU to a halt. That is the new and immensely regrettable future the NYU administration has made a reality.
So we sat down in the street north of Washington Square, faculty members from Delaware State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a last ditch effort to give the NYU administration a wake-up call. We would prefer a future of rational negotiation, a future characterized by the productive working partnerships graduate employee unions have established with universities across the country. We are concerned that NYU is calling forth a different future -- one of antagonism and opposition.
NYU quite possibly represents a turning point in the history of efforts to improve working conditions in higher education. Especially after nearly 30 years of a steadily growing national trend toward the increasing use of poorly paid contingent labor to do most undergraduate teaching -- a trend in which higher education mirrors the now radical disparity between CEO salaries and the salaries of those on the shop floor -- NYU's effort to decisively disempower its more poorly paid teachers heralds a future of bitter labor conflict in the industry. While it was inspiring to stand beside the courageous students at the forefront of this struggle, it was sobering indeed to realize matters may now get much worse on many other campuses.
Cary Nelson and Jane Buck
Cary Nelson is president-elect and Jane Buck is president of the American Association of University Professors.
Submitted by Cary Nelson on September 12, 2006 - 4:00am
It was Monday, September 4th. The faculty at Eastern Michigan University had been on strike since September 1st. Picket lines were up at a dozen places on campus -- before the administration building, at all campus entrances, at loading docks, construction sites, and elsewhere. There was an inevitable, fluid conversation ongoing about what to do the next day. Should there be a mass meeting, a rally? Where should it be held? Events could derail any plans, but classes were scheduled to start on Wednesday, and it did not look like the administration would put an acceptable contract offer on the table. So people almost certainly needed to assemble the day beforehand.
Other Michigan public universities had accepted offers of raises ranging from 3-4 percent. Despite realizing that their faculty members were already at the low end of the Michigan pay scale, the Eastern Michigan administration had offered 2 percent and combined it with a new premium to be assessed for health care that amounted to 1.6-1.8 percent of salary. The package was a wash. The union was also looking to help the students, who were unsurprisingly agitated that some classrooms had deteriorated to the point where neither heat nor air conditioning worked properly. Heavy coats worn in winter classrooms did not help note taking. So Eastern Michigan's faculty union, a unit of the American Association of University Professors, asked if the administration would be willing to receive an annual report recommending priorities for classroom repairs. The administration refused.
Their offer was an overt challenge to the union. Then the administration ramped up the pressure by adding that it would walk out of negotiations if the strike was not called off by 10 Tuesday night, the evening before classes were to begin. Late Tuesday morning consensus was reached that, save two pickets per site, everyone should gather that afternoon. Time and place were still in flux. I was in town, as national AAUP president, to offer my support and speak at the meeting. I was worried that no one would show up and said so. "They'll be there," union president Howard Bunsis replied with a smile. I cannot say that I was reassured.
What I had not calculated was how an extraordinary level of faculty solidarity would mesh with new technology. My previous experience with multiple picket sites had involved quite a bit of sending messengers running back and forth across campus. Now there were people with cell phones at every site. This was especially helpful when particular locations required additional troops, as when people needed to work at turning away delivery trucks. On one occasion I persuaded a Teamster member delivering hamburger buns to call his office, which agreed to cancel the rest of the week's deliveries. At a major university construction site, the concrete trucks had nonunion drivers. A cell phone call reached the concrete supplier, whose union loaders agreed not to load more concrete trucks. Other activists were taking cell phone messages in their cars and delivering water, picket signs, and modest edible treats as needed. Several retired professors took particular pleasure in running these on-demand delivery services.
I spent several hours on Tuesday morning visiting picket sites, introducing myself and talking with faculty, students, and university workers. The faculty were unvaryingly determined, though also anxious. False rumors abounded, as usual, but cell phone calls kept them under control. I hadn't thought of cell phones as rumor control devices, but they enable members involved in job actions to make rapid contact with the leadership. The deeper anxiety was centered on the disruption of their faculty identities. They wanted to meet their classes on Wednesday. Most simply asked to be treated the same way other Michigan employees were being treated. A few said they'd settle for any offer that wasn't blatantly insulting. But because they were faculty they could not just picket; they had to talk these issues through. Happily, it was a bright Midwestern day. Spirits overall were more than high; they were stratospheric. Professors of English and engineering were one; they had shed their disciplinary skins. They were now part of that universal faculty that now and again focuses on their common destiny and mission.
At lunch time I made my way back to the negotiating room where I had first arrived the day before. It was a busy space. The union had been asking the administration for health care statistics for a year to no avail. Suddenly, at the penultimate moment, the data had arrived. Ordinarily this would have been a disaster. In the past, interpreting the numbers with sufficient mastery so as to suggest alternative solutions would have taken weeks. But the chapter president is a business faculty member more than comfortable with spread sheets. What's more, the days of the smoke filled bargaining hall had long disappeared. Each member of the bargaining team sat in front of a computer. A ten foot high projection screen let everyone see spreadsheet proposals.
Meanwhile it had been decided that a large campus auditorium was the right place to meet. PowerPoint demonstrations were being prepared. E-mail messages went out to faculty. A phone tree got to work. An hour later we walked into an auditorium packed with hundreds of faculty. Scores of red AAUP caps dotted the room. There was applause, laughter, cheers, and pointed questioning, all echoing sharply against brick walls. My own presentation was easy. I assured everyone of continuing support from the national AAUP, and I emphasized that they were not fighting for their own interests alone. A highly conservative governing board was seeking to deny faculty any influence over their terms of employment or working conditions. This was a battle we needed to win for the country as a whole. Over 40 years in the academy I have never seen a faculty so unified and determined. It was astonishing and exhilarating. Certainly the administration had a hand in inadvertently unifying the faculty. But constant communication between the leadership and the members helped turn anger into collective action.
The overwhelming majority of faculty contracts are, of course, negotiated without a strike. Both parties ordinarily prefer a solution and, despite competing financial aims, are willing to work toward one. The Eastern Michigan administration's determination to break the faculty's will is not unprecedented but surely atypical.
As we left the hall a huge storm broke. Nothing less could have kept people from the picket lines, though when the skies cleared faculty were out on the streets again. A hundred of them were still there at 10 p.m. that night, chanting "Talk, Don't Walk" before the administration building.
Meanwhile we were back at negotiations. There I got to see a master at work. Ernie Benjamin, a 30-year veteran of collective bargaining, was in town from the national AAUP office to advise the campus professors. He would quietly predict every administration action before it happened. He estimated they would deliver a "last and best" offer minutes before they broke off negotiations, just so they could claim we hadn't responded to it. We decided to draft a counter offer without seeing their terms, though Ernie, as it happened, predicted exactly what they would propose. The team reduced its demands somewhat, printed out new spreadsheets, and delivered them to the administration negotiators at 9:58, immediately after receiving their's. At first the administration representatives refused to accept our proposal, claiming it was already 10 p.m., but our people proved otherwise.
The following morning, more than 90 percent of faculty members honored the strike and did not attend their classes. Students picketed the administration the rest of the week. The union had advised new faculty to meet their classes, since they would otherwise not have health care coverage initiated. But the faculty had spoken with one voice, though a strike carries a special emotional burden for them. They would prefer to be partners with the administration. They cannot leave their classrooms, their offices, and their labs without psychologically leaving much of themselves behind. It is not just a job; it is who they are. At Eastern Michigan the administration decided to exploit that special loyalty. The faculty stood together in support of shared governance and fair practices. When nearly 400 faculty met again on Friday, not one suggested calling off the strike. Sometimes solidarity deserves to be remembered forever.
Cary Nelson is president of the American Association of University Professors and a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
At last week’s annual conference of the main faculty union in Britain, leaders of the University and College Union (UCU) voted to support a resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli academics and universities. On a practical level the resolution will not do much to actually impose an effective boycott. Individual faculty members will make up their own minds about what to do, and plenty will continue their ties with Israel, although for a minority seeking to kick Israelis off of panels or journal boards, this resolution will provide the cover they seek. Regardless of the impact, by voting to adopt the resolution, the union has given a substantial political victory to a small group of extreme activists dedicated to the marginalization of Israel, if not for its outright demise. All scholars -- and especially American academics who consider themselves part of a worldwide community of people committed to free expression of ideas – need to take note of exactly what is going on. This is not about protesting some policy of Israel’s government, which occurs intensely in Israel’s vibrant university setting and free press, but something much more invidious.
With a vote of only 158 to 99, the UCU which boasts a membership of approximately 120,000 members may have actually made history by setting the stage for some of the most blatant forms of anti-Semitism in the post-World War II era. With a fraction of less then 1 percent of its membership participating in the vote, the UCU has set an example for other unions and professional associations to follow suit. It must be understood that the architects of the UCU boycott campaign are not merely concerned with promoting a two- state solution with both Israel and a Palestine state living in peace side by side, thus ending the occupation of the territories seized by Israel in 1967. Rather, its intent is to support a radical marginal movement to begin the process of dismantling Israel.
Subsequently, it is critical that the British academic community understand what is being said in their name, and that the American academic community be aware of what is going on at universities that have close ties to our institutions. This is especially true since scholarship is intended to be based on an honest search for truth which examines all sides of a given issue and context. The fact that the UCU voted to reject this basic premise and boycott Israeli scholars and academic institutions goes against the very nature of real scholarship. The UCU decision is based on a one-sided view of the Middle East conflict. It undermines academic freedom and sets different standards for people based on their origin rather than on their scholarship or ideas. All Israeli professors are being punished by British scholars, regardless of their views. Not only does the boycott single out Israelis, it also raises concern about the implications this resolution will have on Jewish students and faculty at universities throughout Britain. How will the campus atmosphere be affected, an issue identified by the All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-Semitism commissioned by the Blair Government in 2006, as an area of concern.
Why are the architects of the UCU boycott movement focused so determinedly only on Israel? Why was there no UCU resolution on the manner in which the British military is conducting itself in Basra, Iraq? Why was there never a resolution on Srebrenica where more Muslims were massacred in a given week then has been killed during the 40 years of the Arab-Israel conflict? How about Chechnya, where Russia carpet bombed civilian areas and massacred tens of thousands if not more? How about Darfur, where there is agreement that there is an on going genocide at this very moment, in which hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered and the killing reportedly appears to be accelerating. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the estimates are that three to four million have been killed. Why single out Israel? Why has Israel become the incarnation of evil, of colonialism and even apartheid? Why are there not calls for the boycotting of the Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon or Saudi Arabia where the levels of the repression of woman boggles the mind. How about issues of human rights violations by China and Syria? What about questions of citizenship of migrants to Europe? Do these issues not warrant any UCU consideration? I dare not even question why the deliberate and regular shelling of Sapir College in Sderot, well inside the green line, from Gaza which Israel withdrew and no longer occupies has not been condemned by the UCU? My point is not to suggest that British professors or others broaden boycotts to colleges all over the world. Rather, one has to consider if standards are applied in any sort of consistent way – and when they are not, as is evident in this case, one can not avoid questioning what the real motives are.
Many in the anti-Israel campaign compare Israel to apartheid-era South Africa, where boycotts helped to bring about change. However, it is important to remember that apartheid was a legal system designed to exclude the vast majority of its inhabitants from basic rights, citizenship, membership and participation in institutions of its society based on racial categories. The purpose of the anti-apartheid movement was to enfranchise its citizens based on a Freedom Charter which guaranteed equal rights to all of its citizens regardless of race, gender, political affiliation, not to destroy or dismantle South Africa. Israel is a democracy under the rule of law, all of its citizens vote and enjoy enfranchisement, while the Knesset has representation for all sectors of society, including all of its minorities. I do not remember any individual member, let alone organization, of the mainstream anti-apartheid movement calling for genocide or advocating the recruitment to massacre as many civilians as possible, an accepted and advocated principle of the leading member of the Palestinian Authority Government Hamas, and other organizations within the Palestinian political spectrum, in which the UCU resolution becomes an enabler of sorts. None of this is to say that the Palestinians do not have real grievances, however, there ought to be a more nuanced view of the conflict.
It is particularly incredible that some are attempting to de-legitimize Israel, the only democracy in the region, while a significant radical social movement, Hamas, gains strength that is anti-Enlightenment, genocidal in its anti-Semitism, not to mention anti-democratic, sexist and homophobic, and in fact governs Israel’s neighboring Palestinian Authority. Can one imagine an academic group in any other circumstance lending support to those who would send basic human rights backwards in the support of reactionary forces? Those who call for the marginalization of the State of Israel or for its demise are also enablers for those reactionary forces that not only threaten liberal democratic forces in the Middle East, women and minority rights, but all that the UCU perceive itself to support and stand for.
It is becoming evident that those engaged in the attempt to marginalized and criminalize Israel do so in a manner that defies their own logic and values. For the first time in Europe’s post-World War Two era, the rhetoric of what was once on the fridges of the political spectrum has now entered into the mainstream of political and academic discourse. It is incumbent upon all members of the UCU and the academic community generally, to stand up to the resurgence of this oldest of hatred. The passing of the UCU resolution could mark the beginning of a new era of virulent anti-Semitism. We ought to be mindful that under the Nazi regime, also elected, that the universities were the first institutions in society to discriminate against Jewish people. If we learned anything from this tragic history we know that double standards and the deligitimitzation of an entire group must be confronted -- even at the level of resolutions and boycotts -- and is contrary to notions of education.
Charles Small is director of the Yale University Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism. Previously, he has taught at universities in both Britain and Israel.
In the cartoons, an astonished character will at times need to grab his eyeballs as they come flying out of his head. Something like that happened to me a few months ago while going through the fall catalog of Columbia University Press. Buried deep in its pages – well behind all the exciting, glamorous titles at the bleeding edge of scholarship – was the listing for Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy by Richard D. Kahlenberg. (It has just appeared in hardback.)
This was a title one might reasonably expect to see issued by a commercial publisher: Shanker, who died in 1997, was for many years the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which he helped build into one of the strongest unions in the AFL-CIO. It now has more than a million members, including about 160,000 who work in higher education; even if only one in a hundred were interested in the union’s history, that is quite a potential audience.
At the same time, it was a surprise to find the book published by a press better known for titles in cultural theory: works embodying a certain abstract radicalism, several miles in stratosphere above the labor movement. And Shanker, besides being a union bureaucrat, was something of a hardboiled ideologue – a fierce Cold Warrior, but no less ardent a Culture Warrior, denouncing both affirmative action and multiculturalism in tones that were, let’s say, emphatic.
Such “tough liberalism,” as his biographer calls it, made the labor leader a punchline in Woody Allen’s post-apocalyptic comedy "Sleeper" (1973). A character explains that no one is quite sure how civilization ended, but historians think it all started when “a man named Albert Shanker got his hands on an atomic bomb.”
A lot has changed since the days when a new movie by Woody Allen was a major event. And in any case, no labor leader has emerged in recent decades with quite the cultural and political profile that Shanker once had. Yet his name still has the power to provoke. There are Shankerites and anti-Shankerites.
Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington, DC, admires Shanker and gives him the benefit of the doubt, more often than not. That tendency comes through, I think, in the IHE podcast we recently recorded. But Kahlenberg is not totally uncritical of Shanker. As we talked following the taping, Kahlenberg mentioned the passions stirred up by the leader's memory.
Some followers remain convinced that “Al” was right about more or less everything -- including the Vietnam War, which Shanker supported. Kahlenberg also looked into charges by Shanker's opponents that he received funds as part of the American intelligence community’s activity within the labor movement.
That accusation is hardly a surprising or implausible. All things considered, it would be surprising if Shanker were not connected with "the AFL-CIA” (as certain networks within the intelligence and labor communities were sometimes called). But Kahlenberg says critics haven’t offered solid evidence to back up the accusation. There is a difference between firm conviction and real proof. This is a matter some historian will eventually need to revisit, nailing things down with serious documentation.
Tough Liberal is not the first book about Shanker. But the previous volume, Dickson A. Mungazi’s Where He Stands: Albert Shanker and the American Federation of Teachers, published by Praeger in 1995, was not really a biography. Nor was it much of a contribution to labor history, given that Mungazi identifies Samuel Gompers (who died in 1924) as the first president of the CIO (established in 1935).
So Kahlenberg has made a real contribution by telling the story of this charismatic and/or megalomaniacal labor leader’s career. I say that as a reader who did not pick up the biography with any admiration for its subject – nor put it down converted to Shanker-style “toughness.” (Actually it made me think maybe Woody Allen was right.) But it’s an engaging book, and essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Cold War liberalism and its complicated legacy.
Further reading (and listening): An excerpt from Tough Liberal is available at Columbia UP's website. An early review of it appears in the latest issue of Washington Monthly. An extremely favorable treatment of the biography and of Shanker himself has recently appeared in The Wall Street Journal. For something altogether less laudatory, see the essay appearing ten years ago in the socialist journal New Politics. And by all means, lend an ear to the interview with Richard Kahlenberg, available as an IHE podcast.
This is a moment of historic change for the American Association of University Professors. With the majority of AAUP members now participating in collective bargaining, it has become necessary to accommodate federal labor law with a formal re-structuring. Over the next two or three years, AAUP will create three financially separate but philosophically interlocking entities. At the core will remain the traditional advocacy organization that continues the association's 90-year mission to speak for the profession as a whole. Closely allied will be an AAUP foundation free to seek grant support and development funding from major donors and a labor organization housing those chapters that bargain collectively. In this arduous and expensive transition, the association's staff and officers have uncovered and reformed issues in the membership department affecting dues income (via late or inaccurate renewal notices) and financial record-keeping.
The incumbent president of the AAUP, Cary Nelson, has overseen these efforts in the midst of another epochal shift: the recognition by the association and most other major faculty institutions that, as a result of a concerted assault upon tenure by administrations and corporate interests over the past four decades, the traditional figure of the tenurable faculty member now represents a modest fraction of the faculty overall. That number is currently one-third, and dropping precipitously. The figure of one-third is itself quite conservative, insofar as it doesn't account for the enormous quantity of teaching done by graduate student employees serving as instructor of record, and given the pronounced tendency of administrations to aggressively under-report the true percentage of faculty serving contingently.
Despite comprising a sizeable majority of faculty overall, contingent faculty have remained very much in the minority in faculty leadership positions, most of which, as service roles, are traditionally uncompensated, and often require time and status that few persons working on term contracts are able to muster.
This has contributed to what faculty activists have called the structural "invisibility" of faculty serving contingently and the somewhat belated discovery that contingency now represents the norm of faculty life. For the current generation of scholars, tenurability increasingly functions to provide a veneer of research productivity, to generate sponsored projects, and as an administrator candidate pool -- much the way that enlisted officers function in the military, as a caste with the privileges and responsibility of command, directing undergraduates, graduates, staff and the permatemped majority faculty in the daily operations of the business of higher education.
In recent years, however, the insecure majority faculty have made themselves increasingly legible on the public stage, most particularly through unionism: by dramatically re-shaping the agenda and policy discourse of the major higher ed unions (AFT, NEA, AAUP), by attracting the organizing attention of unions not previously associated with higher ed faculty (UAW, CWA, SEIU, AFSCME), and, depending on local history and state labor law, by either forming leadership slates and caucuses within mixed units or else forming independent unions of their own.
Of special interest is the growing trend toward successful organizing by contingent faculty on private campuses (Pace University, George Washington University, the New School, New York University): with very few private school faculties willing to challenge Yeshiva -- a weak 5-4 Supreme Court decision that suggested tenure-stream faculty owed administrations a form of supervisory loyalty -- it is clearly faculty serving contingently who are the leading edge of unionism in private higher education.
With the rise of faculty serving contingently into the substantial majority, it is both a sign of the times and fundamentally appropriate that both candidates for the AAUP presidency work on term contracts. Already serving as a contingent faculty member when elected in 2006, incumbent Nelson has had to annually request reappointment and twice had his compensation slashed.
"As an adjunct faculty member, there was not a damned thing I could do about it," Nelson says. "Since I have both health care and vestment in a retirement system, I am one hell of a lot better off than most contingent teachers." For two decades prior to this experience, Nelson engaged in trenchant advocacy on the issues of permatemping, academic freedom for faculty serving contingently, and the employment rights of graduate students. But there is no substitute for actually living the life, Nelson concedes, noting that even the "modest level of personal experience" he has with serving contingently has spurred him to further efforts. In "The Academic Working Poor," part of a video interview with him that I published last month, Nelson describes the profound economic distress of faculty serving contingently, some of whom have to supplement their wages by working in retail or standing in line for free cheese. In "The Twilight of Academic Freedom," Nelson contends that the consequences of contingency are more than economic and that increasingly, the majority of faculty serving contingently enjoy few traditional academic freedoms.
Nelson's opponent on the ballot, perennial petition candidate Thomas E. Guild, is also serving contingently after accepting a retirement deal. Centering his candidacy on the issues in the membership department uncovered by Nelson's administration, Guild promises to use his "background in business" to make "changes" to the organization and has expressed reservations about what he calls the "controversial proposed restructuring." The only "controversy" regarding the restructuring, however, appears to be that raised by Guild himself, since at least 90 percent of the elected AAUP national officers and Council members support the restructuring as a necessary and overdue response to U.S. labor law. Both Guild and Nelson have published their candidate statements and qualifications on their Web sites. Using Realplayer software, you can also watch them debate on Guild's home turf in Oklahoma: Part one of the debate includes opening remarks (hint: fast forward to about 6 minutes 30 seconds), and part two includes the more interesting question and answer segment. Nelson and Guild discuss their vision of the association's mission for the contingent majority at 46:30 in part 2: If you can only watch a few minutes of the debate, that is the point to jump in.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that, like the overwhelming majority of AAUP Council members and past AAUP presidents making endorsements, I support Cary Nelson's re-election to the AAUP presidency. My own principal reason for doing so is that I believe he is by far the best candidate for addressing the historic crisis represented by the permatemping of the academy -- not just the best person in the race, but literally the most-qualified person alive to do that job. He was among the very first to observe that, as he says in the debate, that "the exploitation of contingent faculty is the most serious problem afflicting academia," ultimately converting the "university into a fast-food employer, bringing people in one day and turning them out the next." Under his leadership, the organization has urged all of its tenure-stream members belonging to collective bargaining chapters to help organize both contingent faculty and graduate employees at their home institution.
That said, I look forward to a time when contingent faculty are vying for the AAUP presidency not just in the form of Nelson and Guild's "modest personal experience," but on the basis of a majority membership in the association. For the AAUP and other faculty institutions -- senates, unions and disciplinary associations -- to fully realize the agenda of the majority of faculty who live the new sad norm of term contracts, that majority will have to move into officer positions across the profession. There will certainly be difficult adjustments to make. Faculty serving contingently will have to accept the truth that only very few tenure-stream faculty have Nelson's commitment to transform the system, and that, ultimately, not even the AAUP can make a difference until they join and organize -- if not with AAUP, then with any of the other organizations actively representing the organized might of faculty serving contingently.
Unlike Nelson and Guild, who enjoy the security of retirement, most faculty members serving contingently who exercise leadership on the job and in their disciplines have to overcome much greater barriers than tenure-stream faculty: much greater insecurity, status discrimination, the prohibitive cost of unfunded service. And yet they are steadily doing so as a matter of individual and collective survival. In my view, when the day comes that faculty serving contingently occupy the presidencies of the American Historical Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Studies Association, as well as the leadership of their union locals and represent a majority of the AAUP Council, then, and only then, will we truly be close to resolving the crisis in academic employment.
The single most important structural change in higher education over the last two generations has been the massively increased reliance on faculty teaching intensively in contingent positions — 33 percent in 1975, 66 percent 30 years later in 2005, roughly 70 percent now. No other reform means anything unless we can obtain job security and academic freedom for the majority of college teachers. It will require solidarity from tenured faculty.
The only true solidarity among current faculty members requires granting tenure to all long-term contingent faculty members. All. One hundred tenured slots for 9,500 contingent faculty members is not solidarity. It’s a mud-wrestling contest with tenure as a prize. Nor does a tiered division between two classes of faculty — 50 percent tenured and 50 percent expendable, or 75 percent tenured and 25 percent contingent — constitute the principled structural change we need. What do we gain if we set as our ideal the permanent diminishment of most of our colleagues’ lives? What good is a compromised ideal? Why congratulate ourselves for selling out?
The only goal worth fighting for is full justice for all who teach. No solution that throws most existing faculty serving in contingent positions under the bus is acceptable. Solidarity is not a weasel word. It’s not about compromising with power. It’s about reaching out to the disempowered and offering them hope. Every other year some two hundred contingent, sessional, or precarious faculty from North America — the titles vary by country — gather together at a COCAL meeting to share their strategies for reform. Most have spent their working lives being eaten alive by the higher education industry. And yet they have held onto their humor, their charm, and their pedagogical passions. I cannot betray them. Nor will the American Association of University Professors do so. In its new policy paper — "Tenure and Teaching Intensive Appointments" — the AAUP recommends that all long-term contingent faculty members be granted tenure.
Since tenure can be awarded to both part-time and full-time faculty members — a person could have tenure at a less than full-time percentage appointment -- the AAUP’s proposal carries no necessary cost. It does not, in all honesty, guarantee faculty members a living wage. But it does give them the job security they need to advocate for better working conditions without fear of reprisal, and it eliminates the sometimes crippling stress accompanying at-will employment. It gives all faculty access to shared governance, including the ability at most institutions to serve on curriculum committees, so that the folks who do the teaching will actually have a say in course planning and development, something that has always been a fundamental AAUP principle. It goes a tremendous distance toward unifying the faculty and reinvigorating faculty solidarity. And because -- unlike conversion proposals that call for full-time appointments for all -- it does not cost money, tenure-for-all can be promoted on the basis of principle alone.
Some administrators will no doubt respond with calls for flexibility in hiring, but the adjunct army that teaches composition, math, and introductory foreign language courses is not providing services likely to prove unnecessary in any imaginable future. Administrators may come and go, but the adjunct army persists. The AAUP’s new statement, it is important to note, supports a traditional probationary period before tenure is awarded. That probationary period provides sufficient time to decide whether a given set of teaching responsibilities will be fleeting or permanent. Meanwhile, thousands of faculty members serving in contingent positions — some of them for a decade or two or more — have effectively "passed" their tenure review by virtue of being hired back year after year. Future part-time hires would undergo appropriate peer review during their probationary period.
Would administrators simply terminate their adjunct army, rather than tenure them? The very size of the long-term adjunct cohort in many systems makes that impractical. The practical educational and administrative consequences of suddenly jettisoning many of an institution’s experienced faculty members would be considerable. Demands for comprehensive conversion to full-time positions would be another matter, which once again demonstrates why the alternative demand for tenure is more realistic. The AAUP’s proposal, paradoxically, is at once modest and revolutionary. Of course its implementation would still benefit from solidarity with tenured faculty.
"Solidarity" is the original rallying cry of worker-empowered union organizing. Its invocation recalls generations of consciousness-raising, of group identification, of class interest recognition, of bodies risked and bodies broken. There were times when the call for solidarity could not overcome racial divisions, when the discourse of solidarity could not link black and white bodies arm in arm. And there were times when it could. Solidarity encompasses the ideological glue that held groups together. It is the concept that gave courage and meaning to imperiled, solitary souls on those most lonely of union nights. Here is Sterling Brown’s “Sharecroppers,” first published in 1939 in Get Organized: Stories and Poems about Trade Union People:
When they rode up at first dark and called his name,
He came out like a man from his little shack.
He saw his landlord, and he saw the sheriff,
And some well-armed riff-raff in the pack.
When they fired questions about the meeting,
He stood like a man gone deaf and dumb,
But when the leaders left their saddles,
He knew then that his time had come.
In the light of the lanterns the long cuts fell,
And his wife’s weak moans and the children's wails
Mixed with the sobs he could not hold.
But he wouldn’t tell, he would not tell,
The Union was his friend, and he was Union,
And there was nothing a man could say.
So they trussed him up with stout ploughlines,
Hitched up a mule, dragged him far away
Into the dark woods that tell no tales,
Where he kept his secrets as well as they.
He would not give away the place,
Not who they were, neither white nor black,
Nor tell what his brothers were about.
They lashed him, and they clubbed his head;
One time he parted his bloody lips
Out of great pain and greater pride,
One time, to laugh in his landlord’s face;
Then his landlord shot him in the side.
He toppled, and the blood gushed out.
But he didn’t mumble ever a word,
And cursing, they left him there for dead.
He lay waiting quiet, until he heard
The growls and the mutters dwindle away;
“Didn’t tell a single thing,” he said,
Then to the dark woods and the moon
He gave up one secret before he died:
“We gonna clean out dis brushwood round here soon,
Plant de white-oak and de black-oak side by side.”
If we take Brown’s poem as a fable for our own time, we know well who our landlords are and why their will and their power must be resisted. We know what brushwood must be cleared. And we know that on campus it is contingent and tenured teachers who must flourish side by side. These are the values we take on when we dare to speak the name of solidarity. It signifies a history and a tradition we would do well not to betray.
There is nothing, to be sure, that limits solidarity to union organizing. Historically it has been used to describe kinship bonding in preindustrial societies. All of us will recall it as the graphic and verbal emblem of the Polish struggle to free themselves from Soviet domination. The Polish struggle began as a trade union movement in 1980 and then became something more. Solidarity unionism — a concept translated into action in the United States by the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW after its1905 founding — promoted the idea that workers should take direct action against a company without paid union representation. Solidarity may thus very well refer to exactly what faculty serving in contingent positions need — direct action unmediated by union hierarchy.
For the immediate question for those of us in academe is clear: Will the call for solidarity link temporary and tenured bodies? Will it link the academic workforce behind principles of job security, fair wages, and necessary benefits for all? Are there examples of solidarity in action powerful enough to hail all of us?
Contingency has been the most gradual of the changes shaping higher education. Faculty members serving in contingent positions had slowly but inexorably come to dominate higher education's teaching workforce over 40 years. Not that they dominate anything else, for their authority anywhere in the industry -- from the classroom to administration to governing boards -- could hardly be less. For half a century tenure had been the key guarantor of academic freedom. Now tenure is available only to a minority of faculty members.
It was not long ago that I would have said very little evidence exists to show that tenured faculty members gave a damn about anyone else. But then I visited an AFT local in southern Illinois, and the tenured faculty talked proudly about making salary increases for contingent faculty the first priority in their most recent contract negotiations. It wasn’t an altogether popular plan at first. But once it succeeded, everyone became an advocate. No one ever said solidarity was easy.
The challenge of solidarity became still more acute over the last year, as real or imagined budget crises gave administrators the will to cut positions and salaries. Forced with a furlough demand, the AAUP local at the University of Northern Iowa reopened its contract negotiations. The union accepted furloughs, but only on condition no adjunct positions be cut. Faced with similar demands, California Faculty Association activists in the 24-campus California State University system confronted a bloody-minded administration that would not guarantee that furloughs could be traded for job security. Tenured CFA members agonized, then voted for the furloughs in solidarity with their contingent brothers and sisters. In the end, the Cal State administration cut thousands of lecturer positions anyway, thereby assuring that the union will not settle for good faith negotiations again.
In the version of late capitalism that prevails in the United States, do not expect to find such workplace solidarity outside unionized settings. The self-interested careerism that has shaped tenured faculty identity for two generations does not hold much hope for solidarity. Most tenured faculty literally do not understand the culture of contingent faculty -- the interests, priorities, values, work patterns, or social and professional relations that shape their daily lives. Thus "You are not us," the implicit rebuke of the tenured faculty to their contingent colleagues, has evolved into "we are not you," the rallying cry of part-timers themselves. In the world of part-time employment, your transient "colleagues" pass unnoticed, like ships blind to each others' passage beneath the noonday sun. Yet even that blunt metaphor is inadequate, since it entails potential daytime visibility. Some departments concentrate part-timers in evening courses. Since those faculty members only feed on the curriculum at night, they are sometimes nervously referred to as "vampires." Perhaps that is a useful provocation. If it triggers a moment of recognition, tenured faculty may realize they are our vampires. We called them up and assigned them to our darkness. They are us, the faculty.
As I argue in No University is an Island (New York University Press), at institutions relying primarily on faculty serving in contingent positions, the appearance of new faculty or disappearance of continuing faculty is often unmarked. No sense of community obtains. The college is literally not a meeting place, a space of interaction, for its faculty, many of whom may retreat to the parking lot immediately after class to travel to another teaching job. A department in an institution staffed with contingent faculty is often essentially a structure filled with nameless bodies. The campus is recognizable only through its buildings and its students. In institutions without tenure, academic freedom and shared governance are often nonexistent.
Despite all this, the AAUP believes the solution is not to abandon tenure but to grant it to everyone who has taught full-time or part-time for a standard probationary period. We’re not talking about making a few tenured slots available to faculty serving in contingent positions. We are talking about granting full-time or part-time tenure to everyone with more than six years of local teaching experience. We are urging ending contingency as we know it. The solution is to find the solidarity necessary to achieve that goal.
At many institutions, of course, the tenured and contingent faculty already have largely identical responsibilities. Major research universities may, however, respond that they hire adjuncts for one skill set (teaching) and award tenure on a much broader skill set (including research). That said, at COCAL IX in Quebec in 2010 I talked to a long-term University of California lecturer who was told his several books in his field amounted — as far as the university was concerned — to “nothing more than a hobby, like gardening.” Writing books was not part of his UC job description. So the “skill set” argument is sometimes dishonorable. My personal recommendation to serious research universities is this: Give long-term adjuncts tenure and then stop hiring additional faculty not tasked with the full range of faculty responsibilities.
Along with tenure must come all the components of a traditional faculty role — control over the curriculum, control over faculty hiring, authority over due process and peer review, and a structural role in budget decisions. Otherwise the corporate university still wins. It will be no good for higher education long term if contingent faculty have job security and academic freedom in the classroom without full participation in shared governance. Indeed the only reason faculty serving contingently have some classroom rights now is that the instructional workforce is too difficult to police, but forces like the assessment movement may yet change that. We need to seek comprehensive professional status for teaching intensive faculty. Anything less will create a deprofessionalized proletariat higher education workforce once called faculty members. What I once scandalously called “Comp Droids,” dedicated robotic deliverers of prepackaged, sanitized content, will become the norm not only for introductory courses but for higher education as a whole. For the slow march of contingent demographics will prevail unless we find the will to resist.
Can the existing faculty unions — dominated either by tenured faculty or by K-12 teachers who have no academic freedom — fuel the will to resistance? Not without pressure from below. That’s not to say that the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have not begun to address the problem. Even flawed solutions have helped put the issues on the table, and modest goals like small-scale conversion programs can productively coexist with comprehensive tenure. The AAUP is steadily ramping up its enforcement of our 2006 revision of our Recommended Institutional Regulations No. 13, which grants long-term part-timers expectation of continued employment. But nonrenewal without due process remains the norm throughout much of the industry, and union contracts for part-time faculty have a long way to go before meaningful job security and full participation in shared governance, let alone adequate wages and benefits, are obtained. As for full-time faculty teaching contingently, the AAUP’s 1940 statement, endorsed by over 200 higher education organizations, has yet to secure for them the tenured status it guarantees. Permit me to say that seventy years of non-enforcement does not fill me with confidence. What is missing is the pressure from below that might wake everyone to the need for solidarity. We cannot look to the majority of tenured faculty for solidarity unless faculty serving in contingent positions are willing to make daily life difficult for everyone on campus, to make business as usual impossible.
If administrators are able either to increase the percentage of contingent faculty members in the wake of the recession or to fire long-term contingent faculty members en masse, we will leave the current crisis in much worse shape as a profession than we are now. We were already at the tipping point; the current crisis can easily take us irretrievably beyond it.
The only real solution — tenure for all who teach — would also benefit from serious collaboration, rather than competition, among existing unions representing faculty members. We would do well to see interorganizational solidarity in the form of coordinated national efforts by the AAUP, the AFT, and the NEA to organize contingent faculty.
Cary Nelson is national president of the American Association of University Professors.
In a recent essay at Inside Higher Ed, Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, underlined the new policy position of the association that all long-term adjunct or contingent faculty who have taught at least six years be granted tenure. He urged his tenured colleagues to show "solidarity" with their currently untenured colleagues.
This is a far cry from previous positions of the association, which reflected little sympathy for their contingent faculty members. It represents an important step in the continuing fight for social and economic justice within universities and colleges.
In advocating tenure for all faculty, however, Professor Nelson emphasized that such a policy could be implemented at no cost to institutions of higher education, thereby making it more appealing to college administrators who claim their budgets are strained. He stated that greater job security and academic freedom would eventually lead to greater pay and benefits to adjunct faculty. In doing so, he invited colleges to give tenure without bringing newly tenured adjuncts to comparable levels of pay and benefits -- effectively keeping alive a two-tier system. In short, he argued that institutionalizing tenure for all must precede demands for higher pay, reasonable benefits and better working conditions for adjuncts.
While this approach may be the path of least resistance, such a strategy is likely neither to gain tenure for all adjuncts in the short run, nor to do anything to eliminate the horrendous working conditions under which contingent faculty currently labor. It certainly will be easier to persuade tenured teachers to support tenure for all than it would be to mobilize them for the much tougher fight to gain greater pay and benefits for their untenured colleagues.
Even with greater solidarity between tenured and nontenured faculty, the struggle for universal tenure will take a good deal of time. College administrations can be counted on to oppose such a drastic change in their relationship with contingent faculty, even if this change doesn’t cost them anything. It would mean giving up a great deal of control and power. Many deans currently enjoy their authority to end the contracts of adjuncts they don’t like, a power they would not be able to exercise with tenured adjuncts.
Nor will tenure necessarily provide job security and academic freedom in these tough economic times. Tenured jobs are currently being sacrificed before the altar of budget cutbacks and faculty layoffs. Downsizing seems to make few exceptions.
The prolonged fight for tenure at no cost to universities and colleges means that the current conditions under which adjuncts teach and suffer will not improve. In fact, they may get worse as colleges continue to tighten their purses. A growing number of adjuncts are slowly being pushed to poverty’s doorstep. A number are relying on food stamps or selling their blood to put bread on their family tables. Under such stress, it is increasingly difficult for them to maintain high teaching standards. Since a large majority of all the teaching in higher education is performed by contingent faculty, there is a danger that many students may not receive a quality education.
If adjuncts are to receive better pay and reasonable benefits, they will have to begin now to challenge college administrations, policy makers and college trustees to change current practices. They cannot afford to wait for tenured positions that may never materialize. Hopefully, they will be strongly supported by unions, tenured professors, AAUP and other educational associations.
The AAUP statement and Professor Nelson seem to take the colleges’ word that they cannot afford to spend more on adjunct salaries and benefits. That is not the case. University and college administrations are bloated with enormous costs for CEOs and high-level administrators. In the coming year dozens of CEOs will earn compensation packages of over $1 million, while the salaries of top administrators are increasing at a furious pace. Many administrative positions could easily be eliminated. Others could have their compensation packages reduced to bring them in line with more normal academic practices.
Our higher education institutions continue to lavish money on high-priced new facilities, many of them not essential to quality higher education, and on dubious research. They rob undergraduate education to pay for graduate studies. Expensive athletic programs also absorb a growing portion of university budgets.
The more than 1,500 private foundations that support public universities and colleges sit on some $300 billion in assets. Instead of supporting many unnecessary activities and expenditures at their schools, they could instead be supporting decent pay and benefits for their adjunct faculty.
Although economically strapped, universities and colleges could easily come up with the money needed to raise the salaries of and provide benefits to their contingent faculty. It is a question of priorities. Shouldn’t teaching be the highest priority of higher education?
That is the reason why tenured faculty, if they care about the quality of teaching in higher education, should fight to substantially narrow the gap between their compensation packages and those of their fellow adjuncts. Across the board pay and benefit hikes will not accomplish that goal; they will only widen the gap between tenured and adjunct faculty. Adjuncts need to receive compensatory salary and benefit increases to begin to narrow this immense, unjustifiable difference in pay and benefits.
Only through organizing pressure, mobilizing supporters among both adjuncts and tenured faculty and engaging college trustees and policy makers can adjunct faculty change the conditions that make them the "untouchables" of our higher education caste system.
Professor Nelson and the AAUP should by all means fight to gain tenure for their adjunct colleagues. But if they are truly interested in the well-being of the latter, as well as in the sound education of college students, they must join the active struggle to achieve higher pay, reasonable benefits and better working conditions for contingent faculty. That struggle cannot wait. It must precede tenure, not follow it.
Pablo Eisenberg is a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.