Wisconsin’s two major education unions are planning to merge, in light of declining memberships following 2011 anti-union legislation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelreported. Under the plan, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, which includes faculty at public, postsecondary institutions, would join with the National Education Association-affiliated Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest K-12 teachers union. The new union would be called Wisconsin Together, tentatively starting in September. A vote on the merger is slated for April.
Following Act 10, which made union membership and dues-paying voluntary, the K-12 union has lost about one-third of its members, according to the report. The higher education union has about 6,500 members, down from a peak of 16,000. Kim Kohlhaas, AFT-Wisconsin president, said the new structure would allow the union through pooled resources to focus on professional development and advocacy for public education – not just faculty working conditions. “I think Act 10 was a huge eye-opener for us,” Kohlhaas told the Journal Sentinel. “I think historically even the union got caught up in [collective bargaining], and it used to be a lot of contract organization. This allows us an opportunity to focus on that completely differently.”
If approved, the joint AFT-NEA union become the sixth such union nationwide, after those in Minnesota, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and New York.
Adjuncts in the Maine Community College System, who teach about 45 percent of all courses, have won their first union contract, The Portland Press Herald reported. The contract provides for a 2 percent retroactive salary payment for those who taught in the 2012-13 academic year and again last fall, a 3 percent raise in the current base salary calculation and another 3 percent increase on July 1. The adjuncts are represented by the Maine State Employees Association, of the Service Employees International Union.
On December 27, William Kelly, the interim chancellor of the City University of New York, the vast university system in which I teach, published a statement condemning the resolution of American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities. In his statement, Chancellor Kelly wrote, “The need for global cooperation has never been more urgent, and we repudiate any effort to foreclose productive dialogue.” Who, one might wonder, is this we the chancellor is invoking, and who exactly is foreclosing dialogue?
Kelly’s statement is part of a growing chorus of denunciations of the ASA resolution by university presidents and other academic leaders. In these public pronouncements, Kelly and his fellow executives almost always speak in the royal we, as if they talk for the entire university community. In many cases, such arrogation of the right to speak for the whole community is explicit. Amherst College President Biddy Martin, for example, writes in her rejection of the ASA resolution, “On behalf of the college, I express opposition to this academic boycott for several related reasons.”
Yet when university leaders like Kelly and Martin speak not based on their own personal opinions but in the name of the institution, they abrogate the academic freedom of their faculty members. None of the statements issued thus far have benefited from consultation with faculty senates or other representative bodies of faculty opinion. Think of the chilling impact of such presidential declarations on nontenured faculty members who may have participated in the ASA vote, who may be considering attending meetings of the ASA, or who may even hold dissenting critical viewpoints about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. These presidential denunciations threaten to create a witch hunt-like atmosphere on campuses.
The courageous response of a group of faculty members at Trinity College in Connecticut to President James F. Jones Jr.’s attack on the ASA resolution highlights the ways in which these denunciations infringe on academic freedom. The Trinity faculty members point out explicitly to Jones that, “you did not speak in our name – also members of the Trinity College community – when you wrote this ill-advised letter to the ASA president.”
The Trinity faculty had good cause to complain. Without consulting them, President Jones stated in his letter that if Trinity were still an institutional member of the ASA, “it would not be any longer after the misguided and unprincipled announcement of the boycott of the only democracy in the Middle East.” The Trinity faculty might also have objected to the fact that President Jones appears so concerned to protect the academic freedom of Israeli institutions while ignoring that of members of his own university community. What could explain this apparent contradiction between the presidential devotion to abstract notions of academic freedom and pronouncements that ride roughshod over academic freedom at the leaders’ own institutions?
The answer perhaps lies in President Jones’s characterization of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East, a statement that the Trinity faculty remind him is not simply erroneous but also racially stereotyping. Following this gaffe, Jones goes on to ask rhetorically why the ASA is not boycotting “Syria, the Sudan, North Korea, China, Iran, Iraq, or Russia.”
An identical assertion concerning the regional uniqueness of Israeli democracy and a nearly equivalent list of human rights-violating nations occurs in a recent statement on the website of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In this statement, the conference calls on university presidents not simply to “publicly reject this academic boycott and the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel” but to deny “any funds, direct or indirect, to the ASA or any other body that adopts similar measures.” As part of their campaign against the ASA, the conference is deploying alumni and donors to put pressure on college presidents, distributing highly distorted talking points such as the ones that appeared in President Jones’s and many other presidents’ statements, and ignoring the discussions that circulated before the ASA resolution was put up for a vote, including the collection of essays that I curated at the AAUP’s Journal for Academic Freedom. Also involved in this campaign are Zionist organizations like Stand With Us, whose website includes a “how to” list for campaigners against BDS.
The university presidents’ denunciations are likely to have a chilling impact on fair and open discussion of the BDS campaign on American university campuses. If they follow through on the call to deny all funding to the ASA without adequate consultation with their faculty members, academic leaders will be infringing even more directly on academic freedom.
This building crisis underlines that there is no such thing as academic freedom shorn of the institutional and material conditions that enable such freedom. This point, which, as Judith Butler has explained in her endorsement of BDS, highlights the fundamental lack of freedoms of Palestinian scholars, was key to the ASA’s endorsement of the boycott. It seems that scholars who have endorsed the ASA resolution, or who continue to participate in the ASA, may now be penalized with a withdrawal of institutional resources as well as subtle and not-so-subtle infringements of their academic freedom. It is worth remembering that the academic boycott endorsed by the ASA targets only institutions and not individuals, but the presidents in their defense of Israeli institutions are directly infringing on the rights of association and expression of individual faculty members.
Instead of attempting to silence debate in this manner, academic leaders who are truly interested in nurturing academic freedom at their institutions and elsewhere should establish forums in which the ASA resolution can be discussed and debated in a fair and evenhanded manner. After all, the ASA boycott controversy is not a flash in the pan. As David Theo Goldberg and Saree Makdisi argue, “A rising level of concern about the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory (now in its fifth decade), as well as the precarious position of Israel's beleaguered Palestinian minority, have been countered by increasingly strident, even furious, attempts to silence or stifle criticism of Israeli policy on American college campuses.” Goldberg and Makdisi’s article details the campaigns of “insinuation, accusation, and defamation” through which organizations such as the Israel on Campus Coalition seek to silence debate about Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. As part of this campaign, groups like Stand With Us distribute propaganda tools such as the Hasbara Handbook, which details strategies of “point scoring” while avoiding genuine debate. Against such attempts to silence discussion, Goldberg and Makdisi’s article sets out some clear ground rules for forums designed to promote civil, respectful, but critical engagements across political divides.
Surely the quashing of dissenting viewpoints should be anathema to university presidents who are truly committed to academic freedom. Courageous and enlightened academic leaders should be fostering critical debate rather than contributing to an atmosphere of intimidation on campus while repeating abstract, and ultimately hollow, endorsements of academic freedom.
Ashley Dawson is professor of English at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, and editor of the American Association of University Professors' Journal of Academic Freedom.
While linguistics remains a relatively small major nationally, it has been seeing significant growth nationally, from a little more than 700 bachelor's degrees awarded in 2000 to 2,200 in 2012 -- a period in which there has not been dramatic change in graduate enrollments. Further, 70 percent of the undergraduate enrollments are women. These are among the figures in the first report of the Linguistic Society of America on the state of the discipline. While the new report features some longitudinal data based on other sources, the new report will seek to annually track changes in the discipline.
Colorado State University at Pueblo is being criticized not only by faculty leaders on its own campus, but by advocates for free speech nationally over its removal of the email account of a professor who has criticized budget cuts at the university. The university removed the email account of Timothy McGettigan, a professor of sociology, after he sent out an email to students and faculty members in which he urged them to fight the cuts. His subject line was "Children of Ludlow," referring to a 1914 massacre of striking coal miners in southern Colorado. McGettigan compared the way the central system administration was treating Pueblo to the bloody way coal mine owners treated their workers 100 years ago. Although McGettigan used that violent incident as a metaphor for the way the university administrators were treating the campus, and did not call for violence, university officials invoked Columbine and Virginia Tech to justify the need to act and remove his email account.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Tuesday sent a letter to Pueblo Monday in which it said there was no justification for removing the email account. "FIRE is deeply concerned by the threat to freedom of expression at Colorado State University–Pueblo (CSU-Pueblo) in light of the university’s deactivation of professor Tim McGettigan’s email account after he sent an email to students and faculty criticizing the university system’s leadership," the letter from FIRE said. "By declaring McGettigan’s email a violation of university policy and labeling him a threat to campus security, CSU - Pueblo has gravely violated his rights and deeply chilled expression."
The board of the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement that said in part: "The American Association of University Professors Colorado Conference emphatically rejects Colorado State University-Pueblo President Lesley Di Mare’s reckless and damaging conflation of legitimate faculty criticism of proposed mission-compromising cuts to faculty and staff at CSU-Pueblo with the brutal and mindless slaughter of innocents at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Arapahoe High School. While any university president is obligated to insure the physical safety of their university community, associating peaceful and legitimate dissent with the violent intentions of deranged gunmen is the very height of absurdity and reveals an appalling lack of professional judgment in a university president."