Change of Leadership at AAUP

Following a vote not to renew his contract, Gary Rhoades is expected to leave position as general secretary.
April 12, 2011

Leaders of the American Association of University Professors have decided not to renew the contract of Gary Rhoades as general secretary, making him the second person in a row to leave that position (the equivalent of executive director) amid conflict with its governing council.

Rhoades is not confirming that he is out or talking about why that might be the case. Nor is Cary Nelson, national president of the AAUP, who said only that discussions were ongoing about the future leadership of the organization. During Rhoades's tenure, the AAUP has had some notable successes. On the financial side, the AAUP ended operating deficits and started to receive good audits (which had not always been the case). The AAUP also started joint organizing with the American Federation of Teachers -- a move viewed by both organizations as a key strategy to expand faculty unions.

To a person, sources familiar with the discussions of Rhoades's departure declined to comment on the situation on the record. Those with secondhand information had plenty of speculation about a personality conflict between Nelson (who is proud of being an outspoken "tenured radical") and Rhoades (who has a lower profile).

Those who talked without identification and who said they had knowledge of the discussions were sympathetic to Rhoades. They said that there was no major philosophical dispute about higher education or faculty rights, but that Rhoades and Nelson differed on strategy. Rhoades was portrayed as more focused on shifting the AAUP to attract younger members, and more willing to work with the AFT to expand the AAUP's collective bargaining campuses. Several said that Rhoades was more realistic than Nelson on the AAUP's weaknesses, which led him to spend more time focused on coalitions with other groups.

Several presidents of campus AAUP chapters that have collective bargaining rights said that they were disappointed by the move to replace Rhoades.

Sources more critical of Rhoades generally cited his management of the AAUP office, not his work with the rank and file.

To date, only the executive committee of the AAUP has voted on Rhoades (recommending against renewing his contract), and the lack of a final vote by the full council was cited by many as a reason not to comment. But the discussions under way at the AAUP are no longer about whether Rhoades should stay, but about how to announce and manage his departure.

The shift comes at a challenging time for the AAUP. While its finances have been stable of late, the new Ohio law effectively banning faculty unions at Ohio's public colleges and universities is a major blow. Ohio is a state where the AAUP has a long history of organizing, and its faculty unions contribute 10 percent of the total budget of the AAUP. Nelson, however, said he was hopeful that a referendum would overturn the law.

Roger Bowen, the previous general secretary, left the association in 2007 amid a series of controversies over management of the association. Rhoades, when hired, was director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. He took a leave there, but did not give up his faculty position, to which he is now expected to return.


Back to Top