The American Association of University Professors has named as its executive director Julie M. Schmid, a seasoned union organizer and veteran of the recent battles over the labor rights of faculty members at Wisconsin's public colleges.
Ms. Schmid, now chief of staff for the Wisconsin affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, will take over her new position overseeing the AAUP's national office in October. She had previously worked in the AAUP's department of organizing and services, as a senior program associate, for six years before joining the Wisconsin AFT in 2008.
The AAUP's appointment of Ms. Schmid, announced today, is in keeping with the association's greater emphasis on organizing activities following a change in its elected leadership last year.
The AAUP's president, Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, who was elected as part of a slate of candidates calling for the group to place much more emphasis on faculty unionization, said in a statement that Ms. Schmid "brings a wealth of experience as an activist, organizer and leader" and "will help lead the AAUP in a new direction."
In an interview today, Mr. Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University, said, "We want to put an emphasis on organizing both collective-bargaining and advocacy chapters, to get faculty active on their campuses at a grass-roots level in fighting back against the attack we see on higher education."
He also said he hopes Ms. Schmid will help the AAUP establish itself as a group that represents not just tenured and tenure-track professors, but also adjunct faculty members, graduate assistants, and "anyone who is involved in doing the teaching, research, and professional work that is involved at universities."
'This Is Where the Fight Is'
Ms. Schmid issued a statement embracing her new role as a leading faculty activist. "I am excited to serve as the AAUP's executive director because this is where the fight is," she said. She characterized American higher education as "in crisis" as a result of shrinking state support, stagnant faculty salaries, the continued exploitation of both contingent faculty and graduate student employees, and recent attacks on academic freedom and collective bargaining. She called the AAUP "the conscience of the profession," but lamented that faculty members' identification with the principles espoused by the organization "does not always translate into membership in the AAUP."
In an interview, Ms. Schmid said she will seek to have the association's staff focus on building up the organization and the question, "How do we go out and actively engage the members?"
Although she will work with state and local AAUP chapters, her primary focus will be on running the national office, a job description that the organization's leadership honed in 2011 by changing the title from "general secretary" to "executive director" to emphasize its managerial role.
In the AAUP's statement announcing her appointment, Mr. Fichtenbaum described Ms. Schmid as "the consensus choice" of the association's elected national council.
Cary Nelson, who preceded Mr. Fichtenbaum as AAUP president and remains a member of the council's executive committee, said he has known Ms. Schmid since the mid-1990s when she was helping organize graduate students at the University of Iowa. "I know her well and am fond of her personally," Mr. Nelson said, adding that if she can increase the organization's membership, especially in collective-bargaining units, "it will be a good thing."
He added, however, that he is concerned about the direction the organization's leadership is taking, in that it is "increasingly less interested in recruiting members who join simply out of devotion to the national AAUP's policy work and its principles, rather than because they have a local union or nonunion chapter that is active on campus."
Ms. Schmid held several leadership posts in the University of Iowa's union local for graduate students before earning her doctorate in English in 2000. She went on to be an adjunct instructor at Portland Community College, a visiting assistant professor at Portland State University, and a coordinator for Portland State University's AAUP chapter before her first stint at the AAUP's national office, where she led successful faculty unionization efforts at Michigan Technological University, Suffolk University, and the University of Akron.
In 2008 she moved on to direct the Wisconsin AFT's campaign to organize faculty and academic staff in the University of Wisconsin system. She became that state affiliate's chief of staff in January 2012 and, in that capacity, helped oversee the affiliate's efforts to rebuild its union locals following the states's 2011 passage of legislation curtailing the collective-bargaining rights of faculty members at public colleges.
Mr. Fichtenbaum said today he sees Ms. Schmid's experience with the teachers' federation as an asset in the AAUP's efforts to work with the AFT to jointly organize local chapters at colleges. "Having worked with the AFT, I think she has a pretty good understanding of where the AFT is coming from," he said.
Martin D. Snyder, the AAUP's senior associate general secretary, had been serving as the group's acting executive director since Gary Rhoades resigned as its top administrative officer in June 2011. Mr. Snyder plans to retire at the end of the year.