The AAUP: Taking Its Eye off the Ball

I have been a member of the American Association of University Professors since I became a faculty member in 2000. A mentor and senior-level professor encouraged me to join during my first faculty position. In addition, my dissertation touched upon issues of academic freedom at historically black colleges and universities, making me familiar with the need for AAUP and the protection of tenure and shared governance.

As a member, I have been active over the years, serving as the chair of the Committee on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Faculty of Color, writing for Academe, speaking at the annual meeting, and serving on an investigating committee.

Given my interests, I was particularly excited to work with General Secretary Gary Rhoades when he began to lead the organization. I have known Gary for several years and knew of his commitment to equity. When he first took on the role at the AAUP, Gary contacted me to discuss reaching out to young faculty of color. He noticed the graying of the organization and the overall whiteness of the organization—something that always made me uncomfortable. I was impressed with the way he met with members of the HBCU community, hoping to attract more African-Americans to the AAUP and to better the relationship between the organization and HBCU administrators. Gary has big ideas and wanted to see some movement and significant change in the organization. For the first time since I joined, I felt invigorated by the organization.

We have recently learned that Gary resigned from his position after being pushed out by the AAUP’s executive committee and its president, Cary Nelson. The ousting of Gary has led to internal squabbling, making the AAUP look ridiculous. Instead of being an organization that models good procedures (like those it expects colleges and universities to have), the AAUP has taken its eye off the ball. Instead of protecting the freedoms and rights of faculty in pursuit of knowledge and truth (and in essence the freedoms and rights of students), the organization’s leaders are acting like characters on a bad reality TV show.

The ousting of Rhoades is not an isolated incident. For the past five years or so there has been tremendous infighting within AAUP. This has to stop.

The leadership needs to listen to its membership. It needs to take the focus off of personal power and instead concentrate on the tremendous issues around tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance that loom before us.

It is time for the organization to seriously re-examine itself and regain the respect that it once had among academics. If that doesn’t happen, and happen soon, the organization will surely die off. I know one thing for sure, it will not attract new membership and it might have difficultly retaining current membership.

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