Teachers, AAUP boards approve ‘historic affiliation’
Retrieved from Mike Ferguson / AAUP on March 07, 2022

WASHINGTON —The boards of the Teachers (AFT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) voted for what the two organizations call “an historic affiliation” to pursue twin aims of organizing workers and defending democracy.

AAUP convention delegates, who will meet in June, must ratify the affiliation for it to take effect for both groups.

“This truly historic decision builds on our 10-plus year partnership with AFT and strengthens both organizations, while ensuring the AAUP will maintain its independence and autonomy,” AAUP President Irene Mulvey, a Fairfield (Conn.) University mathematics professor, said in a joint statement released on March 7.

AAUP and the Teachers have found themselves working together on academic freedom and democracy issues, since right-wingers who challenge democratic norms also oppose such tenets as teacher tenure and the right to dissent.

The challenge to democracy has been one recent key theme for Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, who also has a law degree. Others include inserting rehabilitation of the nation’s crumbling schools into legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic, civil rights, worker rights, and a constant campaign for gun control. Three AFT members and 14 of their high school students were gunned down in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Academic freedom has been AAUP’s top cause for a century. It’s had to go to bat to defend professors who cross the political powers-that-be, especially now in red states. Its most recent battle is in Georgia. There, the right-wingers in the GOP-dominated legislature are scheming to mandate what teachers, both at universities and in K-12 schools, can—or cannot—teach about U.S. racial history, and to take away tenure, or both.

At the same March 5 AAUP council meeting where its board approved the agreement with AFT, it censured Georgia’s university system ”for unilateral action of its administration and governing board to remove the protections of tenure and academic freedom from the system’s post-tenure review policy.”

AFT and AAUP have two joint locals, at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, and at the University of New Mexico, representing 20,000 workers combined. AFT has 1.7 million members, while AAUP, though much smaller, represents 300,000 teachers and staffers.

But, assuming the agreement is approved, affiliation also gives the joint group more political clout, in sheer numbers, and more impact in anti-union “red” states where public worker collective bargaining is curbed or—as is the case in North Carolina—banned.

“The partnership comes against the backdrop of increased legislative attacks on teaching and academic freedom, as well as persistent public underfunding that has led to an explosion in student debt and adjunct (professor) precarity and poverty,” AAUP and AFT said.

Data show some 75% of college and university faculty are now adjuncts, whose pay is minimal, whose benefits are few and who have no tenure protections. Many must work two or three jobs to make ends meet. By contrast, in the 1970s and 1980s, 75% of faculty enjoyed tenure—which protects them against political interference—and full-time pay and benefits.

“The AFT and AAUP are coming together to unleash the purpose, promise and possibilities of higher education,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in an extensive statement. “The idea of the university is to encourage and defend the free exchange of intellectual labor because all scholarship and teaching create value—whether it is social, economic or cultural.

“To make sure colleges are not just the province of the rich, we need to fight for the right of every student to have an affordable education and to ensure every academic worker—from adjunct teacher to lecturer, to tenured professor—a workplace with the autonomy, respect, compensation and career stability they deserve.

“Together, we will create a higher education system where all students have the ability to recognize truth, think critically about the world in which they live, and envision a better future for themselves and our society. That is what joining together means, and that is the far-reaching potential that our affiliation brings—an alliance greater than the sum of its parts.”

AAUP said the two would also continue and enhance their collaboration on “New Deal for Higher Education,” legislative agenda, including more state and federal funds, “ending the practice of employing low-cost contingent faculty”—the adjuncts—increasing affordable access to college for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and challenging state-imposed limits on research and teaching, including teaching about race and class.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.