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A Vision of Democratic Governance in Higher Education: The Stakes of Work in Academia.

Founded in 1915 by John Dewey and Arthur O. Lovejoy, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is the nation's largest association of college and university faculty. Over the last 85 years, it has worked tirelessly to promote and protect the principles of academic freedom, tenure, shared governance, and due process at the national, state, and local levels through advocacy and, in some cases, collective bargaining. That challenge has intensified over the last 30 years as the emergence of a corporate-style management at colleges and universities across the country has eroded these principles.

As an organization founded initially to insure the academic freedom of all faculty members, AAUP's 1940 "Statement of the Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure" remains its definitive statement and is a mechanism for guaranteeing academic standards at colleges and universities. Other AAUP statements--on governance and faculty workload, for example--have also served as guidelines for the development of institutional policies and practices. In recent years, AAUP has been at the forefront of changes in higher education with statements and initiatives on distance learning, copyright, part-time and non-tenure track faculty, and, most recently, graduate students.

As part of the AAUP's efforts at the national level to broaden the awareness of the changing academic labor system and the issues facing part-time faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, graduate student employees, and the profession as a whole, it has undertaken a number of important initiatives. Most recently, the AAUP Committee on College and University Teaching, Research, and Publications has issued a "Statement on Graduate Students." Like earlier statements on part-time and non-tenure-track faculty, this statement attempts to establish a series of guidelines for good practice that affirm the core principles of the AAUP, insure quality education, and state the rights of graduate students and graduate student employees. As a "bill of rights," it also pays close attention to the dual identity of graduate students as both people pursuing an advanced degree in a particular discipline and employees responsible for an increasing amount of an institution's undergraduate instruction.

Those who worked on this 1999 statement see the creation of a graduate student bill of rights as part of a larger ongoing effort to organize academic workers in response to the new academic labor system. The AAUP has undertaken a number of projects in recent years to educate, organize, and agitate for the reform of what has become a corrupt academic labor system that privileges the bottom line over the rights of faculty and students. The erosion of tenure and of shared governance (not to mention issues like increased faculty workloads) and the attacks on academic freedom and due process are all part of a new corporate strategy. Governing boards that oversee institutions of higher education today are more interested in business partnerships than the integrity of higher education--all the while keeping the consumers (students) happy so that exponential tuition hikes are easier to swallow.

The AAUP is not actively organizing graduate students for the purposes of collective bargaining, nor is it exclusively working to advocate for graduate student issues. However, as the only national organization dedicated exclusively to "defending the professional standards of higher education and the rights of all faculty members who uphold them" (stated in virtually every AAUP publication), the AAUP is in a unique position to speak on behalf of the profession. It has taken a lead role in recent years to raise awareness of not just the issues pertaining to the academic labor crisis, but the impact that these practices are having on the university community, the nature of academic work, and society as whole.

The AAUP has not acted alone, of course. In fact, much of its work is done in cooperation with other professional and disciplinary associations, as well as unions. We hope that the "Statement on Graduate Students" will become a guideline for university administrations and graduate programs, as well as another tool for activists to utilize in their work on campus and in the various disciplinary associations. It serves as one example of what needs to be done in order to address the larger forces at work in higher education.

The Wider Context

The restructuring of higher education to improve performance and reduce costs is but one element of the corporate ideology adopted by university administrators and trustees that has dominated higher education policy in the last 30 years and threatened to undermine universities' mission to produce and disseminate knowledge. Another strategy has been to shift the cost for education to undergraduate and graduate students, in the form of higher tuition and increased debt, and to faculty through the erosion of full-time tenure-line positions, stagnant salaries, reductions in benefits, increased workloads, and the over-reliance on a contingent workforce.

According to Ernie Benjamin, director of research for AAUP, tenured and tenure-track faculty together made up only 35 percent of the academic labor force in 1993. Between 1975 and 1993, adjunct faculty grew four times more (97 percent) than full-time faculty (25 percent) and now makes up more than 33 percent of the academic labor force. Similarly, by 1993, the number of non-tenure-track full-time appointments increased by 88 percent and now constitutes 14 percent of the total faculty appointments. And finally, in 1993, 18 percent of all faculty appointments were graduate students. As of 1993, then, 65 percent of the academic labor force was off the tenure track.

As staffing patterns continue to shift and as the terms and conditions of employment for those working in the academy continue to deteriorate, the obvious concern from the perspective of those who teach and learn in colleges and universities is that the efforts to meet the growing administrative and legislative expectations for accountability, productivity, and demand do not in any way compromise educational quality. The overuse and exploitation of parttime, non-tenure-track, and graduate student employees in the enterprise of undergraduate education have become the key components of the restructuring efforts. This pattern threatens to establish a multi-tiered academic labor force that lacks the resources and the means to fulfill its mission.

On our campuses, the business of higher education administration has been to develop policies that will enable institutions and systems to meet the mandates for accountability that are presented as challenges by the local governing boards and political officials. What complicates this even further is that at public institutions, for example, not to do such things will now jeopardize funding from the state. In New jersey, for instance, we now have a performance component built into the state budget allocations for higher education--a component that is sure to increase in future years. In the current climate of already gross under-funding of higher education, this is a very real threat. If you don't perform, as defined by standards set by the state that doesn't always have quality education as a priority, you don't get any money.

These administrative priorities demand a reliance on a contingent workforce, but this reliance is not just a cost-cutting managerial practice. It reflects a much larger institutional devaluation of faculty work. This is made clear by the terms and conditions of employment for what is now a majority of the higher education workforce: poverty-level wages; limited or no health insurance coverage: the absence of opportunities for professional development and research: lack of job security: insufficient notification of appointment; and substandard office space (if any). The list goes on.

Although these realities seriously compromise the ability of faculty off the tenure track to work effectively, the impact of this exploitation extends beyond these immediate circumstances. As Rich Moser, the national AAUP staff member working on part-time and non-tenure-track faculty issues, repeatedly points out, not only is the new academic labor system unjust, but It also poses a significant threat to the profession and to the integrity of the university through a systematic devaluing and elimination of the faculty's role within the university community. The reliance on part-time faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, and graduate student employees is an all-out assault and threat to tenure, academic freedom, faculty governance, and due process--the very principles that the AAUP was founded to protect 85 years ago.

As the numbers of those without tenure who are responsible for undergraduate instruction continue to rise, the academic freedom that tenure is meant to guarantee and protect is jeopardized. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the subsequent online debate of the issue make clear that part-time faculty members are rarely afforded the freedom to speak openly about controversial issues without consequence. At a place like Bennington College (Vermont) that has abolished tenure, a professor who crosses the president seems likely to be asked to leave (as happened recently with philosophy professor Carlin Romano). Similarly, nontenure-track research faculty members lack the ability to investigate freely without fear of retribution. The main consequence, of course, is non-reappointment--almost always without any recourse to due process.

The impact of the new academic labor system is even worse on shared governance at colleges and universities. As virtual non-citizens within the university community, part-time faculty, graduate student employees, and non-tenure-track faculty are too often denied the right to participate in institutional or even departmental governance. At Rutgers, for instance, a group of part-time faculty activists only recently began a campaign for part-time faculty representation in the university senate, the main governance body that includes administrators, faculty, and students.

There is no doubt as well that the role of full-time tenured faculty members in governance matters on campus is diminishing. One such example comes from Miami-Dade Community College where the president used the existence of the university senate to argue against a faculty organizing drive. When they won the election for union representation, the president eliminated the senate, arguing that the union would destroy the "working relationship" in the senate.

The Future of Higher Education

Without faculty input into curricular issues or other matters pertaining to educational policy and with the reliance on an ever-growing class of administrators on campuses, the university begins to look less and less like an institution that values faculty and student input in formulating the educational goals and objectives of the institution. Moreover, as the work of teaching becomes separated from the work of curriculum development, mentoring, and advising, etc., then the need for full-time faculty seemingly is lessened. This redefinition of faculty work has no doubt become the basis by which to eliminate full-time faculty altogether. If a university just needs teachers, it can get them--and cheaply too.

Virtual and for-profit universities like the recently accredited Jones International University and the University of Phoenix exemplify the vision of the corporate university of the future. At Phoenix, 97 percent of the faculty are part time. The full-time faculty actually are all administrators, so they hardly qualify as faculty. The overwhelming percentage of part-time faculty is noteworthy in and of itself, but when one also considers that faculty members are given a script for the course curriculum--controlled by administrators--from which they cannot deviate, questions about tenure, academic freedom, faculty governance, and educational quality spin out of control. Why a standardized curriculum? Because Phoenix measures student progress by a rigidly defined set of performance outcomes that the course content is guaranteed to produce. These issues will continue to dominate higher education as institutions of all types become more actively involved in marketing distance learning courses either independentl y or as part of statewide virtual universities. With such endeavors, new questions are raised about the uses of non-tenure-line faculty, as well as faculty input into course content, not to mention ownership of intellectual property.

None of this should be a surprise. Without a role in faculty governance, without the ability to speak without reprisal, and without any meaningful form of job security, faculty off the tenure-line track cannot afford to criticize the university or begin organizing to change it. How can these terms and conditions of employment guarantee the free and open exchange necessary for intellectual work? It should be clear that the university, as administered by corporate boards and business-minded legislators, is not interested in doing this, thereby making it all the more necessary for full-time faculty, part-time faculty, graduate student employees, and non-tenure-track faculty to continue to develop and articulate a vision for the university in the future that does not see education as a for-profit industry.

The Meaning of the Academic Labor Movement

Activist students and faculty have engaged in a rigorous critique of this model and vision of higher education over the years. This critique recently has intensified with dozens of organizing drives and victories on campuses around the country, as well as initiatives within disciplinary and professional associations to advocate for the reform of the academic labor system and to promote the rights of all faculty and graduate students. Academic workers have demanded a voice in the terms and conditions of their employment and undergraduates have demanded an equal say in the terms and conditions of their learning. In many places, this has been a very powerful alliance.

Where these initiatives have been successful, it has been due largely to the ability to articulate the range of issues and concerns--as a graduate student, full-time faculty member, non-tenure-track instructor, part-time faculty member, union activist--in relation to those of other members of the university community and as part of the ongoing struggle to resist restructuring. This is clearly the best educational and organizational tool we have. The crisis of academic labor cannot be seen as exclusively a graduate student problem or an adjunct problem. We all have to recognize our common interest in improving the conditions of academic labor.

This has been the AAUP's focus in recent years as it has posed serious questions about the future of the profession. In 1993, the AAUP issued its "Guidelines for Good Practice for Non-Tenure-Track and Part-Time Faculty" that, among other things, set a 15 percent limit for the amount of instruction to be done at institutions by part-time and non-tenure-track faculty. Of course, these faculty teach well above this level at almost all institutions. This guideline was followed in 1995 with a revised "Report on the Status of Part-Time Faculty." In 1997, the AAUP's Committee G on Part-Time and Non-Tenure-Track Appointments created the organizing tool, "Working For Academic Renewal: A Kit for Organizing on Issues of Part-Time and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty." Essentially, we moved from documenting to organizing.

Most recently, the AAUP initiated a new grassroots response to part-time issues in the Greater Boston area, where the AAUP Boston Organizing Project is working with the local chapter of the Coalition for Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL). In the process, they are forming a metropolitan-area, multi-campus organization that brings together activists from among the part-time and full-time faculty, as well as graduate students. The organization plans to link together demands for better pay, benefits, and working conditions for part-time faculty with the defense of both quality education and the profession to initiate a public debate on the future of higher education. What is most promising here is the possibility for a diverse advocacy organization that might possibly become a real force in an effort to bring justice to the academic workplace.

The "Statement on Graduate Students" is one of a number of graduate student initiatives undertaken by AAUP in the last year and continues the work of advocacy and education on behalf of graduate student issues by situating them within the larger questions pertaining to the future of higher education and the profession. In November 1998, the AAUP Executive Committee passed a resolution supporting the rights of graduate students to bargain collectively. At about the same time, a membership campaign to recruit graduate students into the AAUP as a means of strengthening the organization's commitment to and ability to address issues pertaining to graduate students was begun and will continue.

The statement is attentive to both components of the graduate student identity--as someone who studies and who works. It suggests that "standards...will foster sound academic policies in universities with graduate programs." Moreover, the statement makes clear that each university has a responsibility to develop policies and procedures that safeguard graduate students' freedom to learn and teach for both their benefit and also to ensure that graduate education fulfills its responsibilities to students, faculty, and society.

To do so, then, the statement includes the rights of all graduate students to academic freedom, freedom from discrimination, due process, protection of intellectual property rights, a role in institutional and departmental governance, and access to files and placement dossiers. The statement also identifies the institution's and the program's responsibility to make all information available regarding policies and procedures, as well as information pertaining to the program's application, acceptance, and attrition rates and to assist students in making timely progress toward their degree. Moreover, in keeping with the graduate student's dual identity, It recommends notification in writing about the terms and conditions of employment, access to appropriate training and professional development, a reasonable workload (noting that a common maximum is 20 hours per week), and access to fringe benefits, especially health benefits. This statement will serve as the basis of advocacy, rather than a policy document or prescription.


Perhaps the most important right set out here is the right of graduate student employees to organize to bargain collectively without discrimination or reprisal. There are many obstacles to unionization for part-time, non-tenure-track, and graduate student employees, so while insisting that we must commit ourselves to that goal. I would like to underscore the basic starting point for any reform effort: to constantly be engaged in the work of educating, advocating, and organizing on our campuses and in our professional and disciplinary associations, our communities, and state legislatures. We believe a democratic university requires guidelines that shape its policies in democratic directions. If we commit ourselves to collectively developing strategies to resist the impact that the systematic restructuring of higher education is having on the integrity of teaching and learning, then we may have an opportunity to improve them. A bill of rights--in addition to organizing and public and political work--can assist in that endeavor. The future of the profession depends on it.

Patrick Kavanagh is a graduate student at Rutgers University and a member of the AAUP Committee on University Teaching, Research, and Publications. A version of this paper was presented at the 1999 Modern Language Association convention.
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Author:Kavanagh, P.J.
Publication:Social Policy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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