NC-AAUP to NC Leaders: Protect the CORE of Our Higher Education Institutions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NC-AAUP to NC Leaders: Protect the CORE of Our Public Higher Education Institutions

May 29, 2020.  The current moment of economic dislocation requires reassessing our institutions and taking bold creative risks that will strengthen and improve public higher education in North Carolina. In determining the best paths forward, we must let faculties determine the ways in which we preserve our mission and serve the state. This effort must be deliberate about shaping what happens in our classrooms and labs, in the processes and structures we utilize to support our work, and in the governance of our institutions.

To ensure we enact the best options, we must remember that our universities advance economic and social development precisely because they exist to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge to address the needs of individuals and society. Moreover, we recognize in times like the present where the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on persons already at socio-economic disadvantage, we must take seriously our goals as public educational institutions to provide equality of access, opportunity, and advancement for all citizens.

As we move forward through this challenge, four “CORE” principles should guide the leaders of North Carolina.

  • Commitment to student learning and faculty teaching and scholarship.
  • Openness to the community.
  • Realizing workplace equity.
  • Engaging and integrating the faculty in all university decision making.

The first principle recognizes that teaching, learning, and creating knowledge are the heart of what the University does. Therefore, we must prioritize financial support and job protections for our faculty engaged in instruction and research. Recent years have seen the de-professionalization of the academic enterprise through the attrition of tenure track faculty positions as well as pay that is often below market and employment instability for an ever-increasing number of contract positions. In order to build educational programs that address our global, national, and local challenges by advancing critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity across a range of fields and disciplines, we must commit to preserving and cultivating our most valuable resource.

The second core principle recognizes that non-profit universities exist to serve the public good and should be in vital relationships with local, state, national, and international communities. At this moment of crisis, we realize that continuing operation requires changes to the traditional “residential” model of education and will permanently alter our institutions. Achieving connections between knowledge generated and the communities served has too often been complicated by the gradual accretion of organizational units and operational practices that lock institutions into “the way it has always been done” and stifle innovation. However, in March 2020, faculty all over the country demonstrated their ability to effect dramatic transformation of how a university operates by developing new learning models in less than two weeks as well as contributing essential research and human power to examine a range of issues related to the pandemic. This dedication to the core mission of the institution underscores the central role faculty and their expertise must have in creating responses to this new situation. That work could include developing options for learning in interdisciplinary community collaborations, building varied models for scheduling, new ideas for use of our brick and mortar facilities, and perhaps creative suggestions for revenue generating formats such as credentialing or re-tooling tracks correlated to emerging needs and life-long learning rather than to earning a degree.

As a third principle, we must embrace structuring non-profit universities as models of workplace equity that demonstrate employment ideals, such as fair wages, safe working conditions, and reasonable job protections. The current university environment is marked by administrative overload and excessive investment in ancillary enterprises that can eclipse rather than complement the academic mission. The maintenance of a sprawling, stratified bureaucracy and investment in non-essential functions drives up costs in tuition and fees at the expense of the core academic mission. We have the opportunity to streamline our institutions by taking an “all hands on deck” approach that practices a less hierarchical, more equitable distribution of workload and tasks, promotes a just wage scale across all positions in the University, emphasizes positive working conditions and job security. In this way, our educational and research efforts can continue to advance social and economic progress for all citizens of North Carolina.

Finally, we need to engage and integrate faculty into all levels of decision making. Not only should faculty be primary drivers in developing and creating academic programs, but they should also have significant representation in areas that impact that work such as setting budget priorities and grappling with reduced revenue. As stated in the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities (jointly formulated by the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges), sharing university governance responsibilities does not mean simply informing faculty of decisions. Mere consultation with faculty leaders via representative bodies is insufficient. Sharing governance requires utilizing faculty expertise in the daily and on-going running of the university.

The UNC Faculty Assembly statement of May 18, 2020 underscores the importance of faculty involvement in decisions about delivering instruction during the pandemic. Our statement of principles is intended to guide the fiscal decisions you will inevitably be forced to make. To these ends, we are looking to you as leaders in North Carolina to enact these “CORE” commitments as you move forward in the weeks and months ahead.

The 2019 Meeting of the North Carolina AAUP Conference

On October 4 and 5, the North Carolina State Conference of the AAUP held its annual meeting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Rudy Fichtenbaum, President of the national AAUP, and Jasmine Banks, Executive Director of UnKoch My Campus, joined faculty from Appalachian State, UNC-Charlotte, Elon University, Shaw University, Duke University, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina Central University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. We had lively, productive, and inspiring discussions of intersecting national, state, and campus-specific challenges to academic freedom and of student and faculty resistance to on-going threats.

Rudy Fichtenbaum spoke on Friday night. As UNC-CH professor emerita, Sherryl Kleinman reported in her recent post on Academe Blog, Fichtenbaum emphasized:

 the importance of faculty organizing, whether public employees can [legally] engage in collective bargaining or not. Faculty should recognize threats to academic freedom and shared governance, acting in solidarity against those threats. We can create a “union” of tenure-track, tenured, and non-tenure-track faculty.

Kleinman also summarized the key questions raised by Banks’s Saturday morning presentation, which started by laying out the Koch Foundation’s long-term plan

to turn colleges and universities into the kinds of places that will make students true believers in free-market ideology. As Banks noted, the Kochs have learned to rebrand their efforts so as to hide their overall goal.

Banks’s talk brought to mind two questions. First, will faculty who take money from funders with a clear political agenda find themselves, even unconsciously, shaping their program in ways that keep the donor happy? If donors are displeased, they will stop supporting a program after the initial gift. Second, who would a faculty member or director not take money from? Everyone has a line they will not cross. Medical schools, for example, stopped taking money from the tobacco industry. As Jane Mayer wrote in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, the Kochs are among the major funders of climate change denial. Taking money from the Koch Foundation legitimates an organization that denies the major crisis of this historical moment.

Banks and conference attendees focused on two Koch-funded programs already established at UNC-Chapel Hill, a minor and certificate in philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE) and the Center for the Science of Moral Understanding. A Program for Public Discourse was just launched at UNC-Chapel Hill with seed money from a North Carolina donor, the Dowd Foundation, which is also funding a capitalism studies program at UNC-Charlotte. As Banks demonstrated, the justifications for such programs are strikingly similar to those presented by the Koch Foundation (see Frank Dowd’s op-ed in the Charlotte Observer) and offer more paths by which collective faculty control over the curriculum can be circumvented or coopted.

During the afternoon on October 5, a panel of faculty from Appalachian State and Elon University returned to many of Fichtenbaum’s points in their discussions of organizing for salary increases and administrative resistance. The presentations highlighted the importance of solidarity between tenure-track and non-tenure-track (contingent) faculty and of mobilizing public support for faculty.

The conference concluded by agreeing to launch this website/blog where we will periodically post North Carolina AAUP-related news and electing new state AAUP officers:

  • President: Michael Behrent, Appalachian State University
  • Vice President: Michael Frierson, UNC-Greensborough
  • Treasurer: Chet Dilday, Fayetteville State University
  • Secretary:  Richie Zweigenhaft, Guilford College.

Following this successful conference, the North Carolina AAUP looks forward to expanding and protecting academic freedom on campuses across the state.

by Karen M. Booth, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill and Secretary-Treasurer, UNC-CH Chapter of the AAUP.