October 16, 2015

AAUP revives chapter to advocate for professors

On Wednesday, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) UChicago Chapter held its inaugural meeting. The meeting, led by Willemien Otten, chapter president, and Ken Warren, vice-president, was open to University faculty and staff. Approximately 25 people attended the meeting, during which the chapter’s bylaws were approved.

The AAUP is a national nonprofit professional organization with chapters at colleges and universities that discuss issues of shared governance, faculty oversight, and academic freedom.

The UChicago chapter is an advocacy chapter, as opposed to a collective bargaining unit. Advocacy chapters aim to discuss issues in the common interest of faculty, while collective bargaining units function more like unions.

“We advocate for certain things that we deem important. And we’re not by definition adversarial vis-à-vis the University administration, not at all,” Otten said.

Otten noted that while specific goals are to be determined, the chapter will focus on shared governance. She added that while faculty play a large role in campus life, many faculty members do not get a say in what administrative decisions, like budget cuts, are made.

Although this chapter is currently in its early stages, the AAUP has a long history at the University. The AAUP was founded in 1915 by John Dewey, a former UChicago professor, and Arthur Lovejoy. Both men sought to create an organization that valued academic freedom and shared governance. By 1916, the University already had its own chapter. However, the chapter soon became inactive and for years had no presence on campus.

“It just seemed that there might be need for a more structural way for faculty to connect on certain issues having to do with things like shared governance and faculty oversight of the University. The AAUP is really the natural home for such discussions,” said Otten.

In February, a small group of faculty members met and officially revived the AAUP at UChicago. Otten, professor of theology and history of Christianity at the Divinity School, and Warren, professor of English, were nominated and elected to their posts. In June, the group met to discuss their support of the current union drive for adjunct and contingent faculty. One of the chapter’s first projects before hosting its first official meeting was to write a letter to the University President, Provost, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees asking them to remain neutral and not interfere with the union drive.

Currently, the chapter is focusing on expanding and refining its goals. Although the chapter’s charge does not specifically focus on the rights of adjunct, contingent, and non-tenure-track professors, chapter leadership wanted to ensure that these individuals—who make up 41 percent of teachers at UChicago, not including graduate students—could feel included.

The chapter will tentatively hold meetings four times a year, although they could become more frequent if and when relevant issues arise. The chapter currently has a membership list of around 100 people, mostly in the humanities. Otten hopes that, as word spreads, there will be more representation from other divisions.

“At this point, we’re trying to reach out to a wider group of faculty across divisions to get a representative sense of faculty priorities in what should be advocated for. We’re just starting,” Otten wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon.

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