LC faculty form new AAUP advocacy chapter

On Nov. 15, the formation of a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at Lewis & Clark was approved by the national AAUP organization, allowing faculty members to officially begin conducting advocacy work under the title of AAUP.

AAUP is a nationwide organization that facilitates faculty organization and aims to build solidarity within member institutions in order to help faculty better represent and advocate for their interests. While any individual faculty can be a member of AAUP National, institutions such as LC can also form an AAUP chapter through a process which involves electing a steering committee, writing bylaws and ultimately applying for approval from AAUP National. 

Since last year, a group of individual AAUP members at LC have been working to spearhead this initiative. Associate Professor of Anthropology, Oren Kosansky, was named president in an election open to all AAUP national members at LC last year, which also selected vice president, secretary/treasurer and three members at large. 

The group’s hope is that establishing an AAUP chapter at LC will encourage more faculty to join as well as encourage official organization and collaboration between faculty across all departments.

“The AAUP is interested in supporting … faculty interest and having faculty contribute to the mission of the college. The idea is that we will have a faculty forum for considering those issues, working together with the administration and the institution to come up with solutions,” Kosansky said.

He further explained that the AAUP’s purpose is not to address individual faculty grievances but rather to conduct research on a broader and more long-term scale in order to create dialogues and work with college administration from the perspective of faculty interests. 

“We will address broader issues of like, ‘What’s the working environment for faculty in the college? How can that be improved? How can we work with the administration to make it a better environment for faculty so that it’s a better college for everybody?’” Kosansky said.

Two main areas of concern for faculty that the AAUP hopes to focus on are faculty governance and issues of compensation. 

“Our view, and I think it’s shared by the institution, is that the better faculty governance works, the better it is for the institution. Faculty governance could be structured better in a way that faculty know what their role is in decision making processes and have more authority and decision making practices,” Kosansky said. “The other (side) is that … we are interested in looking at the way in which compensation happens at Lewis & Clark for faculty, and trying to help the community as a whole figure out what are our values as an institution, and how those values are reflected in compensation policy … The questions are how are we distributing salaries, how are we distributing raises, and in what ways is that fair and in what ways is that not fair?”

Kosansky and his colleagues in AAUP were motivated to form the chapter after experience with previous advocacy work in temporary faculty groups at LC to address immediate concerns on campus and implement changes to improve faculty labor conditions.

For example, a group of faculty passed an initiative which meant all faculty received the same dollar amount raise for one year, instead of the usual system where raises are proportional to each faculty member’s salary the previous year. This initiative was aimed at increasing equity by leveling the skew of salaries, which harms faculty who happened to be hired when national salaries were lower, and are therefore consistently not paid as much as their rank peers. 

“If everyone gets the same amount, then the people on the top aren’t benefiting by virtue of having a higher salary,” Kosansky explained.

This initiative was passed by an overwhelming faculty vote of around 75%, and though the school did not continue to implement this compensation system in subsequent years, Kosansky considers this an example of the kind of advocacy work AAUP can accomplish. Another example of AAUP members’ past advocacy was extending the faculty vote to some part-time, or non-tenure track faculty. 

“There were some faculty—it’s a category called with-term faculty—that didn’t have a vote, but they’ve been here for a really long time. They have a commitment to the college, the college has a commitment to them … so we helped to initiate a process that got them the faculty vote. That’s an example of stronger governance,” Kosansky said.

Given this positive experience with faculty organization, Kosansky and fellow board members wanted to create a more official organization to continue implementing such research and advocacy in the future, with greater reach and efficacy. 

“Each of these initiatives had some overlapping faculty and some different. A bunch of us got together and said, ‘Wait, we’re doing all this work, how do we sustain it?’ And then we were like, ‘If we’re going to do the work, then let’s make an advocacy chapter. Because it’ll be the right structure, we’ll get the resources, we’ll develop solidarity,’” Kosansky said.

Kosansky elaborated on the benefit of forming a chapter of a national organization as a way to solidify the groups doing this work, as well as gain support and resources.

“The AAUP National can provide a set of resources for … helping us to strategize, helping us to get information, helping us to build solidarity on campus and off campus,” Kosansky said.

Previous to AAUP National’s approval of the formation of the chapter, the board was already planning for its future, meeting to discuss how they would operate and establishing things like broad goals, action strategies, writing bylaws, spreading awareness and recruiting more faculty to join. 

“This semester, we’re setting the foundation of how we’re going to work, what the organization is going to be, how we’re going to make decisions, what issues we’re going to take up,” Kosansky said.

In alignment with their long-term strategic approach, the AAUP plans to implement a meticulous, multi-step action guide to ensure that they accurately and effectively represent faculty voices and values.

“As AAUP starts to figure out what we want to address, there’s a process we’re kind of following which is research, report, advocate,” Kosansky said. “The first step is (to) do a kind of research that otherwise isn’t getting done. Once we’ve done that research, be transparent about it: ‘Here’s what we’ve found.’ And then that report might lead to advocacy.”

In order to address specific areas in which they observe the most faculty interest or concern and need for advocacy, AAUP plans to form a handful of subcommittees that will each work to address one such issue. So far, most of the subcommittees have not been solidified, but Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies, Hispanic Studies Section Head and Director of Gender Studies Magalí Rabasa has already been appointed to head a subcommittee on contingent faculty. 

Employment conditions for contingent faculty have been a prevalent concern at LC for some time. Contingent faculty, also called with-term, adjunct or non-tenure track faculty, are those teachers employed by the college who do not qualify for tenure in the future. This is due to their lack of a PhD or due to being hired to fill a position which is not long-term, does not involve a research provision or does not meet the criteria of a full-time tenure-track professorship. 

Because of the unique position contingent faculty hold, their contracts, compensation and role in faculty governance are handled differently than faculty on a tenure track. At LC, contingent faculty operate on one-year contracts and until the previously mentioned initiative by AAUP members, were excluded from voting in issues of faculty governance, meaning that they did not get an equal say in decisions regarding conditions for instructors. While some long-term contingent faculty now do have a role in faculty governance, there is still work to be done, and Rabasa is passionate about further bringing awareness to their representation and improving contingent faculty conditions as part of the mission of AAUP. 

“AAUP is a space where there can be better representation of those voices and concerns and of the needs of that particular group of faculty,” Rabasa said. “It’s not so much about saying that the college has done something wrong, but looking for ways to improve what’s happening and saying ‘How can things be done better?’ and ‘How could we better serving and supporting our faculty who are absolutely essential to the operation of the college?’”

While Rabasa is herself a tenured professor, her position in the World Languages department means that she is especially aware of and invested in the interests of contingent faculty, of which the World Languages department employs many. 

“We are concerned about the situation of our long-term full-time instructors because we think that someone who’s been at the college for decades should not be on one-year contracts, and I think most people would agree,” Rabasa said. “We have incredibly skilled, experienced instructors in those roles. They are by no means temporary instructors or filling in, and they are integral to the operation of our program … Everybody has to take a language at LC or pass their requirement, so Spanish does a lot of service for the university in terms of staffing and teaching courses that students use to fulfill that general education requirement.” 

Given the vital role of these contingent instructors, many of whom have been working at the college for years or even decades, Rabasa and the AAUP believe in the importance of listening to and valuing the perspectives of contingent faculty, and are committed to improving how this is reflected in faculty governance and compensation policy.

A core part of the AAUP’s purpose is to create dialogue between faculty and administration, while also being an independent space for faculty to meet and discuss their interests separate from these joint discussions. 

“I think that the college or the administration really is committed to the same values that AAUP is committed to: equity, fairness, faculty empowerment,” Kosansky said. “What we think as AAUP is that having an independent space for faculty to think that through on their own, from our perspective, benefits the process.”

Kosansky hopes this will allow faculty to better coordinate, conduct research and determine their stances in order to present a united front in discussions with administration.

“My view is that the AAUP works best when it’s putting together the interests of the faculty and the mission of the college. That being said, (faculty and administration) might have different views about how those go together,” Kosansky said. “What that relationship looks like as we move forward will depend entirely on the parties involved and who is willing to have those conversations. The administration does not have a role to support or not to support. They’ve heard us; they’ve seen us.”

Overall, Kosansky is satisfied with the administration’s response and is hopeful about the future of the AAUP and its ability to collaborate openly and have productive discussions with administration. Dean of the College Bruce Suttmeier expressed similar sentiments in a statement, indicating that the administration understands the importance of the AAUP’s work and is open to supporting its goals. 

“AAUP as a national organization has been vital in ensuring academic freedom and strengthening higher education amid challenges of all kinds. The organization’s values of academic freedom and shared governance are values I share,” Suttmeier said. “Faculty governance … is vital to the success of the College, and I welcome AAUP’s role in being part of that success.” 

Kosansky explained why he believes AAUP’s work should be of interest to all LC students and faculty.

“AAUP looks to work with the administration to address issues that are of interest to the faculty and therefore are in the interest of students and the institution as a whole,” Kosansky said. “The better our work environment, the more we feel ownership of what’s going on, the more committed we are to the institution. … The more faculty feel empowered at the institution, the better it is for faculty experience. The better the faculty experience, the better they can provide students with good teaching.”

In service of its mission to build solidarity, the AAUP hopes to include even more faculty members in its discussions and advocacy work, in order to serve as a forum to amplify faculty voices across ranks and disciplines. While all faculty are always welcome to participate in forums and engage with the chapter’s work, Kosansky emphasized that the most impactful way to participate is to join the AAUP.

“If faculty really want to have a voice in what we are doing, they should become members,” Kosansky said.

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