February 2000 aaUPBEAT
Rebutting Anti-Faculty Mindset
Also: AAUP & AFL-CIO, What Happened?
In the November 1999 issue of The Chronicle of Higher
Education, James, F. Carlin, a former chairperson of the
Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, blasted the nation's campuses
for the dire state of the U.S. post-secondary education system. Laying
much of the blame at faculty members' feet, Carlin not only decried
faculty members for doing "ever more meaningless research while
spending fewer and fewer hours in the classroom," but also suggested
that tenured faculty's "lifetime job guarantees border on the immoral"
and are a prime cause of soaring tuition costs around the country. "If
current trends continue," Carlin proclaimed pessimistically, "we will
soon face a day of reckoning." Carlin's basic view of faculty is that
they must be whipped into shape in order to improve education and cut
tuition costs. He wants workloads increased, tenure dismantled ("tenure
rewards the lazy and incompetent"), and tighter higher education
budgets even if such budgets "run contrary to faculty's economic
interests." Carlin's remarks are noteworthy because they reflect the
scapegoating that too often substitutes for a reasoned analysis of the
state of U.S. higher education. As in Carlin's article, this
scapegoating is frequently driven by a desire to reinvent higher
education along corporate lines. This corporate approach advocates the
shaping of student bodies and faculties along strictly defined
"productivity" lines that abolish remedial programs, dismiss the value
of diversity, shrink permanent faculty and tie faculty members'
salaries to the number of courses they teach.
Carlin makes no bones about his motivation in critiquing
higher education. He suggests that only people like himself are capable
of making higher education work the way it should work. His credentials
for making such a claim? He states them clearly.
"I have been a businessmen for over 33 years," Carlin writes.
"I am, or have been, a director of eight public corporations, and was
chief executive officer of a transit system with an annual budget of $1
billion. I have also founded four businesses, in separate fields, that
were recognized by Inc. magazine for their rapid growth and success. I
think I've learned something about management and controlling costs."
Such are the thoughts of too many of the political and
business advocates of higher education reform. To turn higher education
into a bottom line enterprise that incarnates corporate values, they
distort facts and blur the real issues facing colleges and universities.
Take faculty job security as an example.
The proponents of the corporate approach for higher education
regularly describe the professoriate as an over-privileged group whose
"lifetime" jobs allow them to get away with sloppy teaching habits and
frivolous research. Yet such criticisms, although they might add to the
chaos that passes for educational debate in the country, do not reflect
the facts. In reality, higher education, far from being the refuge of
hordes of tenured professors, suffers from an opposite problem: the
number of full-time faculty positions is shrinking while the number of
part-time positions is increasing. From 1991-1995, the number of
full-time faculty nationally increased by only 1 percent, whereas the
number of part-time faculty increased by 18 percent. This same pattern
continued through the end of the '90s. In fact, these numbers are part
of a 30-year trend during which the number of part-time faculty
nation-wide increased from 22 percent to 42.5 percent. Although the
concentration of part-time employees has been greater in 2-year schools
than in 4-year institutions and universities, the pattern of rising
numbers of part-timers working without job protection or benefits
increasingly describes 4-year institutions and universities. These
numbers translate into a simple fact: decent faculty positions with job
security are becoming more difficult to find.
One would not know this by listening to some of the corporate
demagogues who employ incendiary rhetoric to push for their version of
As part of a broader effort to counter such anti-faculty
attacks, local AAUP President Gerry Turkel and Jane Buck, President of
the Delaware AAUP State Conference, responded to Carlin's article by
writing a letter to the Chronicle outlining the article's
Their rebuttal included the following points.
- The pattern of increasing numbers of part-time faculty does
not affect everyone equally. As pointed out in Academe
(January/February 1999), women constituted 48 percent of part-time
faculty in 1995, but only 20 percent of tenured faculty. Similarly,
with racial minorities. A U.S. Education Department report details how
minorities are underrepresented in higher educational professional
occupations and overrepresented in nonprofessional campus occupations.
For example, although African Americans compose 11 percent of the
nation's population, 31 percent of campus service maintenance positions
are held by African Americans, whereas only 5 percent of faculty
positions are held by blacks.
- The Report of the National Commission on the Cost of
Higher Education showed that faculty workloads, far from becoming
smaller, have been growing. From 1987 to 1992, faculty workloads,
measured by mean classroom hours and mean student contact hours, rose
in all categories of higher education institutions, including public
research and public doctoral granting institutions. This indicates that
while the number of tenured and full-time faculty positions have been
declining, faculty workloads have increased.
- The assertion that overindulgent faculty salaries are
driving up higher education's tuition costs is wrong. Analyses
published by the AAUP show that when faculty salaries are adjusted for
inflation, they are slightly below their 1971 levels despite real
increases in 1998 and 1999. The average salary of a mid-career
associate professor is about $54,000. This is hardly overindulgent,
especially considering the amount of time and expense required to earn
graduate degrees. Indeed, as Linda Bell demonstrated in Academe
(March/April 1999), average faculty salaries are about 28 percent below
the salaries of other similarly educated professionals. The relatively
low salaries paid to faculty, in conjunction with the cost of earning a
doctorate, represent a growing disincentive for people from low and
middle income backgrounds to pursue academic careers.
- As the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education
has stated, mounting tuition costs are fueled by many factors
independent of faculty salaries. Rising costs in technology upgrades
and facility repairs and construction are one set of factors. Another
set are the costs associated with the instruction of nontraditional
students, including older students, part-timers, and students requiring
remedial education. Administrative costs have also increased, in part
as the result of the greater volume and complexity of government
regulations, in part because of a growing higher education emphasis on
management. All these cost increases have occurred in the context of a
relative decline in government financial support for higher education.
Consequently, tuition has risen as colleges and universities attempt to
compensate for this decline. Increased tuition basically represents a
cost shift from government to students and their families.
- Increased higher education costs for poor and middle income
families is a serious issue. Higher education must be inclusive of all
people if it is to serve a democratic society. Such issues must be
addressed not through demagoguery but in ways that respect facts.
This past fall the Executive Council outlined in the
newsletter our reasons for wanting the AAUP to join the Delaware
AFL-CIO. We maintained that challenges to tenure at institutions like
the University of Minnesota, attempts in states like Ohio to legislate
increased workloads for faculty at state-funded institutions, and
ongoing experimentation with using computer-aided long-distance
learning for educational purposes were all signs that the nation's
changing economy was impacting higher education in ways that were not
necessarily beneficial or clearly thought out. We stated that, given
such realities, higher education faculties across the nation were under
mounting pressure to build coalitions with the constituencies they
serve in order to protect educational quality. In this vein, we wrote,
"To meet these challenges successfully, we must be aware of the issues
facing us and astute in choosing allies in the community who will
support our goals of educational excellence, reasonable workloads and
Although there was some faculty resistance to the AAUP's
joining the state AFL-CIO, the majority of faculty comments received by
the Executive Council favored joining the federation, provided we (1)
lost none of our autonomy in the process and (2) were not obligated to
support candidates for political office. When it turned out that
joining would neither curtail our autonomy nor entail involvement in
political campaigns, the Executive Council was on the verge of
recommending affiliation to the AAUP's Steering Committee.
At this point, however, the national AFL-CIO unexpectedly
contacted its Delaware branch and announced that there was a "problem"
with our joining. To discuss what this problem was, a special meeting
was set up in December. In attendance at the meeting were two national
AFL-CIO representatives (both members of the American Federation of
Teachers - the AFT) from Washington D.C., two representatives of the
Delaware AFL-CIO, as well as Gerry Turkel and David Colton of the
AAUP's UD chapter. It soon became clear at the meeting that the
national AFL-CIO wanted to prevent our AAUP chapter from joining the
local AFL-CIO. Their reason: because the national AAUP isn't a national
AFL-CIO member. When all the Delawareans at the meeting stressed that
both the local AAUP chapter and the Delaware AFL-CIO had gone to great
lengths to develop a mutually satisfying affiliation arrangement and
that we didn't want this arrangement destroyed by technicalities, the
national AFL-CIO representatives agreed to rethink the question and
then return to the state for a second meeting. At this second meeting,
which took place the following week, the two AFL-CIO representatives
from D.C. brought a third representative, who, like them, was an AFT
member. Not only did they reject the possibility of our joining the
Delaware AFL-CIO, they used the situation to try to get the local AAUP
to consider renouncing its connection to the national AAUP and join the
AFT instead. We were told that this was the only way for us to join
"the house of labor" (i.e., the AFL-CIO), since the national AFT was a
member of the national AFL-CIO, whereas the national AAUP wasn't. The
AFT representatives gave us this ultimatum in spite of the fact that
earlier we had offered, in a spirit of coalition-building, to help the
AFT establish a larger organizing base in the state.
One of the local AFL-CIO members at the meeting - John
Schmidt, Organizing Director for AFSCME District Council 81 - was so
frustrated by the AFT members' attitude that he rebuked them at one
point, saying, "The house of labor that you're talking about only
represents 14 percent of the workforce. I'd think you'd be looking to
get more members in the AFL-CIO, not chase them away."
One argument put forth by AFT members regarding why they
didn't want our chapter to join the Delaware AFL-CIO was that such a
move would hurt the AFT. "Why support another union that wants to
organize the same constituency we want to organize?" was the argument's
essence. This might sound pragmatic, but it isn't. Since the AAUP is
committed to expanding faculty protection through the creation of
alliances, we could have helped the AFT in the region. Not only is the
AFT almost invisible in Delaware, it is currently running an
undernourished organizing campaign at Temple University. Given these
realities, the AFT needs alliances; it shouldn't be rejecting them.
One other argument was made in support of the national
AFL-CIO's position that only local branches of national unions which
are members of the national AFL-CIO should be allowed to affiliate with
state AFL-CIO branches. This argument stressed that, if local unions
could join state AFL-CIO branches without belonging to a national union
that was in the AFL-CIO, then there would be no need for local unions
to join national unions. This argument is without factual basis. Local
unions derive a significant part of their strength, bargaining
resources, and information about the relationship between their
specific situations and nation-wide trends from their connection to
their national union, which, unlike the AFL-CIO, specializes in meeting
the interests of employees and workers in the same occupational
category that the local union represents. Belonging to the AFL-CIO is
about building alliances between different occupational groupings.
Therefore, AFL-CIO membership doesn't undermine a local union's need to
remain affiliated with its national union, which represents the
specialized interests of a particular occupational grouping.
Our experience with the national AFL-CIO has not changed our
desire to work closely with the state AFL-CIO. We have developed a
cooperative and cordial relationship with the state AFL-CIO. However,
we have rejected the option of joining the state federation because of
the nationally imposed conditions cited above. National unions like the
AFT should be working to strengthen the labor movement, not wasting
their time by placing roadblocks in the way of those who are interested
in revitalizing the movement.