Richard A. Fowler
LOS ANGELES—Today, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's largest union of higher education faculty and staff, took another bold step toward reclaiming the promise of higher education for all Americans during its convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
From advocating to ease the burden of student debt, to fighting to end the contingent employment system in higher education and replace it with a system of academic staffing that is sustainable for students, faculty and the economy, the AFT made it clear that its 1.6 million members—the union's highest-ever membership, it was announced on Saturday—mean business and are committed to the fight forward.
In her speech Friday, AFT President Randi Weingarten emphasized that the promise of the American dream is out of reach for too many and highlighted the centrality of the AFT's higher education work to efforts to reclaim that dream. She said, "The AFT has been very aggressive in our fight to ensure access to high-quality and affordable higher education."
Weingarten also praised the innovative organizing work being done by contingent faculty in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, where the AFT is helping adjunct faculty organize at 53 colleges and universities.
Weingarten celebrated the fight forward by acknowledging victories at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Oregon. She also announced a new partnership with Freelancers Union, the nation's largest union of freelance workers, which will help the AFT reclaim the promise of America for contingent faculty across the country.
The AFT Everyday Hero award for higher education went to Krystal Woolston from the Montclair State Faculty, Professional Staff and Librarians in New Jersey. As part of her job at Montclair State University as the assistant director of service learning and community engagement, Woolston's office swung into high gear after Superstorm Sandy blasted the East Coast in October 2012. She organized fundraisers, food and clothing drives, and cleanup and recovery efforts involving students. And she took her service a step further by serving breakfast every weekend in the New Jersey shore community of Bay Head until May 2013.
Woolston said, "I encourage you to get involved with your community, because even a small amount of time can make a big impact."
Finally, the AFT delegates unanimously passed a resolution titled "Ending the Exploitation of and the Reliance on a Contingent Academic Labor System in Higher Education," reaffirming their commitment to improving the lives of contingent faculty.